At WRR, Dallas' Classical Music Station, Employees Blame the Bloodletting on City Hall

WRR.jpeg
dallasparks.org
A few weeks ago, one of the digital billboards on I-30 leading west into downtown flashed a message congratulating Sarah Colmark on a successful first year at WRR 101.1 FM, Dallas' classical music radtio station. Colmark was hired as general manager last January, nearly a full two years after the departure of her predecessor Greg Davis, and the Friends of WRR wanted to show their gratitude for how she's steered the city-owned station.

But beneath the WRR's uncannily placid surface, Colmark's tenure has been marked by constant change and a bloodletting that has drained the station of the vast majority of its former workforce.

Tempie Lindsey was the first to go. The veteran Dallas DJ -- she's been in the business since 1975, most notably at Q102 -- had been hired by Davis not long before he left the station in 2010, despite her lack of a classical music background.

"I lived and ate and breathed and studied that format the entire two-and-a-half years I was there and made significant headway," she says of her time at WRR. "It was a bloody miracle that I was able to pull that off. I feel like I can do anything now. That's a very discerning audience, and they'd let you know when you did something wrong."

She says she was doing a solid job when her boss, programming manager Kurt Rongey, "decided to put a paper trail on me." In March 2012, she says, Rongey presented her with a list of her mistakes, a half dozen or so pages long, and told her she was fired. WRR declined to comment on specific personnel matters, but Lindsey says the mistakes were insignificant, like minor pronunciation errors or an ad later than scheduled.

SarahColmark.jpg
Sarah Colmark
"If you have live radio, it's things that happen all the time," she says. "Nothing big. Nothing major."

In the months after Lindsey was canned, the firings came in quick succession: longtime sales manager Gary Isaacs; account executives Brent Sanderson and Leza Mesiah; and finally, Rongey himself.

Amy Bishop, the station's on-air star, left for a job in Houston. Lynn Addington, the station's top salesperson, also departed. All told, the entire seven-person sales staff and about half of the programming staff quit or were fired over the course of eight months.

Maria Munoz Blanco, director of cultural affairs for the city of Dallas, which runs the station, declined to comment on specific personnel moves. But "no one has been fired for a petty offense," she said.

"We hired a highly capable and entrepreneurial new General Manager 12 months ago and yes, there has been turnover in the station's staff," Munoz-Blanco wrote in an email to Unfair Park. "With new management, there is often a change in the make-up of the staff (similar turnovers have happened at the station with prior manager-level transitions)."

But several former employees say the exodus has gone beyond a mere attempt to inject new blood. They describe a workplace that became a cauldron of intimidation and paranoia. The source, several former employees say, was Munoz-Blanco, who filled the void left by Greg Davis and continues to exert considerable influence over the station.

"It became hostile," Addington says. "I have never felt such a atmosphere of absolute fear in my coworkers, and it made it hard for me to get past the terminal."

Lindsey puts it more bluntly: "[Munoz-Blanco] had all the tact of a small, angry bird."

Addington was particularly upset when WRR management abruptly raised ad rates on the nonprofits and arts organizations that were her bread-and-butter clients. Not only did this happen in the middle of their fiscal year, making it difficult or impossible for them to budget for, it damaged their relationship with the station, Addington says.

"The station used to take pride in supporting the arts, nonprofits," she says. "We were partners to nonprofits. I felt ... like that vision was being erased. Eradicated. Retracted. Whatever word fits."

Munoz-Blanco contends this was "is consistent with the City of Dallas commitment to the arts," noting that nonprofits still get two spots for the price of one.

"Reps were instructed to stop heavily discounting rates or throwing in so many freebies as the station's bottom line was being impacted," she writes. "Business with agencies that only buy at deeply discounted rates (i.e., $40 a spot when the rate is $200 a spot) was also stopped."

