The City of Dallas-owned radio station not only pioneered the local airwaves; WRR was the first licensed broadcast station in Texas and one of the nation’s five inaugural stations. WRR is currently the second oldest operating radio station in the United States.
Operated by the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, WRR is an integral component of the City of Dallas’ commitment to providing access to arts opportunities to all its citizens and to the over six million residents of North Texas capable of receiving the station’s signal.
A History of Innovation
WRR was the brainchild of inventor Henry Garrett, a Police and Fire Signal Superintendent for the City of Dallas who began tinkering with radio in his off-duty hours. Garrett envisioned radio as the modern way for firefighters in the field to communicate and he sold city officials on the efficiency and safety value his concept could offer. Licensed August 5, 1921, the station was originally housed in the Dallas Fire Department and touted as the latest in firefighter communications. When firemen had no blazing fires to battle, however, they blazed the broadcast trail by playing music or telling jokes. WRR may well have been the birthplace of the “Disc Jockey!” A few years after the station began operation, the Fire Department needed a substantial investment in new equipment to serve the rapidly growing city. When city government declined to provide the funds, the Fire Department solicited donations from local businesses and thanked them, and urged listeners to patronize those businesses, over the air. A year later, in 1926, the station started marketing advertising commercials. The radio commercial was born!
On-air antics during emergency downtimes sold local residents on a new genre of entertainment. Citizens began purchasing crystal radio sets in order to tune in. By 1926, WRR had moved to the Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas. WRR made subsequent moves to the Jefferson Hotel and Hilton Hotel before settling at its present home on the State Fairgrounds in the late 1930s. The station debuted on the FM spectrum in 1948 and continued to broadcast at AM and FM frequencies until selling its AM station 30 years later. WRR became an all classical station over 50 years ago in 1964.
Classical Music for a Modern Audience in North Texas…and the World
Today, WRR is the only commercial station in Texas that plays classical music 24 hours a day and is the oldest same-owner station in the U.S. With a tower in Cedar Hill, the 100,000 watt station’s listening area spans 100 miles in any direction.
WRR continues to build on its legacy of innovation and firsts and is attracting a new breed of Internet listeners via terrestrial broadcast streaming on wrr101.com. WRR was the first radio station in the nation to offer a streaming signal on the internet.
In 2006, WRR was the first station in Texas to broadcast an all-digital format for improved sonic fidelity. Listeners can hear these benefits with an HD Radio receiver.
A Unique Part of the City of Dallas
WRR does not operate at the expense of taxpayers but as an “enterprise” of the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, generating revenue through advertising and sponsorships to cover its expenses. Revenue exceeding expenses has been invested in capital needs of the station, and a small portion has been transferred through the years to the OCA’s Arts Endowment, to support small and mid-size arts organizations.
(Portions of this article were first published in Dallas Visions – 2005)