Radio call signs

Radio call signs

Until terrestrial radio broadcasting took off in the 1920’s, there had been no medium to communicate with the masses. Sure, newspapers were around, but even they were very localized and relied on reader subscriptions. The New York Times wasn’t the international publication it is today. It was the “New York” Times. With radio, though, a whole new world opened up allowing messages to reach the masses, INSTANTLY. It was a pivot point in American, and world, culture.

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regulates radio communication, including commercial, educational, and low power (amateur) purposes. As part of the regulation and licensing process, every station is assigned a unique identifying set of letters referred to as a call sign. In the United States, the vast majority of radio station call signs consist of four letters which either start with a “W” or a “K”. Tradition holds that radio stations west of the Mississippi River have call signs starting with “K” and those east of the Mississippi River have call signs starting with “W”.

There are some exceptions to the rules, though. For example, a few radio stations have call signs that only have THREE letters such as KSL in Salt Lake City, Utah and WIS in Columbia, South Carolina. Also, even though Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is east of the Mississippi River, it has a radio station that starts with the letter “K”: KDKA.

And while the FCC assigns calls signs consisting of four letters to commercial radio broadcast stations, the FCC assigns call signs consisting of six letters AND NUMBERS to amateur radio operators. The call signs for amateur operators begin with two letters followed by one number and then ending with three letters. In the continental United States, the FCC has divided the amateur radio network into ten regions. Each region is assigned a number which is the number included in the call sign for an amateur radio operator residing in that region.

The idea of using unique call signs for radio stations, sprang forth from the successful use of unique call signs for telegraph stations. With the advent of radio in the early 20th century, the U.S. government quickly realized it needed to help regulate the industry to maintain order. In 1912 it passed the Radio Act of 1912 requiring radio stations to have a license in order to operate. Part of being granted a license included receiving a call sign, which up until 1928 was 3-letters.


June 5th, 2020

No comments