|
|
|
MailTribune.com
  • Radio station call letters are signs of times

  • What is the difference between a three-letter radio designation such as KGO and the more common, four-letter designation such as KMED? Why do some radio and TV stations begin their call signs with a "W" and others begin theirs with a "K." I have heard it has something to do with East vs. West.
    • email print
  • What is the difference between a three-letter radio designation such as KGO and the more common, four-letter designation such as KMED? Why do some radio and TV stations begin their call signs with a "W" and others begin theirs with a "K." I have heard it has something to do with East vs. West.
    — Larry S., Jacksonville
    You are on the right track with the East vs. West designation of "K" and "W," Larry.
    The practice goes back a century with the passage of the Bureau of Navigation's Radio Act of 1912. The bureau, which was assigned licensing of both ship and land radio stations, controlled call-letter assignments for land stations, which traditionally used two-letter calls. Stations starting with a "K" are west of the Mississippi River, and stations that begin with a "W" are east of the Mississippi, according to historian Thomas White's explanation of U.S. call-letter policies.
    World War I also had an effect on these call signs, according to White. As the navel fleet expanded, there weren't enough three-letter calls to go around. The solution was more letters, and four letter "KE" signs became the predominate issue for the rapidly expanding fleet, generally issued on a first-come, first-served basis in alphabetical order. The bureau, apparently noting the existence of the Panama Canal meant ships might show up on either coast, no longer tried to give ship calls that differentiated between the East and West coasts. The 1920s brought a flood of four-letter calls, as broadcasting service authorizations began overloading the bureau. There is a lot more history about the expansion of radio stations in this era that we're not able to include here, but if the topic is of interest to you, we suggest you delve into the overwhelming amount of information about it at www.earlyradiohistory.us.
    Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.
Reader Reaction
      • calendar