By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
OK. Let's just cut to the ethical chase on this whole stupid WRR radio station tower-swap deal. This is ridiculous. The city council needs to put some people in chairs, turn on the bright lights and the tape recorders and ask some straight questions.
The council will hear this week about a very complicated deal whereby the city-owned classical music station would swap towers with a commercial station; the city would get $60 million in cash; and KERA, the city's public broadcast company, would take over management of WRR under a local management agreement or "LMA."
The effect of the tower swap would be to give WRR a much stronger signal in the whiter, more northern neighborhoods and a weaker signal than it has now in black and Latino Dallas. Right now it reaches everybody equally. The main beneficiaries of the deal would be Susquehanna Radio Corp. of York, Pennsylvania, and Service Broadcasting, owned by Hymen Childs of Dallas.
Question No. 1: Who first showed up at City Hall some months ago talking to an assistant city manager about a proposed tower swap?
No. 2: Is the mayor's appointed "radio panel" in any way a part of the bid process?
No. 3: Is it true this panel recommended the city notbring in an independent auditor to assess the market values of all the components of the deal?
No. 4: Has the radio panel been pushing a particular bid or proposal? Is anybody on or associated with the panel connected with a business or nonprofit that would benefit from the deal or deals being proposed?
Because if that's the case, then someone may have put people in a position to influence the bid process. And that's a major legal issue for the city or damn well should be.
And the original question remains: Why mess with WRR in the first place? The amazing thing is that WRR is owned by the city but makes money. If we were to judge by box office alone, WRR would be the most successful major cultural institution in the city. A city department that turns a profit? Somebody should send a team of scientists to study it.
Instead of that we have all these other arts groups trying to help do it in so they can get part of the $60 million. It's like a big fat healthy baby bouncing on the city's knee, and all of its cultural aunts and uncles are gathered 'round--the big arts-maven culture-vulture types--and all they can think is, "Let's eat it."
First lesson on the road to becoming a civilized city: Don't eat the baby.
People say WRR could make more money with a "businesslike" management style. But the purpose of WRR is not to be a big commercial success. It's to provide classical music to the people of Dallas. The Meyerson Symphony Center could make more money if it went topless. "Swan Lake, With Headlights." Give me a break.
And what's so "businesslike" about KERA, the public broadcast company that would take over WRR under this deal? At least WRR makes money without running ad nauseam advertorials for Blenko Glass like Channel 13, KERA's television station, for example. If I see that stupid thing one more time, I'm going to grab my shotgun and do an Elvis on the TV.
The Blenko Glass advertorial is shown again and again on KERA as a fund-raising device. Supposedly it's the history of this outfit that makes glass objects, such as vases and stuff that looks like hand-blown bowling balls. KERA sends you some Blenko glass if you kick in a "contribution." They say it's "collectible." But is it bowl-able?
Then we have KERA radio, with those fake ads all the time that they say aren't ads. It's "underwriting." You know: "...brought to you by the law firm of Termagant, Harridan, Harpy and Shrew, protecting Park Cities residents for over 60 years from unscrupulous blood-sucking whiny ex-maids who got all jacked out of shape just because you pulled their hair or slapped them or something, which they totally deserved."
Face it: Those dumb things are ads. Dumb irritating ads, but ads all the same. KERA gets public money; they sell ads, irritating ads; and they're still in the hole. Now there's all this talk of turning WRR over to KERA to manage. Sure, "...and when you send the baby over for us to watch, don't forget to send along some Worcestershire."
Mayor Laura Miller has come out against the tower-swap part of the deal but is still pushing for KERA management. I suggested in a column last week that the mayor had a lot of explaining to do about the proposed swap. She says my column gave the unfair impression that she was pushing the swap, when she was not, and that I should give her a correction and an apology.
All the people I've talked to about it, including members of the city council, were under the impression until midweek last week that the tower swap was a Laura Miller deal. She had appointed her friend, radio executive Michael Spears, to head up a panel on what to do with WRR after Spears addressed a meeting of the city council about tower swaps and what a good idea a swap might be.