911, What Is Your Emergency?

Just because Texas’ first licensed broadcast station specializes in classical music doesn’t mean WRR always takes itself seriously.

Seen the WRR 101.1 FM van adorned with composers’ faces and the words “Get a Handel” on the front and “Ludwig’s van” on the side? Maybe Beethoven wouldn’t need to drink a fifth of something to appreciate the puns.

Nearly a century ago, when WRR launched as one of the U.S. five inaugural stations, the vehicles most associated with it proved easily recognizable and valued for their vital community purpose.

That’s because the nation’s second licensed station began housed in the Dallas Fire Department. It provided a modern way to help public safety workers stay in touch as they made emergency runs in fire engines and police cars.

“WRR was launched as a public service entity, and that commitment carries through to this day,” said WRR general manager and program director Mike Oakes.

“This is a commemoration of the launch of an entire industry, which not only survives but thrives, a century on.”

Mike Oakes, WRR general manager and program director

A yearlong celebration of that legacy of service will begin with “Texas’ First Radio Station: WRR Radio Centennial Celebration.” The exhibit, curated in partnership with Dallas Municipal Archives and NorthPark Center, goes on display Aug 5 at the mall.

“This isn’t just a celebration of one radio station,” Oakes said. “This is a commemoration of the launch of an entire industry, which not only survives but thrives, a century on.”

Supported by advertising and sponsorships, not taxes, the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture operates WRR to provide arts opportunities to listeners across North Texas. Still, the station originated as an idea of Henry Garrett, a police and fire signal superintendent.

A press release from WRR describes how firefighters, after the station was licensed on Aug. 5, 1921, would play music or tell jokes on air when not fighting fires. Residents purchased crystal radio sets and tuned in.

To raise money for new equipment, firefighters urged listeners to patronize businesses that donated to the department.

Eventually, the station moved to the Adolphus Hotel, then the Jefferson, and then the Hilton before settling in at the State Fairgrounds in the late 1930s. In 1948, WRR added an FM station and broadcast on both frequencies until selling its AM station 30 years later. WRR went all-classical in 1964.

Learn more at the exhibit, Oakes said. “There is so much history that exists with this one very special radio station, from its very beginnings.”

If You Go

What: The exhibit “Texas’ First Radio Station: WRR Radio Centennial Celebration” explores the station’s rise from public safety communications to North Texas premier classical FM station for a 100-mile radius.

When: Aug. 5 – Sept. 16

Where: NorthPark Center’s SouthCourt between Louis Vuitton and Burberry.


For nearly 40 years, People Newspapers has worked tirelessly to tell the stories—good, bad, and sublime—of our neighbors in the Park Cities and Preston Hollow. To support our efforts, please contact [email protected] for advertising opportunities. Please also consider sharing this story with your friends and social media followers.

William Taylor

William Taylor, editor of Park Cities People and Preston Hollow People, shares a name and a birthday with his dad and a love for community journalism with his colleagues at People Newspapers. He joined the staff in 2016 after more than 25 years working for daily newspapers in such places as Alexandria, Louisiana; Baton Rouge; McKinney; San Angelo; and Sherman, though not in anywhere near that order. A city manager once told him that “city government is the best government” because of its potential to improve the lives of its residents. William still enjoys covering municipal government and many other topics. Follow him on Twitter @Seminarydropout. He apologizes in advance to the Joneses for any angry Tweets that might slip out about the Dallas Cowboys during the NFL season. You also can reach him at [email protected]. For the latest news, click here to sign up for our newsletter.

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