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The TV Call Letters Edition
On sig outs, radio transmissions, and differentiation
"In Ocean City, Lindsay Tuchman, WBOC." That is something I've said countless times. It's what's known as a "sig out" in TV news talk. When you’re watching your local stations, or listening to the radio, you'll usually hear the station's call letters at the end of the reporter's story.
Why is this interesting?
Let’s start with the W (or K). According to the FCC, it all began with telegrams and radio. It's 1912, and an international conference is gathering to set some rules for radio transmissions. Notably, the RMS Titanic set sail and met her infamous fate just a few months before, highlighting the urgency for a streamlined communications system. The Department of Commerce then issues a memo on May 9, 1913, announcing countries each had their own letters, and the US was assigned W, K, N, and A, with the latter two reserved for government and military stations. Therefore, commercial signals got W and K. Roughly speaking, K went West, and W went East (sounds counterintuitive). Radio stations, and eventually TV, got to pick any series of two or three other letters to differentiate themselves.
These days, picking call letters is more about keeping with tradition than avoiding a penalty. Some stations that you know and love, like WCBS in New York and KCBS in LA, are obvious—CBS is the owner of those stations, and therefore it goes in the name. Some are based on their market location—WRAL (Raleigh), WEAU (Eau Claire, WI), KDFW (Dallas)—while others opted for the channel number in Roman numerals like KRXI (Reno Channel 11). But some, and this is the fun part, got a little bit more creative.
Chicago's WGN? "World's Greatest Newspaper," named after its original owner, the Chicago Tribune.
Also in Chicago, WLS? "World's Largest Store," that would be its original owner Sears Roebuck.
Atlanta's WSB? "Welcome South, Brother."
Fort Myers' WINK? I think that one's just for fun.
So now back to WBOC, that's where I worked for my first job out of college. The market is Salisbury, Maryland, but the coverage includes the entire Delmarva Peninsula (coastal Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia). The only hint I'll give is to take a look at a map and notice the bodies of water. Where does Delmarva sit?
"We're Between the Ocean and the Chesapeake." Cute, right? (LT)
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Lindsay (LT)
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