On the programming side, Munoz-Blano made no friends when she announced at a meeting of programming staff that announcers -- that's WRR's term for DJ -- would no longer be allowed to be paid for promotional appearances. She says it was to comply with the city's code of ethics, which bars city employees from receiving such payments.

But such appearance are common practice in radio, and the on-air staff weren't happy with the decision or the abruptness with which it was delivered.

"She jerked that out from under us," Lindsey says. "You could have heard a pin drop at that table."

Then there was the feeling among employees that station management was watching their every move. According to three former employees, Isaacs was once formally reprimanded for inadvertently making a long-distance call to his wife, having not realized that their new home, a few blocks away from their old one, was no longer a local call.

All of this has had one predictable impact, the employees say: sales revenue is way down. In the first quarter of fiscal year 2013, which started in October, local sales were down 24.6 percent. (Sales for fiscal year 2012 were down 5.1 percent from 2011). Munoz-Blanco blames this on the new sales staff, who need three to four months to build up accounts, and the disruption caused by the fall elections and fiscal cliff negotiations.

"We fully expect that with an improved on-air product and a new fully staffed sales force, station revenues will grow this fiscal year and the next," she says. "The station deeply values its advertisers and cultivates those relationships with great care."

As for the music, Munoz-Blanco says the station is seeking to grow its audience by "continuing to explore the greatest music of the last 500 years but also experiment[ing] with new programming features like film and gaming scores."

Addington thinks the station is heading in the opposite direction.

"In their effort to broaden their audience," she says, "they were turning their back on their existing advertising base, and I think that was a strategic mistake."

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56 comments
roadsidecouch
roadsidecouch

Who needs WRR when you have nekid NAZI chick statues in fair park!

Tested
Tested

Seems as I read this and the comments about it there are definitely two sides to this story.  I would say the one thing WRR could do to help itself would be to quit carrying the city council meetings.  Years ago I could see why the city would want that.  Now with the internet, its just not necessary.  Now it's just a 5 or 6 hour break of format every week.  

martingg
martingg

Blah, blah, blah.....this has been going on for 30 years...it's part and parcell of city ownership......

at the end of the day...Dallas would be without a classical music station if the City of Dallas didn't own WRR..., case closed. Sure there are things wrong.....sure WRR is part of the bureaucratic maze....sure there are City employees who get involved with WRR who know little about how a radio station operates.... sure one announcer blabs too much, and the other mispronounces the composer's name......

but what is absolutely sure is that if the City didn't own it, Dallas would be without a classical music station just like most other major markets.

Be thankful that with all its warts, we still can listen to classical music on the radio.

phillipjstewart
phillipjstewart

It's felt that Maria Munoz Blanco hired Sarah Colmark as a puppet. Sarah's family owns radio stations.  It may be the reason why the City is trying to drive down the value of the station so Sarah's father can buy it on the cheap. The City took over 7 million dollars from WRR's operating funds meant to improve and market the station.  Many felt Colmark as very inexperienced, insecure and somewhat mean spirited to her original sales staff with an average tenure of 10 years. The on air staff was also mistreated and overworked and then hired her friends.  Colmark also allowed 'her' new pet sales hire (some guy named Rick in 80's Chess King suits I got to meet) to undercut and drive 'down' rates set by the established sales staff.  An unfair and bad business practice. Yes, I miss doing business with the station.  I believe if Colmark knew what she was doing she would have hired 2-3 more people and the station would have already been making more money.  25-50% down in revenues because of a new staff is just an excuse for poor management.  It takes about 3 months to get back on track and it's already been a year.  I'm still a Classical Music fan, and after a year, there are very few if any new advertisers on the air. It's unfortunate that many lives were upset and the station revenues have PLUMMETED since Munoz-Blanco (no radio experience) & Comark (little and poor management skills) took over.  As a former advertiser it's a sad situation.  I think it would be great to replace both of them with others who understand the integrity other City Of Dallas departments adhere to as well as how to 'close' new business which is obvious they aren't doing under the present leadership. They've lost many long-term advertisers that had been on for years. Unfortunate!   It should be interesting to see what happens in the next 6 months. And why didn't WRR do their annual picnic?   Another bad business decision! 

halldecker
halldecker

Traditionally,  and this includes Dallas,  the audience for classical music skews heavily 55+,  a demographic most advertisers don't want.  It takes a unique sales person who can convince an advertiser that's been successful on KLUV to switch.  As in,  very few could do it.

