"Mental Floss" left over from Christmas

A look back at various radio stations

"Mental Floss" left over from Christmas

Postby Tape Splicer » Sat Dec 28, 2013 6:04 pm

While we were away for Christmas, some one where we were asked me why US radio and TV stations use "K" and "W" for their call letters... The easiest way to answer was to pull something up online... The answer (shown below) is from "Mental_Floss.com" Hopefully it is reasonably accurate .... If there are any comments please feel free to respond...
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"Why do TV and Radio stations on the east have W and on the west have K?"

Because the government says so.

In the days of the telegraph, operators started the practice of using short letter sequences as identifiers, referring to them as call letters or call signs. Early radio operators continued the practice, but without a central authority assigning call letters, radio operators often chose letters already in use, leading to confusion.

To alleviate the problem, the Bureau of Navigation (part of the Department of Commerce), began assigning three-letter call signs to American ships in the early 1910s.

Ships in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico got a K prefix and in the Pacific and the Great Lakes got a W. The precise reasons for choosing these two letters, if there were any, are unknown. Bureaucracy works in mysterious ways. At the 1912 London International Radiotelegraphic Convention, ranges of letters were assigned to each of the participating nations and the U.S. was told to keep using the W and most of the K range.

When the federal government began licensing commercial radio stations later that year, it had planned to assign call letters to the land-based stations in the same way. Somehow, things got flipped during implementation, though, and Eastern stations got W call signs and the Western ones got Ks. Where exactly does the Bureau of Navigation draw the line between East and West? For a while it ran north from the Texas-New Mexico border, but shifted in 1923 to follow the Mississippi River.

"Now hold on," you might say. "I live in [your state here], which should use call signs with a [K or W], but one of my local stations uses a [the other letter]. What sorcery is this?"

Yeah, the rules have never really been followed to a T. There are plenty of call sign anomalies. When the dividing line switched, some stations were made to change their call signs, while others weren't. For about a year in the 1920s, the Bureau of Navigation that decided that all new stations were going to get a K call sign no matter where they were located. Still other exceptions were made by special request, station relocations, ownership changes, and even human error. (In the federal government? Shocking, I know.)

The K station furthest east is Philadelphia's KYW-1060, which is still on air, and the W station furthest west was Fairbanks' WLAY, which operated in the early 1920s.

Read the full text here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/29669/wh ... z2ooui7XGW
--brought to you by mental_floss!
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Re: "Mental Floss" left over from Christmas

Postby jon » Sat Dec 28, 2013 6:25 pm

Tape Splicer wrote:When the federal government began licensing commercial radio stations later that year, it had planned to assign call letters to the land-based stations in the same way. Somehow, things got flipped during implementation, though, and Eastern stations got W call signs and the Western ones got Ks.

I've never heard this version of the story. All the sources I've read over the last 10 years say that the predecessor to the FCC purposely reversed the K and W assignments to allow instant recognition of whether a station was on land or see simply by the difference in the first letter of the call letters.
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Re: "Mental Floss" left over from Christmas

Postby Tape Splicer » Sat Dec 28, 2013 6:35 pm

For the Canadian historical point of view on the subject of call letters from the "Canadian Communication Foundation" web site.....
http://www.broadcasting-history.ca/stat ... Radio.html
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The Call Letters of Canadian Stations

Beginning in 1922 and for several decades, Canadian radio (and later, TV stations) were assigned call letters (or call signs) beginning with "CF", "CH, "CJ", "CK" or "10", followed by two letters which would be exclusive to one station. (exceptions: CKY Winnipeg and CKX Brandon licensed to the Manitoba Government Telephones).

An exception was also made in the case of the Canadian National Railways three owned-and operated stations and the CNR's "phantom Stations" (the latter used only when time was leased by the CNR on privately-owned stations). Thus, the owned stations became identified as CNRA Moncton, CNRO Ottawa and CNRV Vancouver. (see "Phantom Stations")

When the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission took over the CNR stations in 1932 and CRBC began to buy some of the existing private stations, the prefix "CRC" was reserved for its exclusive use (examples - CRCT (formerly CKGW) Toronto, CRCY (formerly CKNC) Toronto; etc.

On succeeding the CRBC in 1936, The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reserved for itself the prefix "CB". CRCT became "CBL" Toronto - the "L" because of its location in the Great Lakes region; CRCY became "CBY". As the CBC began to build its powerful 50 kW transmitters, the station calls usually related to their region or purpose, CBF Montreal - French language, CBK Watrous, Saskatewan, in honour of Kelsey the explorer CBE Edmonton, CBH Halifax, etc.

Early FM stations which simulcast the programming of the AM station, were identified by adding "FM" to the AM call sign. However, when the Board of Broadcast Governors (BBG) authorized separate (from AM) programming in 1961, some owners applied for approval of separate call signs, while others decided to retain the parent station call, with the FM suffix.

TV stations owned by a radio station in the same city, usually added "TV" to the radio letters, while new companies entering the TV field tried to find the most promotable call sign and applied for permission to use it. The prefix "CI" was introduced with the proliferation of new stations both in the TV and FM spectrum in the 60s.

In the early years, not everyone appreciated the value of a promotable call sign and merely accepted four letters that were assigned to them by the Federal authority. However, the government had no objection to stations choosing their own set of call letters, provided they conformed to those assigned to Canada. The letters "W" and "K" were reserved for USA stations, followed by three others. With some "grandfathering" (eg. KDKA Pittsburg and KYW Philladelphia), "W" was designated for stations east of the Mississippi River and "K" for stations to the west. This practice was abandoned in the 1980s.

The "10" stations (eg 10AB) were not licensed to broadcast commercials, but were reserved for what were termed "Amateur Radio Stations" transmitting on the regular broadcast band. These were mostly operated by community groups or experimenters. It was an inexpensive way to get into radio - the license fee was $ 25 as opposed to $ 50 for the commercial station. All but one of these stations, coincidentally there were 10 of them, ultimately obtained commercial licenses, and by 1935 all the "10" call signs had disappeared from the spectrum.

Before Newfoundland became Canada's 10th province in 1949, the call sign VO-was allocated to the island. Three stations began operating in St. John's - VOCM, VOAR and VOWN and these identifications were "grandfathered" in when Newfoundland entered Confederation, however, stations licensed since were given call signs similar to the rest of Canada.

J. Lyman Potts - September, 1997
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Re: "Mental Floss" left over from Christmas

Postby Tape Splicer » Sat Dec 28, 2013 6:42 pm

I don't know either Jon, but the answer that I posted above seemed to satisfy the questioner.
You can never tell what is urban legend and fact when looking online... That is why I posted the item here as I thought the "RW Brain Trust" would hold forth and add to the discussion.
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Re: "Mental Floss" left over from Christmas

Postby Toomas Losin » Sat Dec 28, 2013 7:09 pm

W-calls are a DX treat in the Lower Mainland, being so far west. I can remember a few times hearing something new with time announcements that were three hours later than local time and getting all excited about it in anticipation of something special!

WCCO 830 has been frequently heard lately with the loss of CKKY. Ditto for KSTP 1500. Apropos to this thread as both are east of the Mississippi. :-)
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