Call signs in North America

Call signs in North America

Call signs in North America are frequently still used by North American broadcast stations in addition to amateur radio and other international radio stations that continue to identify by call signs around the world. Each country has a different set of patterns for its own call signs.

Many countries have specific conventions for classifying call signs by transmitter characteristics and location. The call sign format for radio and television call signs follows a number of conventions. All call signs begin with a "prefix" assigned by the International Telecommunications Union. For example, the United States has been assigned the following prefixes: AAAALZ, K, N, W. For a complete list, see international call sign allocations.


Bermuda, Bahamas, and the Caribbean

Pertaining to their status as former or current colonies, all of the British West Indies islands shared the VS, ZBZJ, ZNZO, and ZQ prefixes. The current, largely post-independence, allocation list is as follows:


Cuba uses the prefixes CLCM, CO, and T4, with district numbers from 0 to 9 to amateur operations.

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic uses the prefixes HIHJ.

French West Indies

All of the French possessions share the prefix F. Further divisions that are used by amateur stations are:


Haiti has been assigned HH and 4V.

Netherlands Antilles

The Kingdom of the Netherlands use the PAPI prefixes, while the Netherlands Antilles use the PJ prefix. Aruba has been assigned P4 by the ITU.

Trinidad and Tobago

The island nation of Trinidad and Tobago use the 9Y9Z prefixes.


Canadian broadcast stations are assigned a three-, four-, or five-letter base call sign (not including the –FM or –TV suffix) beginning with CB, CF, CH, CI, CJ, CK, VAVG, VO, VX, VY, or XJXO. The CB series calls are assigned to Chile by the ITU, but Canada makes de facto use of this series anyway for stations belonging to, but not exclusively broadcasting programs from, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).[1] Several other prefixes, including CG, CY, CZ and the XJ to XO range, are available, but are not currently in broadcast use. Conventional radio and television stations almost exclusively use C call signs; with a few exceptions noted below, the V codes are restricted to specialized uses such as amateur radio.

Special broadcast undertakings such as Internet radio, cable FM, carrier current or closed circuit stations may sometimes be known by unofficial call signs such as "CSCR". These are not governed by the Canadian media regulation system, and may at times reflect call signs that would not be permissible on a conventional broadcast platform.

Four-letter call signs are the norm. Three-letter call signs are only permitted to CBC Radio stations or to commercial stations which already had a three-letter call sign before the current rules were adopted, and five-letter call signs exclusively identify CBC transmitters (which may be either rebroadcasters or SRC owned and operated stations outside of Quebec.)

Stations of the CBC or Société Radio-Canada tend to identify themselves as "CBC Radio One"/"CBC Radio Two" (English-language) or "La Première Chaîne"/"Espace Musique" (French-language) of a city, although they do have official three- and four- letter call signs. These generally (but not always) begin with CB.

Call signs with four digits preceded by VF (for radio) or CH (for television) are only assigned to very-low-power local rebroadcasters; VO call signs may only be used commercially by stations in Newfoundland and Labrador which were licensed before that province joined the Canadian Confederation in 1949 (VOCM, VOAR and VOWR broadcast from St. John's long before confederation). Only one station, VOCM-FM, has been allowed to adopt a VO call sign after 1949. It was granted the VOCM calls because of its corporate association with the AM station.

All Canadian FM stations have an –FM suffix, except for low-power re-broadcasters which have semi-numeric VF call signs. Higher-power rebroadcasters are generally licensed under the call sign of the originating station, followed by a numeric suffix and, for FM re-broadcasters of an AM station, a –FM suffix. For example, CJBC-1-FM rebroadcasts CJBC (860 Toronto), whereas CJBC-FM-1 rebroadcasts CJBC-FM (90.3 Toronto). Some rebroadcasters, however, may have their own distinct call signs. Canadian TV stations always have the -TV suffix, with the exception of those CBC-owned stations which have a call sign in the CB-(-)T format. Canadian digital transitional television undertakings have -DT suffixes, even where the base call sign is a CBC/Radio-Canada O&O in pattern CB...T, CB...ET or CB...FT (for television, English language television or French language television, respectively). For instance, SRC's O&O CBOFT-DT would represent "CBC Ottawa Français Télévision - Digital Television". Canada does not use the -LP or -CA suffixes that are in use in the United States but makes limited use of -SW for privately-owned shortwave radio stations.

For rebroadcasters which use a numeric suffix, the suffixes usually follow a 1–2–3 numeric sequence which indicates the chronological order in which rebroadcast transmitters were added. There are some cases where television rebroadcasters are suffixed with the channel number on which the transmitter broadcasts (for instance, CIII-TV's rebroadcasters are numbered with their channel assignment rather than sequentially), but this is not generally the norm.

