Did you know Texas was the location of the second licensed radio station in the entire United States? Begun in 1921 and currently still in business, WRR in Dallas was born after a fire destroyed telephone lines, plunging rescue workers into chaos. Afterward, local Police and Fire Signal Superintendent Henry Garrett, already a radio enthusiast, thought a wireless radio system could prevent that problem in the future.
On air, and in between dispatch calls, Dallas firefighters filled the airwaves with their own conversations and jokes. Garrett played his personal classical records and brought in a piano so his daughter could play live. After a few years, new equipment for the radio station was needed by the Fire Department to keep up with the quickly expanding city, but local government declined to allot funds. Instead of shuttering, the Fire Department solicited nearby commerce for donations, thanked them on air, and urged listeners to patronize those businesses. In 1926, WRR began marketing for advertising, and radio commercials were officially invented.
Photo: @kayonokami via Twenty20
Dallas residents who tuned in began buying radios for their homes. They were ahead of the national curve. Radios started to become popular in the U.S. in the 1930s; by 1947, 82% of Americans were listening in. Today, WRR is operated by the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture, and it reaches nearly eight million North Texas residents. It has been broadcasted from the State Fairgrounds since the late 1930s and featured classical music since 1964. The city of Dallas continues ownership of WRR, making it most likely the only remaining commercial station owned by a government.
Wondering about the unusual call sign, as most Texas stations begin with a ‘K’? WRR Dallas, as well as WBAP Fort Worth (signed on the air on May 2, 1922) and WOAI San Antonio (signed on the air on September 25, 1922), fall in this category. This is due to the 1923 shift of the border where ‘W’ stations end and ‘K’ stations begin. Before 1923, it was the Texas-New Mexico border. Afterward to now, the boundary is the Mississippi River. Did you know this tidbit of radio history?