Arts & Culture News

City Council Approves Transfer of WRR Classical 101.1 FM to KERA Media Family

KERA 90.1 FM is officially taking over the city's classical music station WRR 101.FM, the oldest operating music station in the entire state.
KERA 90.1 FM is officially taking over the city's classical music station WRR 101.FM, the oldest operating music station in the entire state. North Texas Public Broadcasting
CORRECTION, 6/9/22: This story has been updated to reflect that the City Council approved the transfer of management for WRR to KERA and not its sale, as incorrectly stated in a previous version of this story.

Texas' first classical music station will remain classical and will now be part of public radio.

The Dallas City Council unanimously approved a measure to hand the reins of the WRR Classical 101.1 FM radio station over to KERA, the Dallas public radio station on 90.1 FM that broadcasts local and NPR content, and which is the local PBS TV station affiliate.

"One of the unique things about this is it will make the largest public media station in the country," says  KERA president and CEO Nico Leone. "We have a classical station, an NPR station, a PBS station and another music station, KXT. We're the only one to have all of those formats under one roof."

The city's Office of Arts and Culture has been trying to find a new operator for WRR for the past year after declining returns on its investment "with a declining fund balance in operating reserves of $5.1 million since 2012," according to a statement from city officials.

Leone says KERA jumped at the opportunity to become WRR's newest chief operator since the city announced its intention to sell it just under a year ago.

"I think one of the biggest opportunities is to cross-promote those other stations and use that to introduce new people and audiences," Leone says. "The programming won't change. It will stay classical but we can help each other reach new audience with the programming."

KERA won't officially take control of WRR until the end of the year. Leone says they have six months to plan the transition to obtain a public broadcasting license for WRR so they can hold fundraisers and some kind of celebration to mark the beginning of the new radio partnership.

"I'm sure when we take over full management, we will want to do something like that and we'll work in more in-depth ways with other arts organizations, but we're still a little ways from that," Leone says. "We're kind of at the starting line with the City Council approving it."

Leone called WRR "our region's most valuable and accessible source of classical music" in a released statement. WRR is also the state's oldest operating radio frequency. It started in 1921 as a way for Dallas firefighters to communicate with each other on calls. Firefighters also used the frequency to play music and tell jokes on the airwaves in between calls and emergencies and spread the word about fundraising for new fire equipment. The station started to attract an audience to its music and public broadcasts, according to the station's website.

The station expanded and moved into several Dallas hotels starting in 1926 with the Adolphus Hotel before finding a permanent space to broadcast in the 1930s, eventually erecting a 100,000-watt station in Cedar Hill with a 100-mile broadcast span. WRR became the state's first all classical station in 1964 and the first to create a digital broadcast of its radio signal in 2006. 
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.