letters are used by television stations to identify themselves to
the TV audience. The call letters usually consist of various combinations
of four letters, sometimes followed by the suffix--TV; for example,
WAAA TV. Since many of the early television stations shared common
ownership with radio stations, they often shared the same call letters.
If the radio station call letters were WBBB, the TV station simply
Communications Commission regulations require that each TV station
identify itself at least once each hour by call letters and by city
of license. The announcement should be made at or close to the hour
during a natural break in programming and can be made either visually
or aurally. Stations have the option to insert their channel numbers
between the call letters and the city of license, and virtually
all stations follow this practice; e.g., KRON-TV, channel four,
San Francisco. In advertising and promotional announcements, stations
generally promote their channel assignments more vigorously than
their call letters.
of the more ingenious call letters actually identify the channel
either by word or by Roman numeral. These include KTWO, Casper,
Wyoming: KFOR, Oklahoma City; WTEN, Albany, New York;
and KTEN, Ada, Oklahoma. Two Roman numeral examples include
WIXT, Syracuse, New York; and KXII, Ardmore, Oklahoma. Two other
stations, WPVI, Philadelphia; and KPVI, Pocatello, Idaho, both use
a P for their respective cities followed by Roman numerals to indicate
their channel six assignments.
procedures for assigning call letters have their origin in the earliest
days of radio. Blocks of initial letters were assigned to various
countries following the London International Radiotelegraph Conference
of 1912. The letters W, K, N, and A were assigned to the United
States. W and K were used to designate commercial broadcasters,
while N and A were allocated to military users of the radio spectrum.
The initial letters C and X were assigned to Canada and Mexico,
respectively, and are still used today to identify Canadian and
Mexican television stations.
first U.S. radio stations were allowed to select their own call
letters beginning with either a W or a K. Also, early radio stations
could select either a three-letter or a four-letter combination.
Later, around 1928, the Federal Radio Commission formalized rules
which required that all stations use four-letter combinations. Further,
those stations east of the Mississippi were required to use an initial
W while those stations west of the Mississippi were required to
use an initial K.
already on the air were allowed to keep their call letters regardless
of number or location. Radio and later television stations such
as KDKA, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; WGN, Chicago; WHO, Des Moines,
Iowa; and WOW, Omaha, Nebraska, demonstrate their pioneer status
and their unbroken ownership by being notable exceptions to the
current rules. When WOR-TV, New York, was acquired by a new owner
it was required to adhere to the four-letter requirement and became
letters often tell something about station ownership. New York stations
WABC-TV, WCBS-TV, and WNBC-TV are each owned and operated by the
respective networks contained within their call letters. So too
are Los Angeles stations KABC-TV, KCBS-TV, and KNBC-TV. Ted Turner's
WTBS (Turner Broadcasting System) is still another example. A change
in ownership will often, but not always, bring a change in call
letters. When Philadelphia TV station WTAF was sold by Taft Broadcasting
to another owner, it became WTXF.
TV call letters trace their origins to the slogans of their radio
station predecessors. Examples include WGN (World's Greatest Newspaper),
the Chicago station owned by the Chicago Tribune; WLS (World's
Largest Store), the Chicago station originally owned by Sears Roebuck;
WSM (We Shelter Millions), the Nashville station originally owned
by an insurance company; and WSB (Welcome South, Brother), the Atlanta
station that conveys regional boosterism in its call letters.
television stations have continued this tradition. Chicago's WTTW
(Windows to the World) and Philadelphia's WHYY (Wider Horizons for
You and Yours) are two examples. Both WQED, Pittsburgh, and KQED,
San Francisco, use the abbreviation for the Latin phrase Quod Erat
Demonstrandum, "which was to be proven," in their call letters.
growth of cable has increased the promotional value of call letters
since some cable systems re-transmit TV signals "off-channel." For
example, a VHF station that broadcasts on channel ten might be carried
on cable channel five; a UHF station that broadcasts on channel
forty-eight might be carried on channel thirteen. As a result, many
TV stations continue to identify themselves by channel assignments,
but also promote their call letters more extensively than in the
Erik. A History Of Broadcasting In The United States; Volume
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Andrew F. A History Of Broadcasting: Technology And Business.
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Christopher H. and John M. Kitross. Stay Tuned: A Concise History
Of American Broadcasting. Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1990.