Keeping It Classic: Texas First Radio Station Needs A New Direction



The Dallas WRR classical music radio station is unique for a number of reasons: It was the first licensed radio station in Texas, the first west of the Mississippi River, and is owned by the city of Dallas.

“He is celebrating his 100th birthday. It is a truly historic and wonderful asset. But yes, unique, ”said Jennifer Scripps, director of the Dallas Arts and Culture Department.

WRR studios are located in Fair Park, on the grounds of the 1936 World’s Fair – now the Texas State Fairgrounds and therefore close to the tallest of all Texans.

“It’s really in the shadow of Big tex and the shadow of the Cotton Bowl and all the wonderful institutions of Fair Park, ”she said.

Dallas City Archives


The exterior of the current WRR building.

WRR, 101.1 FM, signed on to carry police and fire transmissions. But over the following decades, as more Americans bought radios, WRR began to broadcast a wide variety of radio dramas from the era.

Finally, in 1964, WRR moved into a classical music format – where it has been ever since. Unlike other municipal services, WRR has no place in the budget. Their operating expenses for a staff of eight vary between $ 1.8 million and $ 2 million per year, and they pay their own costs.

“WRR is capable of selling advertisements and they are expected to break even,” Scripps said.

WRR Announcement.jpg

Dallas City Archives


A WRR advertisement.

But between the changing media landscape – from streaming to podcasts to satellite radio – and more recently complicated by COVID-19, WRR has found it harder to balance its costs. Dallas is therefore looking for a non-profit entity to run the WRR, but in a profitable manner.

KERA, the NPR and PBS subsidiary in Dallas, is considering submitting a proposal to the city to take over management.

“We believe there are many opportunities to grow audiences for both WRR and for all KERA services, including our PBS station,” said Nico Leone, President and CEO of KERA.

“There aren’t many city-owned stations in the country anymore and the classic continues to thrive as a format within public radio, but there are very few commercial stations across the country,” he said. said Leone.

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Dallas City Archives


WRR WRR alongside Dallas Police and firefighters outside the Cotton Bowl in the 1950s.

While Leone points out that public radio stations have largely shown the way forward in making the classic work a format across the country, KERA’s candidacy may not be the only one.

Kim Noltemy is the President and CEO of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

“We are very interested and we think it is a treasure and hope we can make it an even more important asset for everyone,” she said.

Noltemy noted the middle ground that the DSO and WRR could occupy.

“We haven’t made a final decision, although it’s a very interesting and attractive idea for the development of the artistic community, the classical music audience, and obviously the heart of what we do is live music.” , she said.

Noltemy believes that WRR’s commercial status can help leverage its attributes for the benefit of the DSO.

“We want to be able to preserve that business format so that we can say, ‘Buy tickets now, it’s an incredible performance,” Noltemy said. “You know all this language of superlatives and action that is limited with public radio. “

With 20 years at the helm of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Noltemy knew classical music. But there is another potential offer.

“I listened to WRR with my grandmother every Saturday morning,” said Jeremy Hays, who directs Friends of WRR. He fondly remembers the moment he heard the station for the first time.

Original building of the WRR fairgrounds.jpg

Dallas City Archives


The original building of the WRR exhibition center.

“She would pick me up and take me for breakfast and we would drive and listen to WRR and she would talk to me about the tracks that were there and how much she loved the station,” Hays said.

The Friends of WRR organization is also considering submitting a proposal to operate the station. He is concerned that the ambiguity of the City’s Request for Proposal (RFP) leaves too much room for chance.

“Our initial reaction was ‘Wow, this is happening really fast’, and this is also happening the same summer that WRR turns 100,” he said.

Hayes said the fate of this public treasure deserves to be heard by the public.

“There was no opportunity for the community or the public. And we just think that a historic entity like WRR should have more than four weeks to decide its fate, ”he said.

Jennifer Scripps of the city sees it differently.

“It was a standard purchase. We extended the two week deadline just to get the air out of it all, ”Scripps said. “We have also opened the station to guided tours for interested bidders. We have been extremely responsive with questions that are shared.

According to Kim Noltemy of the DSO, regardless of the winner of the bid, the WRR is a key part of DFW’s continued success in attracting new businesses.

“Having this really good classic station that helps get that word out is just one more piece of the puzzle,” she said.

WRR Classical Carpool Karaoke with the Dallas Opera cast members of “The Magic Flute!”

KERA’s Nico Leone said it’s important to consider how WRR fits into the larger art scene.

“Our hope is, whatever the city chooses to do, that it makes a decision based on the needs of the public, the needs of arts organizations in the region. And I think if the city keeps that priority, it will make a good decision about the future of WRR, ”he said.

Jeremy Hays of Friends was philosophical about the future.

“What will the second century of WRR bring? I think as long as classical music can speak to people, can touch their hearts, can make them feel emotions that they need to feel… people in difficult times, then I hope the WRR will continue to be there to provide that support, ”he said.

The city closes the applications on July 29 and will begin reviewing them to make its decision.

Editor’s Note: TPR is a member of Texas Newsroom, a collaboration of public radio stations across the state, including KERA. TPR independently reported and edited this story; this story has not been reported, reviewed or edited by KERA officers or journalists.

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