Experimental television stations in Canada had call signs beginning with VX9.

The CG prefix is used by Canadian Coast Guard stations and ship-to-shore radio on Federally-owned ships. Coast Guard Radio stations have also used VA through VF. Individual ships will use call signs with a Canadian two-letter prefix (such as CF, CY, CZ, VB, VC or VY) followed by a four-digit number.[2] Aircraft are identified with a prefix such as CF or CG followed by three letters. Military radio fixed stations also bear call signs in the CF-CK, CY-CZ, VE and VX-VY series. "Environment Canada" weather stations have call signs of three letters and three numbers,[3] issued from various C, V or X Canadian prefix series.[4]

Canadian amateur radio stations generally begin with VE, some also use VA. The number following these letters indicates the province, going from VA1/VE1 for Nova Scotia, VA2/VE2 (Québec), VE3/VA3 (Ontario) through VA7/VE7 for British Columbia and VE8 for the Northwest Territories, with latecomer VE9 for New Brunswick. (VE1 used to be for all three Maritime provinces.) VE0 is for maritime mobile amateur transmissions. VY1 is used for the Yukon Territory, VY2 for Prince Edward Island, and VY0 for Nunavut. CY0 and CY9 are Sable Island and St. Paul Island; with little or local population, reception of these distant points is rare, although amateur radio stations do temporarily operate from these islands during shortwave radio contests.[5] Special prefixes are often issued for stations operating at significant events.

The Dominion of Newfoundland prefix VO remains in active use by amateurs in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, VO1AA[6] atop Signal Hill in St. Johns being the most famous amateur station. Radio amateurs on the Island of Newfoundland use calls beginning with VO1, while Labrador amateurs use VO2. A popular backronym for VO stations is "Voice of...", although prefixes do not have any official meaning.


Mexican broadcast stations are assigned a three-, four-, five-, or six-letter call signs beginning with XE (mediumwave and shortwave) or XH (FM and TV). Some FM and TV stations (like XETV) are grandfathered with XE call signs and a –FM or –TV suffix. Mexican stations are required to identify twice an hour, at both the top and the bottom. Mexican radio and TV stations usually broadcasting programming in English are required to play the Mexican national anthem every day at midnight local time. As in Canada, stations that rebroadcast other stations may have the same call sign, but with a different number at the end (such as XEMN and XEMN-1).[citation needed] More commonly, television rebroadcasters are assigned XH calls in the same manner as any other Mexican television station.

Amateur radio stations in Mexico use XE1 for the central region, XE2 for the northern region, and XE3 for the southern region. XF prefixes indicate islands. XF4 is usually used for the Revillagigedo Islands and nearby islets. Special call signs for contests or celebrations are occasionally issued, often in the 4A and 6D series, although these will follow the usual district numbering system (4A3 for the south, etc.).

United States

The earliest identification, used in the 1910s and into the early 1920s, was arbitrary. The U.S. government began requiring stations to use three-letter call signs around 1912, but they could be chosen at random. This system was replaced by the basic form of the current system in the early 1920s. Examples of pre-1920 stations include 8XK in Pennsylvania, which became KDKA in November 1920 and remained since;[citation needed] and Charles Herrold's series of identifiers from 1909 on in San Jose, California: first "This is the Herrold Station" or "San Jose calling",[7] then the call signs FN, SJN, 6XF, and 6XE, then, with the advent of modern call signs, KQW in December 1921, and eventually KCBS from 1949 on.

All broadcast call signs in the United States begin with either "K" or "W", with "K" usually west of the Mississippi River and "W" usually east of it (except in Louisiana and Minnesota, which don't strictly follow the dividing line between the two groups). Initial letters "AA" through "AL", as well as "N", are internationally allocated to the United States but are not used for broadcast stations.

In the United States, broadcast stations have call signs of three to seven characters in length, including suffixes for certain types of service, but the minimum length for new stations is four characters, and seven-character call signs result only from rare combinations of suffixes.

Each station with a traditional full-power license, whether AM, FM, TV, or private shortwave, has a call sign of three or four letters, plus an optional suffix of either "-FM" or "-TV". A broadcast translators or other low-power station has either four letters with a mandatory two-letter suffix indicating its type, or a five or six character call sign consisting of "K" or "W", followed by two to three digits indicating its frequency, followed by two letters issued sequentially.

