KERA, the public radio and television operator in North Texas, will take over management of WRR-FM (101.1), Dallas’ classical music station. The Dallas Office of Arts and Culture has accepted KERA’s proposal, and the Dallas City Council will vote in June. If approved by the city council, KERA would be in charge from December.
The city council could also choose to sell WRR. The station is valued at over $13 million, and the city would use $5.6 million of the sale proceeds to pay off the station’s debt. If the station is sold, there is no guarantee that it will remain classic.
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 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 was unusual for being both a city-owned radio station and a commercial conventional station. It relied on on-air advertising, which proved difficult due to its relatively small share of the 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 at the time that the WRR’s continued deficits, along with growing competition from alternative sources of classical music online, prompted a reconsideration of the relationship of the city 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 are very interested in exploring a new model, because it is not sustainable to continue to draw on reserves.
WRR would become non-commercial under KERA. This would allow it to be more sustainable, says 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.” 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 the impact of the pandemic on North Texas arts and culture.)
“WRR has strong staff. They do a great job in the community,” says Leone. “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.
Since 1978, WRR has been supposed to broadcast city council meetings, but has not done so since 2020. The city council would revoke that mandate if it approved KERA’s proposal.
Other terms of the agreement require KERA to broadcast 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 stresses that the station will remain programmed and hosted locally.
Still, members of The Friends of WRR, a non-profit organization that supports the station, are concerned. Rachael Glazer, Chair of the Board of Directors, is concerned about the following sentence in the Request for Proposals (RFP) sent out last June: “If the operating and capital reserves of the station were exhausted, the City would not could not demand that it remain a classic station.”
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 approved 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.