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KERA Set To Take Over City-Owned WRR

The Dallas City Council will vote next month on a contract that would shift management of the city's classical music station to KERA.
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Dallas Municipal Archives

The management next month may change for WRR, the city-owned classical music station, but the station will retain its locally programmed classical format.

KERA and the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture are hammering out a management agreement for the station, which is the first licensed broadcast station in Texas and, at 101-years-old, one of the oldest operating radio stations in the country.

Until now, the station was expected to be self-supporting, the Friends of WRR explained on its website.

“WRR does not operate at the expense of taxpayers but as an ‘enterprise’ of the City of Dallas, a self-supporting government fund that sells advertising and sponsorships to generate revenue to cover its expenses,” the nonprofit said. “This model has allowed the station to successfully spread classical music to anyone in Dallas capable of receiving the signal. The revenue exceeding expenses has always been invested in the capital needs of the station, and a small portion has been transferred through the years to the Arts Endowment of the Office of Arts & Culture to support small and midsize arts organizations.”

Last year, Dallas officials decided to get out of the radio station management business and issued a request for proposals. KERA was eventually selected as the preferred bidder, and the proposed contract will go to the City Council next month for approval, the station said in a press release Friday.

The station will retain its current format (one of the conditions in the RFP) and will be operated by KERA and owned by the city. It will also continue to operate from its Fair Park studios for the next seven years.

“KERA is honored to be considered to manage WRR and deepen its commitment to classical music,” said Nico Leone, President and CEO of KERA. “Together we can help WRR grow and serve diverse audiences in Dallas and across North Texas, ensuring WRR’s sustainability for generations to come. And given our own commitment to arts and culture, and our strong partnerships both locally and nationally, KERA is well-positioned to build on the success that WRR has achieved in its incredible 101-year history.”

The public radio station says that it’s best suited for managing the historic station because of its entrenched arts coverage and commitment to North Texas.

“We’re a public broadcasting organization,” Leon said in KERA’s story about the contract. “We’ve been one for more than 60 years. We operate an NPR station, a PBS station, a triple-A music station,” Leone said. “And the one format that we don’t have in our family that is really thriving in public broadcasting is classical music.”

It’s not the first time in 101 years that WRR was confronted with the fact that the city didn’t want to run it anymore.

The station, according to the Friends of WRR, got its start when Henry “Dad” Garrett installed a 50-watt radio transmitter at the central fire station in 1920. Between relaying fire and police reports, Garrett played his collection of classical recordings on a phonograph he hooked up to the transmitter. By 1921, the station was broadcasting police bulletins, baseball scores, weather forecasts, and classical music. 

By 1925, the expense of operating the station was worrying city officials, so they let the station’s license lapse. Several civic leaders raised money to bring the station back, and within three months, the station was back.

WRR moved from the fire station to the Adolphus Hotel, then the Jefferson, and then the Hilton before permanently setting up shop at the fairgrounds in the late 1930s. WRR added an FM station in 1948 and broadcast on both AM and FM until selling its AM station in 1978. 

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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