Constant terror from management.  That's part of radio most everywhere.

In the go-go 80's,  early 90's,  the 'stick value' of WRR was from $60-80 million.  One group promised they'd continue to carry the City Council if the City sold to them,


As noted elsewhere,  the "Friends of WRR" blew a fuse,  started harping on how all the cultural folks depend on 'RR to stay alive,  etc.  They're loud for their relatively small number,  I'd guess a couple thou max.   DFW is now so over-radioed (60+ signals),   with countless other places to spend ad money,  the stick value for a Class C FM is about $25mil.

Back to demographics,  the trends I've seen,  the blue-hairs who shuffle off aren't being replaced by young vibrant types who've suddenly taken an interest in old dead European composers.  That will eventually be the end of  'RR as it has been,  its audience is dying.  

If I read the story correctly,  current management is interested in playing music from computer games.   "And now here's Sony's March from the Night of the Living Dead."






baker24
baker24

If you wake up some morning and find WRR is now broadcasting in Korean, you'll know it has been sold.

listener
listener

I agree that it's about time folks took a serious look at what has happened to our beloved WRR.  Evidently, when Ms. Colmark took over the reigns as the GM, she decided to manage with fear and intimidation.  Why would so many bright and creative individuals leave?  Ms. Addington uses descriptions like "hostile" and "fear."  The example she uses about Mr. Isaac's being reprimanded for a long distance phone call to his wife is quite disturbing.  There must have been other candidates for the position of GM at WRR.  It took 2 years to replace Greg Davis, and Ms. Munoz-Blanco settled on Ms. Colmark?  If you investigate what happened in New Mexico, you would see that she "cleaned house" there, as well.  Of course a new manager is going to bring a new style of management to the workplace, but creating an atmosphere like Ms. Addington describes should be absolutely unacceptable to the City of Dallas.  My friends who previously advertised with WRR have found new homes with larger audiences.  Ms. Munoz-Blanco suggests that the new sales staff needs time to "build up accounts."  My advertising friends suggest that they will not be going back to the station.  One of my friends, a marketing director for a non-profit arts group, was informed in August that he would now have to pay $200 for a commercial instead of the $175 that he had paid for 5 years.  Evidently they received another commercial free of charge.  He was confused by "theeliot"s comment about the $175 commercial.  It seems like all of the non-profit groups would have the same guidelines, doesn't it?  This is a sad time for listeners of WRR.  As a taxpayer in the city of Dallas, I am very disappointed.

schermbeck
schermbeck

Great to see the City's emphasis on ethics here. Too bad it didn't sink in with the City Manager.

theeliot
theeliot

As a long time board member on several small Arts organizations, I can tell you that WRR is still the most economically efficient way for arts organizations to advertise their product.  The rates have not changed.  When spots are sold, the sales staff is honest about when they will air.  You can still buy a $175 spot, but it will be where that billing has always been - late at night.  WRR still works with arts organizations to partner with their corporate sponsors so the arts organizations get the best bang for their advertising dollars.

Am thankful for the uptick in commercial advertising on WRR.  It sounds positive and alive.  Plus, I know these companies are helping to pay the bills for WRR and keep it profitable for us.  I hope the bloggers below are thanking WRR's advertisers when using their services.  

If I were buying advertising to air at a certain time, to reach a specific audience, and it did not air, I'd want my money back and so would you.

Have heard only positive things about Sarah Colmark, the new GM, from arts organizations.  She seems to be great at building partnerships between arts organizations and WRR.  