For most of the 20th century, new full-power stations were also assigned their four-letter call signs sequentially by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) if the permit holder did not chose a call sign prior to full licensing. For four-letter call signs beginning with W, sequential call signs were incremented with the fourth letter being least significant and changing each time, the second letter being the next most significant, and the third letter being the least significant and changing only after every combination of second and fourth letter was exhausted. Thus, the first sequential four-letter call signs in the W sequence were of the W_A_ form, such as WMAF South Dartmouth, Massachusetts (now defunct) followed soon after by WMAQ Chicago (now WSCR on AM, but remaining in the call sign WMAQ-TV on television). The K sequence was also sequential, but with a more complicated history concerning the second letter; the third and fourth letters, however, were incremented in the most obvious way, with the fourth letter least significant, then the third letter, then the second letter. For both K and W, any call signs which were already assigned were simply skipped over in the sequential system.

The FCC has since begun requiring permit holders to choose the call sign prior to licensing; stations not yet given a call sign show up in FCC electronic records with the word "NEW" or the file number of the original station application instead. Stations may change their call signs whenever they wish to, and often they do so in connection with a change of radio format. Call signs become available again after 30 days of non-use, although stations (frequently under common ownership) can swap call signs at the same time.[citation needed]

Records for officially deleted stations still remain in the electronic FCC database for some time, but with the last call sign prefixed with a "D", which is not allocated for valid station call signs in the United States; for example, a station whose last call sign was KXXX before deletion will appear in the database as DKXXX so as not to conflict with any station that may be assigned KXXX in the future.

Short call signs

In the 1920s, many stations were assigned three-letter call signs. These have been grandfathered under the current system, even though many of these stations have changed owners. Such stations include KOA in Denver, KSD in St. Louis, WGN in Chicago, and WRR (FM) in Dallas, which was originally assigned WRR-FM in 1948 as a sister station to WRR (AM) from 1921. (WRR is an unusual case in that the call sign was moved from the original AM station to a commonly owned FM station, formerly WRR-FM, before the AM station was sold.) For decades, the Federal Communications Commission carried out a policy of "drop it and lose it forever" with respect to the three-letter call signs, but it recently allowed the radio station KKHJ in Los Angeles to reclaim its historic three-letter call, KHJ.

The FCC allows FM and TV stations under common ownership with a three-letter AM or FM in the same market to use five-letter (three plus –FM or –TV suffix) call signs; for example, KGO-TV in San Francisco or WMC-FM in Memphis In some cases, such as WIL-FM in St. Louis, the five-letter call sign may outlive the three-letter call sign on which it is based. There was also the unusual case of Baltimore's WJZ-TV, which was allowed to adopt this call sign despite the fact that no form of the WJZ call sign had been in use for over four years prior, and when WJZ did exist, it had been in a different region and owned by a different company since the 1920s. The call signs WJZ and WJZ-FM were later reused for Baltimore sister stations of that new WJZ-TV. Stations which have been "conformed" in this manner may keep the five-letter call sign even after they are no longer co-owned with the "parent" station (although this was not the case prior to the mid-1980s). WWL (AM) and WWL-TV in New Orleans would be an example of eponymous stations no longer under common ownership.

K and W

New broadcasting stations are assigned call signs beginning with K if they are west of the Mississippi River, and beginning with W if they are east of the river. No broadcast stations are assigned call signs beginning with N or AAAL. Again, some early stations have been grandfathered, so there are four broadcasters with a K prefix east of the Mississippi, and a few dozen with a W on the west side. (There are more grandfathered W stations because the dividing line used to be two states farther west.) Some examples of stations with a now-unusual first letter are KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, KYW in Philadelphia, WBAP in Fort Worth, Texas, and WACO-FM in Waco, Texas, which also has the distinction of being one of only three radio stations whose call sign is the same as its community of license.[8] Stations located near the Mississippi River, as well as some northern Minnesota and southern Louisiana, may have either letter, depending on the precise location of their community of license and on historical contingencies. Metro areas that straddle different states on both sides of the river, such as St. Louis, Memphis, and Quad Cities area of Iowa/Illinois, have stations with both call letter prefixes, because of the stations' communities of license being placed on either side of the river.[9]

The FCC allows derived call signs in the same market as a commonly owned AM or FM without respect of the boundary, so stations may establish common branding across bands and services. One famous example was the case of the former KWK in St. Louis, which after several petitions was permitted to change the call sign of its sister FM station in Granite City, Illinois, then WWWK (FM), to KWK-FM. Later, the AM would change its call sign and the FM became KWK (FM), thereby becoming an exemplar of both categories of grandfathered stations.

