After flirting with selling its radio station, Dallas will instead let KERA take over

Dallas is the only city in the United States to have its own radio station, which is one of the few commercial classic stations in the country. It’s so old, in fact, that it was only the second station ever licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. The WRR has a fascinating history and the next chapter is about to be written.

But it looked like that chapter might come to an abrupt end when some Dallas City Council members floated the idea of ​​possibly selling the resort at a Quality of Life, Arts and Culture committee meeting in May. This alarmed WRR fans, who launched a campaign to urge the council to stick to a plan to allow KERA to take over the day-to-day operations of the century-old station.

Ahead of Wednesday’s vote to approve the deal between KERA and the city, Councilman Paul Ridley said he had received “literally hundreds” of emails supporting the deal.

Several council members spoke in favor of the contract before the vote.

“It’s great to have someone to play this (classical music) when you wake up in the morning and when you fall asleep at night,” Councilman Tennell Atkins said. “You think people don’t listen to him, but they really do.”

WRR marketing director Amy Bishop was one of 10 supporters who spoke during public comments in support of the deal.

“This radio station and the music it plays appeals to the hearts and imaginations of all ages, colors and nationalities,” she said. “You can put a price on a radio station, but you can’t put a price on the community enrichment that comes with keeping WRR alive if you just give it and KERA a chance to show you off.”

All this worry was either for nothing or to change the situation. Even the guy who pitched the sale at the May briefing, South Dallas and Fair Park Councilman Adam Bazaldua, voted in favor of the deal at Wednesday’s council meeting.

“We would absolutely miss the mark by making the decision to think there is a dollar amount that could be more valuable than continuing to allow the station to (contribute) to the arts community,” he said. .

When it was announced in May that KERA was the preferred bidder to take over operations from WRR, it seemed like a slam-dunk for everyone involved. The town would retain a historic asset but also withdraw from running a radio station, which many believe was not designed to work well.

But Bazaldua (at the time) had other thoughts, wondering about the wisdom of the town clinging to that terrestrial radio, wondering if it was time to sell before its value plummeted. He felt that historically the station’s purpose was, in part, to help raise more money to support the city’s arts community through advertising sales.

“Times have changed and we are no longer contributing to this artistic endowment,” he said. “I take it as a question, ‘Is the job of the City of Dallas to own radio stations if we don’t reinvest money in direct resources for our residents?’ If not, I think the answer is no.

According to a memo from the city’s Office of Arts and Culture, the station has a potential value of about $13.4 million. It would take 18 months to two years to close a sale, and about $7.5 million in cash would have been available to the city, part of which would go to a brokerage commission and about $5.6 million to repayment of the net deficit of WRR.

The station’s corporate fund expense allocation is $1.8 million and last year’s revenue was $1.3 million. The station is expected to gross around $1.5 million this year.

In May, Bazaldua floated the idea of ​​putting the station up for sale. He suggested that KERA might even want to pay for it.

But this rosy scenario was not guaranteed. For one thing, if the city were to put the station up for sale, it can’t impose any sort of stipulation on what kind of format the potential buyer can choose after the sale.

“If the city were to put it up for sale, anyone could bid on it — it wouldn’t just be public, nonprofit media,” Nico Leone, KERA’s president and CEO, told me during an interview. a phone call shortly after the May committee meeting. . “Literally any company, any individual, there’s no restriction on who could actually buy it.

“If you put a broadcast license up for sale, the FCC doesn’t allow you to restrict how it’s used by whoever bought it,” he said. “So there’s no legal way, if the city chooses to put it up for sale, for them to say, ‘It’s got to be a classic station.'”

KERA could successfully run the station, he said, because it can address some of the main reasons why WRR is currently floundering.

To understand this, you need to understand a little about how ad sales work. Often, to get those big advertisers, it takes a little wine and dinner. Advertising sales is also generally a commission-based business. City employees are not allowed to do these things. What about WRR sales staff? They are city employees.

By changing the station’s FCC license from commercial to non-commercial, KERA can add WRR into the fold of other member-supported offerings that include two radio stations, a television station and its online presence.

“There are a lot of benefits for the community, for the city, for the public and for arts organizations to have a good classical station,” Leone said. “A problem from the Arts and Culture Bureau’s perspective, from a budget perspective, is that it’s losing some of the money there, because it’s structured like a commercial station. They cannot fundraise, and they are otherwise restricted by the city that operates them. We can remove these constraints and make them sustainable.

But with Spotify, Pandora, Sirius XM and other streaming services, is there really a need for a city-owned terrestrial station?

“We really hope the answer is yes, because that’s our business,” Leone said with a chuckle. “Our business is to provide meaningful, high-quality content, whether it’s news; whether it is educational programs; or whether it’s music, art or culture, for everyone.

Having a terrestrial station is also a matter of fairness, he said, explaining that many streaming services aren’t free and, as we’ve learned during the pandemic, not everyone in the city doesn’t have the Internet bandwidth to reliably support them.

Leone also challenged the idea that there was no market for classical radio, explaining that while classical radio might not thrive on the business side of the dial, Leone said it was still in the market. public radio play.

“There’s a group of about 40 public radio stations that have worked together over the last five to ten years on an initiative called Rise of classical musicwho really worked on best practices and what it means to be a non-commercial classic radio station.

This group, he said, looked at everything from how to bring diversity to musical offerings to fundraising best practices designed to generate dollars behind classical music.

A fact sheet from Classical Music Rising provided statistics on the viability of classical music stations. According to Nielsen Audio figures from 2016, nearly 11 million Americans listen to classical music on public radio each week, of which 6.5 million listen to all-classical stations and 4.2 million listen to stations that offer a combination classical music and news.

Nielsen’s fall 2016 figures showed the all-classic format also had a stable viewership, the organization said. Infinite Dial’s Q2 2017 “Share of Ear” report found AM/FM radio reaches 71% of Americans daily and radio still plays more than half the time people spend listening to music , compared to online streaming services and their own libraries.

KERA will formally take control of WRR in December, giving public radio and the city six months to apply to convert the station’s license from a commercial license to a non-commercial license, and to transfer operations to KERA to so she can start fundraising.

The contract will be good for seven years, with two chances for an eight-year renewal, based on FCC license renewal requirements. The city is expected to review the success of the project at these times as well.

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Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the Senior Digital Editor of Magazine D. She has written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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