The programming is much more varied, which is good for all of us.  Not everyone loves baroque, romantic, guitar, opera, etc., but this is a city owned station and we all have to learn how to "play together in the sand box".   In reading WRR's FB page, know they are trying different things.  If you don't like something, tell them, don't just bicker.    Instead of attacking Ms. Colmark, who knows a lot more about classical music and running a commercial radio station that probably anyone else in Dallas, support and help her.

She did not come to WRR intent on "cleaning house".  If she were that bad a manager, one of her former employees from New Mexico would not have uprooted themselves and moved to Dallas to work for her.  And where did The Observer get that ancient picture.  Please stick to news and get off FB for your facts.

The citizens of Dallas own WRR because they need this beautiful music and it is a beacon to the Arts in Dallas and all of North Texas.  Very proactive voters from all over Dallas keep WRR from being sold.

Aside from WRR giving the best advertising rates for arts organizations, it returns to the Office of Cultural Affairs and Dallas its annual profits.  The station runs in the black and I question the article's reporting.  In 2008(?), when Dallas needed to balance its budget, it took WRR's $7.4million cash operating reserve.  This $7.4M went not just to the OCA but to the General Fund to pay salaries, improve streets, sanitation, etc.  

By the way, Mr. Nicholson,  the word is radio, not "radtio".






classicaltrader
classicaltrader

Had heard about turmoil in the arts community under Blanco's leadership, but didn't realize that it was this comprehensive.  This type of "improvement" is similar to the double speak coming from Maker's Mark about reasons behind new, lower, alcohol content.  Sounds like where there is smoke...

WatchingSouthDetroit
WatchingSouthDetroit

If the City of Dallas is involved in running it, then it will be screwed up.  As another comment said, I wouldn't be surprised if Suhm (the teflon city manager) and Munoz-Blanco were intentionally running this into the ground so they can later claim that WRR is losing money and can be sold.  If sales do not increase, will Munoz-Blanco take responsibility and resign (or be fired by Suhm)? I doubt it - in City of Dallas (and county) government, failure and incompetence are ignored and often rewarded.

As a Ticket P1, I know that errors and mispronunciations are often funny and celebrated.  If Munoz-Blanco and Colmark would work it right, they could add some humor to the listening experience.

s.aten
s.aten

I used to listen to WRR on my computer at work but their equipment problems resulted in the signal being dropped repeatedly.  Finally I switched to KINGFM.com out of Seattle.  Now I have Classical music that I can depend on being there all day.  The only time I listen to WRR now is when the city council is on.

voxtrax
voxtrax

Anyone who has worked at WRR over the years can tell you that ruling by fear is not a new tactic there. Several have used it in the past, but the previous GM was a master at it. When you sign on at WRR you need to realize that since it is city-owned you cannot expect the station to be run like the others. Paper trails and "playing the system" is the way managers get rid of staffers, who are city workers, just like police, fire, streets, and park employees. The elimination of the fee for personal appearances is an event with history to it. Years ago, the city decided to not allow the station to pay its employees overtime for such appearances and the burden of that fee was passed onto the client who asked for the appearance. Now that income avenue is lost to the announcer.  There is so much more to say, but I'll leave that to someone else.   

lenorisdavis
lenorisdavis

If the city is trying to sell it, The Friends of WRR will block it.  They have for years.  WRR could have fetched as much as 60-80 million some 20 years ago.  But the Friends of WRR will not let the station be sold at any cost.


EdD.
EdD.

Crippling the station is the perfect pretense for selling it (too cheap) to some insider who can flip it to one of the big groups for a hefty price. It's more predictable than a big land deal being somewhat shady.

JonMack
JonMack

FINALLY, some local reporting on this. I've been very sad and upset about recent changes in WRR. I've listened since I was a kid, when I lived out of state for 5 years I streamed it. Though I'm the furthest thing from a classical music aficionado, can't play a lick of a classical instrument and still have trouble with the proper terms, etc. But WRR has turned to crap.

