mhking104 posts since 12 Nov 2003
Matt posted:

What do the letters in the name of radio and TV networks in America actually stand for?

Could any of the American members enlighten me!!! (Or English members if you know!) - I am just intrigued!!


When radio stations first came about, the Federal Communications Commission decreed that all broadcast stations had to identify themselves at least once per hour (as close to the top of the hour as possible) with their assigned call letters and their location.

All broadcast stations globally have identifying call letters, and the first one or two letters can be used to identify what country the station comes from. Broadcast stations generally have four letters, and begin with K (for stations west of the Mississippi River) or W (for stations east of the Mississippi). The Mississippi River was chosen in 1934 as a dividing point simply because it was an easy (albeit arbitrary) place to divide the nation in half. Prior to 1934, there were a number of three-letter combinations that had been issued. Those stations were allowed to keep their calls. As a result, there are a number of older stations with three-letter calls today. (as a side note, the letters N and A are also assigned to the US, but are used primarily for aviation and seagoing operations)

The rules that were established by the FCC in the 30's applied to AM as well as FM and television. The rules have been amended to also apply for low-power broadcast as well as digital broadcast stations. The rules prohibit the reuse of a set of calls on a single band. Most groups that own stations on multiple bands in a single city may (and generally do) have a single set of calls on each of the bands (i.e., WSB AM/FM/TV/DT here in Atlanta, all owned by Cox Broadcasting).

The call letters (especially with the older stations), were chosen to stand for something. As an example, WSB originally stood for the phrase, "Welcome South, Brother." WGN stood for "World's Greatest Newspaper," reflecting their owner (and current owner), The Chicago Tribune . More recently, station calls may be chosen for some catch phrase or geographic reason, but just as often, the call letters are arbitrarily chosen from the pool of unused call letters.

The one thing that hasn't changed, however, is the requirement by the FCC that the station ID themselves at the top of each hour with their calls and city of license. Most other nations do not have this requirement.