Don't Touch That Dial

So we're supposed to maim WRR in order to protect it?

Greenburg said he thinks the station could be run more efficiently. Maybe. But it seems to me they must be pretty efficient already to be a city department and show a profit every year. The other thing I see in the numbers I got from WRR is that the station is sitting on a cash surplus of about $6.7 million right now.

A city agency with a surplus? Why would we mess with that? Why not leave WRR alone, exactly the way it is? It's working. It's profitable. Why screw with it at all?

One answer the proponents give when I ask them that question is fairly amazing. Clayton Henry, president of the Friends of WRR, told me that the only way to protect WRR from these recurring takeover attempts is to make it worth less.

Clayton Henry, president of "Friends of WRR," says the way to protect WRR from future takeover attempts is to make it worth less.
Mark Graham
Clayton Henry, president of "Friends of WRR," says the way to protect WRR from future takeover attempts is to make it worth less.

"Every three years, we seem to be a target," Henry said, "and we spend a lot of time talking about this subject. There's a lot of time being wasted on this thing."

Soooo...let me follow this. If WRR had a little bit beanier-weenier tower and a different kind of license so it would have more trouble making money, people would stop trying to take it over.

"It would make us less of a target," Henry said, "because we would be a non-commercial station. Does it still have value? Yeah, sure, it's got value. But it's a lot less of a target."

OK, now, and tell me again: These are Friends of WRR? Well, that gets us into a whole 'nother topic that I don't have enough room for here. But according to their own publicly available IRS statements, the Friends raise all kinds of money from members. And yet I can't see that they give a nickel of it to WRR.

Henry confirmed to me that the Friends buy airtime on WRR so they can broadcast their own programs about the arts. But so what? That just makes them one more commercial customer for the station. Given the profits the station makes, I have to assume if the Friends of WRR stopped buying time from the station, somebody else would buy it.

And in fact they sort of have stopped. I did a little spreadsheet for myself which showed that five years ago the Friends were spending 130 percent of their annual fund-raising--going in the hole, in other words--to buy time on WRR. In the most recent report, that was down to 5 percent.

Plus this: A couple years ago somebody dumped 200 grand on the Friends. Henry couldn't remember who when we spoke. "Some estate, I think," he said.

The $200,000 is just sitting there as a big cash surplus now. So the Friends don't really do much that's friendly to WRR anyway. Then somebody gives them 200 large. They can't remember who. Now they're out plugging this deal where the city should protect WRR from the unwanted advances of strangers by making her more ugly.

The ultimate reason why the city should peddle part or all of WRR, according to the proponents, is that the tower and signal are just too good to be wasted on a city-owned station for classical music listeners.

Larry Davis, chairman of the city of Dallas Commission on Productivity and Innovation, an appointed body, is the main champion of this swap proposal. He told me it's not even necessary to go to the uglier daughter strategy to see why the city should do the swap.

"I think the equation is even simpler than that," he said. "If you have a dump truck and you're hauling dirt in Dallas, and you have no job that's bigger than an eight-yard dump truck, you don't need to buy and own a 24-yard dump truck, and that's what we're doing."

The last wrinkle is this: Some other arts groups were frank with me in saying that they would like to get a slice of that $50 million endowment if it ever comes into being. So let's say there's a fund. Let's say some of the swankier, more politically muscular arts groups are able to bite off mouthfuls. Now there's even less endowment money for WRR. Plus it can no longer sell ads.

Great! We've taken the one successful, profitable city agency we could find and screwed it up and hobbled it so that ultimately it will die. And somebody outside City Hall will make a whole lot of moolah on the deal.

Does that sound like public stewardship to you? Come to think of it, could this be why we don't see more city agencies that come out ahead?

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