Firstly, Tempie Lindsey did indeed have to go. She might be a Dallas veteran and she might've improved some but it was still not a fit. I didn't care for the over-enunciation 5th grade teacher voice nor the misspoken artists, movements, orchestras, etc.

But futhermore, the station itself has turned to garbage. Amy Bishop was fantastic and, I think, a real star. They've now become "talky" day and night, playing pops and musical scores. Totally mindless garbage. I've learned nothing new in the last few months. Now the DJ's prattle on about it being "National Hot Dog Day" and the BS yahoo.com news lists; "Top 10 Most Favorite Ice Creams"...they actually talk about this stuff.

Breakfast with Barry, it's idiotic. I used to like him on nights/weekends with a bit of personality. They told him to "keep doing that" and I can't even listen in the mornings anymore. The best voice, Ed Blalock, they've cuckolded him again after seemingly not being able to yap like a modern DJ should.

The entire branding, direction, voice and tone has changed on WRR. I used to listen for at least 5 hours per day, if not even from 8am-10pm some days. Now, I can't make it through an hour. I hate to think that the new station director is the single cause for all of this, but I don't know what to say. Very sad, want to have my WRR back.

FEDUP
FEDUP

And why does the city of dallas, who is out of money, own a radio station?


ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

Sell it to Glen Beck

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Colmark is apparently one of those sociopathic "housecleaners" we've all seen in our working lives.

animas
animas

Brilliant analysis and totally consistent with the prior events in New Mexico at KHFM.

dallasm
dallasm

I would guess by 'gaming score' they mean things along the lines of the Zelda score which to my surprise quickly sold out at the Meyerson.  Unusual and unorthodox?  Certainly.  A perhaps legitimized (that Zelda show sold out nationwide) effort to engage an under-55 demographic?  We'll see.  I am no blue hair, but I have enjoyed WRR's programming for a long time now. 

animas
animas

The exact same thing happened at KHFM in New Mexico and is documented below...

addington2244
addington2244

@listener  

The atmosphere was hostile, but I didn't attribute it to Sarah Colmark.  I still don't.

WylieH
WylieH

@theeliot According to p.112 of the City's 2011 financial report (the most recent available), WRR lost $97,000 in that year.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

@s.aten You listen to council meetings?

You really are satan.

theeliot
theeliot

@lenorisdavis 

I think the Friends of WRR would try, but it's the citizens of Dallas, proactive voters who contact their councilmen who keep the station from being sold.  We are lucky to have an active citizenry!

ccockrell
ccockrell

@JonMackI agree whole heartily.  I am so sick of Barry Samsula's stupid stick in the morning. "Breakfast with Bary". Blah, Blah, Blah. "Coffey's on" "I'm your chief cook and bottle washer." Really? Every time I hear this stupid crap I cringe. I don't need a "bottle washer" in the morning. What I need is a DJ who will shut the F up and play classical music.  I don't need a "bottle washer" or a "march of the day." I don't need to know what the temperature is in Minot, Minnesota or North Dakota or where ever the hell it is he's always talking about.  I don't need to have emails read to me about how great the show is.  And then there's the commercials.  Good grief! Could they play any more commercials in the morning.  There have been mornings where between Barry flapping his lips and the commercials (say from 6:30 to 7:30) I kid you not they only played 3 pieces of music. And its not just Barry Samsula.  All the DJ's are way to chatty.  WRR has basically turned in to talk radio that occasionaly plays classical music.  It is so Fing annoying.  I am also tired of all the movie scores.  Good grief! One every now and then would be alright but they are going way overboard with it.  What the new management doesn't seem to understand is that it doesn't matter how many movie scores and video game scores they play WRR is never going to appeal to a mass audience.  All they are doing now is alienating the people who have listened to and supported this station they're whole lives.  This station had a formula that was working and had been working. I don't know why they felt it was necessary to turn the place upside down.  Maybe they are trying to run it into the ground.   

casiepierce
casiepierce

@FEDUP Because it's the only thing the city owns that actually MAKES money...

