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Texas' oldest radio station one step closer to brand new management

courtesy KERA
North Texas Public Broadcasting
The KERA studios in Dallas, Texas.

There’s old radio stations, then there’s Dallas’ WRR. As the state’s first licensed radio station, it started out broadcasting police and fire transmissions. Finally in 1964, they moved permanently to a classical music format.

KERA’s President and CEO Nico Leone said its age isn’t its only point of differentiation.

“WRR is a 100-year-old classical station that is owned and operated by the City of Dallas,” he said. “For decades it's been just a stalwart of the arts community, a free service available to all, providing classical music and covering the arts.”

Last year Dallas officials decided they didn’t want to manage the station anymore, and they put out a request for proposals from interested parties who might want to take the reins. KERA made their proposal, and with their selection as the preferred organization, they’re a lot closer to winning that bid. Leone said their objective is straightforward.

“We're a public broadcasting organization. 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.”

 KERA President and CEO Nico Leone
Kim Leeson
KERA President and CEO Nico Leone

And in fact NPR stations all around the country do operate sister stations that are classical. It’s far tougher going in the commercial realm.

“One of the challenges the city has identified is sustainability for the station as a classical station in the commercial space. There just are not a lot of classical commercial stations still left,” he said.

Some fans may worry that the format will change. Leone said it won’t.

“Our explicit intention and the requirements of the RFP (Request for Proposal) are that WRR will stay a classical station,” Leone said.

All that is assuming KERA will win the contract, but that’s not yet a given.

“This goes to the quality of Life Arts and Culture Committee for a hearing on Monday, May 16, and then it is tentatively scheduled for a vote with the full council on (in) June,” he said.

If KERA wins the vote, Leone said WRR won’t move from its historic location on the grounds of the State Fair of Texas. He hints that KERA may partner for projects with classical music entities like the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Fort Worth Symphony.

“I think that's one of the really exciting opportunities for us. And KERA has such a long history of working in the arts, of bringing arts content to audiences,” Leone said. “We think this is just another way to do that and a way for us to expand our work in that area and the community.”

The first chore after the vote would be the plan for converting WRR from commercial to non-commercial. And then to grow it.

“We have an eye on making the station sustainable as we convert it to noncommercial. We haven't gotten into all the details of how we would do that because we're just not at that point in the process. But growth is our explicit goal,” he said.

Should the City of Dallas award management to KERA, it’s just a management contract. WRR will continue to be owned by Dallas.

 A WRR station wagon in mid-50's.
A WRR station wagon in mid-50's.

Editor's note: Texas Public Radio and KERA are both part of The Texas Newsroom, a public radio journalism collaboration. KERA journalists were not involved in reporting or editing this story.

Copyright 2022 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

Jack Morgan has spent 35 years in electronic media, doing both television and radio.