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WDEV announces new ownership, but promises same daily programming

A man in a blue collared shirt sits in a radio studio in front of a microphone with a dog next to him.
WDEV
/
Courtesy
WDEV first hit the airwaves 92 years ago when Lloyd Squier co-founded the station. His son, Ken Squier, assumed ownership after his father died in 1979. Ken Squier died in November 2023.

A nearly century-old mainstay of local media in Vermont has new owners.

The Radio Vermont Group — known best locally as WDEV — announced Thursday that it’s been sold to a limited liability company owned by Vermont resident Myers Mermel. Pomfret resident Scott Milne, whose company, Milne Travel, is a longtime advertiser on WDEV, is an investor in the deal.

The company, headquartered in Waterbury and often billed as the oldest family-owned and operated radio station in the country, has won a loyal following with its unique of blend of local sports, news and ideologically diverse talk.

Mermel said Thursday that listeners won’t hear any changes to daily programming.

“There are certainly ways to make things more efficient, and I think that’s where a lot of the change will be. But it won’t be noticed,” Mermel said. “The people that are on the radio now, the team we have, is the team that you’re going to see.”

Mermel did not disclose the purchase price for the company, which includes seven AM and FM frequencies in the Northeast Kingdom, central Vermont and Burlington.

WDEV first hit the airwaves 92 years ago when Lloyd Squier co-founded the station. His son, Ken Squier, assumed ownership when his father died in 1979.

Ken Squier died in November. His daughter, Ashley Jane Squier, said in a written statement Thursday that the new owners will “continue the tradition of our treasured radio stations.”

“During the last months of his life, my father … was involved in our search for a buyer who would continue the independent radio legacy our family has built at WDEV and its sister stations for over 92 years,” she said. “We now feel confident that the stations will be in good hands to hold true to their legacy."

David Goodman, a Waterbury-based journalist who hosts an hour-long program that airs weekly on WDEV, said the identity of the station is tied inextricably to its former owner.

“Ken Squier, in his humble, stubborn and visionary way, really set the bar very high I think for all us in every kind of media to make media a kitchen table where everyone has a seat,” Goodman said Thursday.

Listeners could hear a left-leaning news show such as Democracy Now! one hour, and a more conservative take on current events in True North Reports the next.

Ken Squier had contemplated selling the station in recent years, according to people familiar with those conversations, and several local groups formed to consider buying. Goodman was a part of the one of them.

“Ken was really determined to hang onto this station and ensure its mission continued, so he would be very excited about selling the stations, and then he would pull back, so there was a real ebb and flow,” Goodman said. “And when Ken passed away I think the [new] ownership group is the one that had been around the longest and had ... demonstrated the financial wherewithal to actually acquire the station.”

Mark Johnson, a veteran Vermont journalist who once hosted a daily two-hour news and talk show on WDEV, called the station “the definition of local media in an era when most media is owned by out-of-state corporations.”

“[Squier] really believed that a radio station was not a printing press to make the most money that you possibly can, but was really typified by community services,” Johnson said Thursday.

Johnson said he’s relieved to see WDEV remain locally owned.

“It could have been very easy for the Squiers to have sold this to some out-of-state conglomerate and maybe they could have gotten more money for doing so,” he said.

He said the new owners, however, will likely face some of the same financial pressures that Squier had to navigate.

“It’s a challenging business,” he said. “Whether or not financially it’s something they’re able to pull off, I think that’s a wait and see.”

Chris Graff, former Vermont bureau chief at the Associated Press and host of Vermont This Week, echoed Johnson’s concerns about the station’s finances.

“I think we all have to be concerned that WDEV Radio Vermont is not on a firm financial footing right now,” Graff said.

Graff also said it’s worth noting that Mermel and Milne are both former Republican political candidates with ties to the Vermont GOP. Mermel ran for the U.S. House in 2022 and formerly headed up the conservative thinktank the Ethan Allen Institute.

Milne has previously mounted runs for governor and U.S. Senate.

Both men said Thursday that they won’t use the station as a vehicle to advance any ideological or personal agendas.

“We want to maintain the even balance, and we want all the voices to be heard across Vermont,” Mermel said. “And please take us at our word.”

Mermel said he’s optimistic about the station’s financial future.

“I don’t think that it’s a difficult radio environment and in fact … DEV is the leading news talk and sports station, and there’s a real demand of that type of format, and we want to continue that,” he said. “So we don’t see it as a difficult time, we see it as there being more opportunity to strengthen the type of radio that Vermont listeners want to listen to.”

Steve Cormier, general manager at the Radio Vermont Group, said station staff applauded Thursday morning after Mermel and Milne addressed the team for the first time as owners.

“And I feel the same way. I drink the Kool-Aid of this radio station and have for eight years, and I take Myers and I take Scott at their word as far as what they want to do,” Cormier said. “It’s not someone coming in from out of state to steamroll the place. They have the right intentions. And the future will hopefully prove that.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or contact reporter Peter Hirschfeld:

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The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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