WylieH
WylieH

@FEDUP Good question.  Have you noticed that it runs religious broadcasts on Sunday mornings?  Many of the programs originate from churches outside Dallas (e.g. Park Cities, Ft. Worth, etc.). 

FEDUP
FEDUP

Of which there are better classical stations on satellite, WRR music hasn't upgraded  their music since the 70's. On a scale of quality classical stations, I rate WRR at 3 in a scale of 1-10, and I'm giving them a point.

garygo1
garygo1

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz I assure that Ms. Colmark is not a sociopath. You need not look to far into this piece to find one, though. 

animas
animas

pretty much the same scenario occurred at New Mexico's one and only classical music station when Colmark & Co were in charge... (cue in "Lord High Executioner" from the Mikado)

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall topcommenter

For some of us non-bluehairs WRR is the go to station when you've had all you can take for the day of KTCK schtick and NPR is just the same commentary you heard yesterday..   God save us from the Clear Channel grammy stations, the Classic Rock (let's hear it one more time) stations, and the sadly confused KXT?

theeliot
theeliot

@WylieH @theeliot  

Was that after Sarah Colmark was hired and corrected the accounting to reflect standard accounting practices for radio?  Remember, the station was without a GM from 2008 to 2012.  I'd heard she'd corrected the accounting when she came, projected a $200,000 deficit - but an honest account - then worked to increase advertising and eliminated the deficit.  What did you hear?

erik.vonhandorf
erik.vonhandorf

@ccockrell @JonMack I totally agree with both of you. Barry Samsula is so annoying that I have to turn the show off when out walking in the mornings.  Losing Amy Bishop and replacing her with this charlatan is an annoying example of why government should not be involved. Amy Bishop fans can still hear her on KUHF 91.7 streaming online on Saturdays from Houston (but, unfortunately, for local radio reception when out in the car or out walking, the station KXT overrides that frequency in the Dallas area).

WylieH
WylieH

@casiepierce @FEDUP As I mentioned in another post on this thread, the radio station lost $97,000 in the most recent year for which data is publicly available (fiscal year 2011).

classicaltrader
classicaltrader

@casiepierce @FEDUP   Think you mean "used to", make money that is.  Doesn't sound as though they are doing too good a job at bringing in the $ today.

halldecker
halldecker

@Sotiredofitall What's really surprising:  'RR is still using local jocks in all day-parts.  I'd guess over half the 60+ stations claiming to serve the DFW area stations are using satellite,  voice-tracking,  digitally-delivered,  non-live local programming.  Quite a few of the top 10,  matter of fact.  If a jock says "(whatever)  past the hour",  he's not local.  Assuming 6 shifts at $4,000 a month,  keep morning and afternoon drive live except on weekends,  'RR could easily save a quarter-mil a year.   Don't think management doesn't know that,  hasn't already given it serious consideration.

classicaltrader
classicaltrader

@theeliot @WylieH   Sounds as though they are not doing too well at making $ currently.  You sound like you might have an inside edge?  Personally, I don't care for all of the on-air chit chat.  Seems juvenile.  

theeliot
theeliot

@WylieH @theeliot 

Thank you.  I know they're trying to get sales up and be very profitable, as we all know is possible.  With a positive GM, it should be fun also.

WylieH
WylieH

@theeliot @WylieH This was before she was hired.  I haven't heard anything specific.  Years ago, the station consistently made money, but performance seems to have fallen off in recent years.  The 2012 report should be out soon and will provide additional perspective.

garygo1
garygo1

@lenorisdavis @garygo1 So sorry! No offense. The pic is so small and didn't even glance at it. Thanks for your support of WRR and The Friends of WRR! 

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