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WFAA

WFAA. For most of its first half century, the history and operations of Dallas radio station WFAA were intricately bound up with those of its Fort Worth competitor, WBAP, intertwined like the two serpents coiling around a single rod on the medical symbol of Caduceus. The stations first went on the air only weeks apart (WBAP, May 2, 1922; WFAA, June 26, 1922); each was owned by the major newspaper in its respective city—the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Dallas News; and for decades they time-shared the same frequencies through many changes. (Time-sharing was a common practice in the early days of commercial radio, because the allotted broadcast bands were limited, and in the early 1920s new stations were cropping up everywhere.) When, for example, WFAA was on mornings at 800 kc, its transmitter was shut down at noon, and WBAP took over the 800 kc frequency for the remaining broadcast hours, with the schedules reversing every other day.

The situation eventually grew more complicated when they alternated times on two frequencies, 570 kc and 820 kc (now kHz). Later, the symbiosis between the stations was practically complete when, in 1937, they built and shared a modern transmitter building and broadcast tower near Grapevine, Texas, with a WBAP sign on one side of the front and a WFAA sign on the other. The tower was reputed to be the tallest man-made structure in the Southwest. The time-share agreement between WFAA and WBAP is considered the longest in the U.S. and continued uninterrupted from 1929 until it finally concluded in 1970.

WFAA’S first “studio” was a small tent on top of the Dallas Morning News building. It soon relocated to the Morning News library and then in 1925 to the Baker Hotel. In 1941 the studio began a twenty-year tenancy atop the Santa Fe Railroad Warehouse on Jackson Street and moved finally in early 1961 to the state-of-the-art Communications Center at 606 Young Street. Among the “firsts” attributed to WFAA, whose call letters were reported to stand for “Working For All Alike” and “World’s Finest Air Attraction,” are: first in the U.S. to broadcast educational programs; first to air a state championship football game; first to broadcast a governor’s inaugural; and first to produce a radio dramatic series. Some sources claim that it was the first Texas station to affiliate with a national network, joining NBC in 1923, but NBC didn’t exist until late 1926. Over the years, the station was affiliated with the NBC, the Texas Quality Network, NBC Red, and ABC networks.

Initially, WFAA followed the block-programming format of most stations in those days, airing a variety of shows throughout the day that would, it was assumed, collectively appeal to a wide range of audiences. Mornings aired farm news, kiddy shows, and women’s programs. Afternoon and evening programming focused on music hosted by various deejays who played records by popular artists, dance bands, “hillbilly” groups, and even a sprinkling of jazz musicians. One of the most popular and long-running programs on WFAA was The Early Birds, which was broadcast live and included among its large cast Texas-born vocalist Frances Octavia Smith, later known as Dale Evans, wife of Roy Rogers and “Queen of the West.” During her tenure at the station (1936–38), she also starred on such shows as Cushioned Rhythm and Lyric Lady. Music shows in the 1940s and 1950s included Saturday Night Shindig and Lone Star Jamboree, an early version of Big D Jamboree.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the block-programming format was beginning to stale, as each station sought to create its own identity. New stations were signing on all over the dial, with formats ranging from country and religious to soul and Top 40. From an uncertain beginning after World War II, by the late 1940s FM radio was also attracting substantial audiences, and WFAA-FM became the first FM station in Texas when it signed on at 94.3 FM in October 1946, using the call sign KERA-FM (unrelated to the present station with those call letters). Although its time on the air was sporadic, sometimes being silent for months at a time, within a year it had resumed the WFAA-FM call letters and moved to the more favorable frequency of 97.9 FM. By 1965 it had established a permanent schedule and no longer aired as a simulcast of its sister AM station, adopting instead the Easy Listening format. Seven years later WFAA-AM began programming mostly “MOR” (Middle of the Road) music and shortly switched to Top 40. In 1976 the station made its final format change to News/Talk. By this time, some fifteen AM stations and seventeen FM stations were serving the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex area in a welter of call sign and frequency changes. Program listings for WFAA and WBAP ceased to distinguish between the two cities, showing WFAA as “Dallas/Fort Worth” and WBAP as “Fort Worth/Dallas.”

Meanwhile, the appearance of television in the late 1940s had created even greater competition for broadcast dollars. The A. H. Belo Corporation, owner of both WFAA and the Dallas Morning News, was caught by an FCC edict that banned new television stations between 1948 and 1952 and found that it could enter the burgeoning market only by purchasing an existing station. Thus KBTV, owned by oil magnate Tom Potter, became WFAA-TV only after Belo bought it for $575,000 in 1950. Now known as a pioneer in television journalism, WFAA-TV introduced many technological innovations and dominated the local news ratings well into the 1990s.

The historic radio call letters WFAA passed into the mists of time on July 2, 1983, when they were changed to KRQX. The station broadcast in that fashion until January 1, 1987, at which time Belo sold all its radio properties, including KRQX and its sister station KZEW-FM (formerly WFAA-FM). When last reported, KRQX (AM and FM) was licensed to Mexia, Texas, serving the Waco area. WFAA-AM’s long-time frequency, 570 kHz, is occupied by KLIF, Dallas; and KBFB, Dallas, broadcasts on WFAA-FM’s original frequency, FM 97.9. “WFAA” survives today only as WFAA-TV, Dallas.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

DFW Radio History.com presents Mike Shannon’s Dallas–Fort Worth AM Station History (http://www.knus99.com/amlist.html), accessed February 1, 2010. Fort Worth Forum: 1933 WFAA Radio Log Book, D/FW Radio History (http://www.fortwortharchitecture.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=131), accessed October 21, 2010. Wapedia, WFAA (http://bit.ly/9iNnKO), accessed January 20, 2010. Robert Sobel, RCA (New York: Stein and Day, 1986). Raymond E. White, King of the Cowboys, Queen of the West: Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005).

Nolan Porterfield

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Nolan Porterfield, "WFAA," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ebw03), accessed July 04, 2015. Uploaded on March 18, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.