A television "station" is an organization that broadcasts one video and audio signal on a specified frequency, or channel. A station can "produce" or originate its own programming, purchase individual programs from a program producer or syndicator, or affiliate with a "network" that provides a partial or complete schedule of programming. The term "station" is usually used to designate a local broadcast facility that includes origination and/or playback equipment and a transmitter, with the station being the last link between program producers and the viewer. Because the number of television channels available is limited, permission to operate a television station must usually be obtained from a governmental agency (in the United States, television stations are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission) and must operate within technical limitations to avoid interfering with signals from other television stations.

Television stations can be classified as "commercial" or "public" depending upon whether their source of funding is advertising revenue or government subsidy (although some stations rely upon both). Most television stations are divided into departments according to the primary functions of the station. The programming department is responsible for procuring and/or producing programming for the station and arranging the individual programs into a program schedule. The engineering department is responsible for the technical upkeep of station equipment, including transmitters, video recorders, switching equipment, and production equipment. The production department is responsible for producing local programs, commercial announcements, and other materials needed for broadcast. Many stations also have a news department that specializes in the production of news broadcasts. Commercial stations have a sales department responsible for selling commercial advertisements; many noncommercial stations have a similar "underwriting" department responsible for soliciting funds for the station. The promotions department is responsible for informing the audience about the program schedule using announcements on the station and in other media, such as newspapers and radio. Finally, many stations also have a business department responsible for collecting and distributing the revenues of the station. These departments are usually supervised by a station manager, general manager or both.


An organization that owns or operates more than one station is known as a station group. There is a great deal of diversity in the manner in which groups operate individual stations. Some groups operate all the stations as a single unit, buying and scheduling programming for the station group as a unit in order to take advantage of economies of scale in negotiating the purchase price of programming or equipment. Other groups operate each station autonomously, with minimal group control over the daily operation of each station.

In the United States, the size of a station group is limited by federal regulations. As a result, the concentration of ownership of local television stations is extremely low, with 1181 commercial television stations being operated by more than 150 station groups as of early 1996.

Many stations and stations groups are owned by companies with interests in other media. For example, the Tribune Company owns ten television stations, including WPIX (New York), KTLA (Los Angeles), and WGN (Chicago), as well as four radio stations, four daily newspapers (including the Chicago Tribune), and a television syndication company. Changes in broadcast ownership restrictions in the United States are expected to lead to larger station groups and increasing cross-ownership of broadcast and other media. (As of mid-1996, a station group was limited to 12 or fewer stations serving a maximum of 25% of the U.S. population.)

-August Grant


Broadcasting and Cable Yearbook. New Providence, New Jersey: R.R. Bowker, 1995.

Hilliard, R. L. TV Station Operations and Management. Newton, Massachusetts: Focal, 1989.

Smith, F.L., M. Meeske, and J.W. Wright, III. Electronic Media and Government: the Regulation of Wireless and Wired Communication in the United States. White Plains, New York: Longman, 1995.


See also Allocation; License; Ownership; United States: Networks