Wednesday, July 19, 2017


There are very few successful radio stations owned by municipal governments. Typically city-owned stations are rife with bureaucracies and sluggish when making decisions.  Perhaps the best example of this type of station was WNYC-AM in New York.  The City of New York sold the station a couple of decades ago and New York Public Radio has blossomed ever since.

Today we have an example of a city-owned station that works: WRR-FM, the voice of Classical music in Dallas and Fort Worth. When WRR [link] began on AM in 1922, is was the first licensed broadcast station in Texas and the second federally licensed station in the United States.

According to WRR’s official history on the City of Dallas website [link] WRR was the brainchild of inventor Henry Garrett, a Police and Fire Signal Superintendent for the City of Dallas. Garrett thought a municipal radio station might be an excellent way to communicate with firefighters in the field. The city agreed and built the station.

WRR transmitted fire alarms but there was a lot of downtime. The station filled the time between first playing phonograph records. People liked it.

Over nine decades WRR has had several different programming formats: Fire Alarms and City Services (1920-1927), Talk (1927-early 1970s), Contemporary Hits (early 1970s-1974), and News/Talk (1974-1978). WRR became a fulltime Classical music station in the late 1970s.

WRR debuted on FM in 1948, one of the first FM stations in Texas. At that time the FM spectrum was wide open.  WRR applied for 101.1 FM – in the middle of the dial – at maximum power of 100,000-watts. Programming was simulcast on FM and AM until the City sold WRR-AM around 1980.

WRR is operated by the City of Dallas’ Office of Cultural Affairs with a mission to provide access to the arts.  It is a commercial station that is run like a non-profit.

WRR looks like it is doing very well.  The station’s annual budget is around $2,000,000 and not a dime of the dough comes from Dallas taxpayers. Not owing anyone money is a great way to be sustainable.

WRR’s latest Nielsen Audio rating performance should generate ad sales. The estimated number of weekly cumulative listeners grew 10% between June 2016 and June 2017. 

Elsewhere in the DFW Metroplex, NPR News station KERA keeps building its audience. The estimated number of weekly listeners increased by almost 50,000 in the past year, up 12+ from June 2016.

In Portland, NPR News KOPB added nearly 70,000 new weekly listeners between June 2016 and June 2017. KOPB is the top rated news station in Portland with an 8.0% average-quarter-hour (AQH) share. 

The next highest news station in the market, KXL-FM had a 3.5% AQH share and an estimated weekly cume of 251,300 listeners.

WHYY in Philadelphia also increased its number of weekly cumulative listeners, up 9% compared with June 2016. 

Classical/Jazz dual format WRTI keeps losing listeners.   
Maybe it is time WRTI made a fulltime commitment to either Classical or Jazz.

In Atlanta WABE is roaring back.  Their weekly cumulative listeners grew 7% between June 2016 and June 2017.  Crosstown competitor WRAS had at first down book, dropping 17%.

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