Dallas plans to outsource management of city-owned WRR radio
The City of Dallas is issuing a call for proposals to take over the management of the city-owned classical music radio station WRR-FM (101.1). KERA, local public radio and television, and the Dallas Symphony Association are interested.
A request for proposals was issued on June 17, initially with a deadline for questions of July 5 and a deadline for submitting proposals of July 15. The deadlines have been extended to July 9 and July 29, respectively.
A July 2 statement from the city’s Bureau of Arts and Culture, which oversees WRR, states: “WRR 101.FM has operated in deficit for eight consecutive years, with a declining fund balance in the reserves of operating $ 5.1 million since 2012. The station’s operating results have ranged from near breakeven to losses of over $ 1.2 million, not including capital obligations.
“As the responsible steward, the City of Dallas is exploring new management for WRR 101.1 FM to ensure it remains a city-owned classical music format radio station. All tenders [request for proposal] respondents must operate as a non-profit organization. If the station’s operating and capital reserves were exhausted, the City could not demand that it remain a conventional station.
This last sentence, added to RFP’s rather rushed deadlines, alarms members of the Friends of the WRR, who for more than 40 years have helped support the station. The Friends of the WRR have asked their supporters to email Dallas City Council members asking for a delay and a reconsideration of the RFP process and timeline.
“We are concerned that the PD may building leadership for success, ”said Jeremy Hays, Chairman of the Board of Friends. “Until now, we believed that owning and managing the city was the right way to secure the future. If that is to change, there has to be a reasonable and fully transparent process to bring out all the information.
“Our concern is that this RFP has been rushed, incomplete and inconsistent with itself, and does not establish a bidder to know exactly what the expectations are. “
Besides being unusual as a city-owned radio station, WRR is unusual as a commercial classic radio. It depends on revenues from on-air advertising, a challenge for a station with a relatively small share of the region’s radio audience.
WRR chief executive Mike Oakes forwarded the inquiries to the Dallas Arts and Culture Office.
Jennifer Scripps, the city’s director of arts and culture, said WRR’s continued deficits, along with growing competition from alternative sources of online classical music, have prompted the city to reconsider the relationship with 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 tap into the reserves.”
At first glance, a classical music station would seem a natural addition to the KERA range of public television, radio news and information; a second radio channel (KXT) dedicated to “a unique blend of new, local and legendary music”; and the Art & Seek artistic website. (KERA and The morning news from Dallas are collaborating on a series to document how the pandemic has changed the North Texas arts and culture scene.)
Nico Leone, CEO of KERA, acknowledges that friends of WRR are concerned that the potential outsourcing of WRR management is rushed. But he adds: “A big part of our business is radio. We’ve worked with groups involved in classic non-commercial stations, and we’ve got a pretty good idea of current practices – increasing audiences, creating a younger audience. When you look at the public media, the classic thrives.
“The operation of this type of station is our core business. We feel able to prepare a proposal in a timely manner.
For the Dallas Symphony, taking over the management of WRR would be no less natural – “a real synergy” – according to President and CEO Kim Noltemy. In 2019, the Dallas Symphony Association took over management of the city-owned Meyerson Symphony Center, also used by other music organizations and for large-scale business meetings.
“We’re obviously concerned with the classical audience, and we want to see it grow,” says Noltemy. “We have a lot to offer and could help elevate the resort. It has yet to reach its full potential due to various city restrictions. I think it would be a wonderful opportunity to work with our colleagues in the art community at a broad level and develop audiences for our art form.
“We have a lot of questions that need to be answered first. The process is very formal. We need more information on the financial data and some of the criteria they put in the tender. “