The future of WRR-FM (101.1), Dallas’ classical music radio station, is uncertain.
In June, the Dallas City Council may decide to sell the city-owned station or transfer its management to KERA, the North Texas public radio and television operator. If KERA’s proposal is approved, she would be in charge from December.
The station is valued at around $13.5 million, and the city could use $5.6 million from a potential sale to pay off the station’s debt. If the station were sold, there is no guarantee that it would remain classic.
City officials declined to discuss the issue on Thursday, but then issued a memo about it Friday afternoon. which included information about the potential sale.
Rachael Glazer, chair of the board of directors of The Friends of WRR, wrote in a text that it is unfortunate that the city is planning to sell “a 100-year-old cultural treasure”.
“This same scenario has played out a few times in WRR history, and the city has always backed down in the face of strong opposition,” she said.
Under KERA’s proposal, WRR would be managed by KERA, but owned by the city. WRR would remain a classical music station and operate from its Fair Park studios for at least the next seven years.
KERA’s proposal was selected by the Dallas Office of Arts and Culture, which oversees the WRR, but has yet to be approved by the city council.
KERA beat the Dallas Symphony Association, which also submitted a proposal to manage WRR. “We have the highest regard for KERA, and have no doubt that they would do a good job running the station,” DSO President and CEO Kim Noltemy said in a statement.
WRR is unusual for being both a city-owned radio station and a commercial conventional station. It relies on on-air advertising, a challenge due to its relatively small share of local radio audience. After eight years of losing WRR, Dallas began looking for a new direction last June.
Jennifer Scripps, the city’s former director of arts and culture, said previously that the WRR’s continued deficits, along with increasing competition from other online classical music sources, prompted a reconsideration of the city’s relationship with the WRR.
“The economy continues to be a challenge, with the rise of streaming and the like,” she said. “What are the options for a strategic partner? Most radio stations do not have the [city-owned] station retirement charge.
“We’re very interested in exploring a new model, because it’s not sustainable to keep tapping into reserves.”
WRR would become non-commercial under KERA. This would allow it to be more sustainable, said Nico Leone, President and CEO of KERA. “Classical music is still doing very well in public radio, partly because there’s a slightly different business model,” he said.
With the new model, WRR could attract additional philanthropic support. It should also organize public radio type membership campaigns.
The station would complement KERA’s existing public television, news and information radio offerings; another radio channel (KXT) broadcasting “a unique mix of new, local and legendary music”; and the artistic website Art & Seek. (KERA and The Dallas Morning News are collaborating on a series to document how the pandemic has affected North Texas arts and culture.)
“WRR has strong staff. They are doing a great job in the community,” Leone said. “We think we can take that and build on it partly through our other platforms. There are a lot of great programs in the non-commercial space that we can provide.
WRR began broadcasting city council meetings in 1978, but has not done so since 2020. The council would revoke the mandate if it approved KERA’s proposal.
Other terms of the agreement would require KERA to air daily public service announcements on WRR or KERA’s other platforms to promote arts organizations and city programs.
Legally, KERA cannot speak with WRR staff members before the city council vote. But Leone stressed that the station would remain programmed and hosted locally.
Still, members of the Friends of the WRR are worried. Glazer, the chairman of the board, is concerned about the following sentence in the request for proposal sent out last June: “If the operating and capital reserves of the station were exhausted, the City could not require that it remain a classic resort.
Glazer thinks this means the city would sell the station if new management were unable to make WRR profitable.
But a KERA spokeswoman said that phrase was not in the contract brokered by KERA and the Dallas Office of Arts and Culture. The contract stipulates that the station would remain classic and no financial condition is attached to the requirement.
Special Contributor Scott Cantrell contributed to this report.