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Another local business sells to its employees, joining growing roster

In 1996, Wendell and Lydia Starke filed to do business in Idaho. The pair filled out a form and wrote a check to the Idaho Secretary of State to launch FM 104.7 Co. That same year, they picked up the FCC license to a Twin Falls radio station.

Now, 26 years later, the Starkes will sell their radio holdings in Idaho — to their employees.

The odyssey of Iliad

FM 104.7 Co. became FM Idaho just a month after that initial filing in 1996. Along the way, the Starkes, who live in Atlanta, Georgia, saw twists and turns that could make for a whole radio news blog. FM Idaho eventually became Iliad Media Group, which owns more than a dozen radio brands across Boise and Twin Falls.

Wendell Starke, who grew up in Seale, Alabama, became the chairman of the large investment firm Invesco. But he and Lydia dabbled in the radio investment, starting with that first group of stations in Twin Falls. They sold the company for a reported $10 million in 2000 to an Oregon group, who also bought the Boise Hawks. But the Oregon group’s hopes for the radio stations and baseball team didn’t work out, and ultimately the Starkes got the stations back two years later.

In the two decades or so since, the stations went through several names, including FM Idaho, Tester Broadcast Group, Locally Owned Radio, and Impact Radio – before landing on the Iliad name in the last decade.

CEO Darrell Calton joined the company in 2008 and began to rework the station groups, first in Boise and then in Twin Falls. In Boise, a small group of stations with modest ratings grew to eight different formats, including market-leading stations 101.9 The Bull, 96.1 Bob FM and My 102.7.

Locally employee-owned

Radio groups, like most media, aren’t typically locally owned. The other three primary Boise radio station owners are not based here, nor are the owners of the commercial television stations, local newspapers or cable companies. (Another radio group in Twin Falls, Lee Family Broadcasting, is also locally owned.) But Iliad’s 46 employees will own and control the company.

“One of the biggest concerns that the ownership and I had about the company was not the year-to-year successes, but the decade-to-decade success,” Calton said. “Many independent business owners struggle with what to do about the march of time regarding estate and business planning. We are so fortunate to have an owner that wants to recognize the efforts of our long-term employees and wants to put the future of the business in our hands. This ESOP business transition tool is precisely what we all needed.”

Iliad joins a growing roster of Idaho companies with ESOP ownership structures. Most famously, Winco Foods, with recent additions like Drake Cooper, Commercial Tire, Tates Rents and Bardenay.

The ESOP model essentially acts as a retirement plan that use the business’ proceeds to fuel employees’ — or more accurately owners’ — retirement coffers.

“Employee ownership will allow us to live our values of putting people first, leading with creativity, and acting with integrity,” Calton said. “The work we do each day will have a deeper purpose and greater impact on our communities than ever before.”

Iliad said it joins just three other radio groups nationwide under employee ownership.

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Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at [email protected].

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