The assignment of K and W prefixes applies only to stations in the broadcast radio and television services; it does not apply to weather radio, highway advisory radio, or time signal stations, even though these are all broadcasts in the usual sense of the word, nor does it apply to auxiliary licenses held by broadcast stations, such as studio-transmitter links and inter-city relay stations.

For example, the time signal stations WWV and WWVH are located in Colorado and Hawaii, respectively. (WWV originally began in Maryland and was later moved west. However, even ignoring that fact, U.S. government-owned stations are overseen by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and not the FCC, and are thus not subject to the FCC's rules on call signs; most do not have call signs at all.)

NOAA Weather Radio stations clustered between 162.4 and 162.55 MHz have call signs consisting of a K or W followed by letters, and two digits. The K and W prefixes are both used interchangeably on both sides of the Mississippi River (e.g., KHB36 in Washington, D.C. and WXK25 in El Paso, Texas).

Highway advisory radio stations scattered throughout the AM band use call signs consisting of K and W followed by two or three letters and three digits. As with weather radio, K and W calls are both used on both sides of the Mississippi River.

Call signs in the western United States are often confused with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) airport codes because both make use of four-character codes that begin with the letter K. Examples include KSFO (which simultaneously refers to San Francisco International Airport and radio station KSFO (AM)), KLAX (which simultaneously refers to Los Angeles International Airport and KLAX-FM), and KDFW (which simultaneously refers to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and KDFW-TV).


FM radio and television call signs may be followed by a dash and the two-letter class of station: –FM, –LP, –TV, or –CA. For digital television, the early –HD and later –DT suffixes are usually not used (one exception being KMYA-DT), as the digital channel is not licensed separately from the analog for full-power stations. (Beginning in June 2009, stations may choose -TV or -DT).[10][11] Some station owners using the iBiquity HD Radio IBOC system have expressed a desire for –HD call signs, but this is unlikely to happen because HD Radio is a sideband service on the same center frequency. Occasionally, an FM or TV station may have one or more boosters, which retransmit the main station's signal to overcome terrain obstacles. In this case, the main portion of the call sign remains the same (unlike translators), and the boosters are given sequential numeric suffixes like –FM1.

It should be noted that the -FM or -TV suffix is not required to be assigned to TV or FM stations, except where there is another station that shares the same 3- or 4-letter base call sign with no suffix. AM radio stations never have an -AM (or any other) suffix. Where a station has no suffix, the FCC uses parentheses to identify the station unambiguously in documentation (i.e. rulemaking proceedings), the same way Wikipedia handles disambiguation of article names (except that there is no space between the two). This ensures that [for example] WIKI(AM) is not mistaken for WIKI-FM and WIKI-TV just because it was identified as only WIKI. This occurs regardless of whether there is actually another station using the call sign.

Low-power TV and FM stations share the –LP suffix. Class A television stations, which are LPTV stations that receive protection from RF interference by primary stations, use the –CA suffix. When low-power TV stations operate in ATSC digital TV, they instead receive the suffix –LD, although DTV stations which have their RF channel numbers and sequential letters use only –D, as in W08EG-D.[12] The –CD suffix was assigned to be used for digital class A, but stations did not appear this way in the FCC database until 2009 or 2010.[13] This only occurs when the analog station's broadcast license is cancelled, and the class-A status is transferred to its digital companion channel.


FM and TV broadcast translator stations are assigned sequential call signs. They use an appropriate initial letter followed by a two- or three-digit channel number, and then a two-letter sequential suffix. For example, a translator on TV channel 4 might have the call sign K04AX (though it is much less common for TV translator channels to be between 2 and 13). Digital translator stations are assigned call signs in the same manner, except that the letter -D may be appended (e.g., K04AX or K04AX-D). The FM band also has channel numbers starting at the number 200 (or 201 for practical purposes), although they are almost unknown to regular listeners who usually tune in to a station based on its frequency. W201AA was the first FM translator at 88.1 MHz in the east, for example. Such call signs are never reused by another station, though it is unclear if this could occur in the future due to exhaustion of the 676 (26²) two-letter combinations. As of 2009. channel 13 in the west (where the Rocky Mountains make translators a necessity) is up to K13Zx. In this limited case, the X does not indicate an experimental station.

The FCC makes no differentiation between translating and originating LPTV stations, thus either type of station may have an alphanumeric or a regular -LP or -LD call sign.

Beginning in 2009, the FCC allows digital TV stations to apply for translator stations that are not given a separate call sign, instead taking on the one of the primary station. This is only in the case of areas that will lose coverage due to the digital television transition in the United States.

Station identification

Many stations prefer not to use call signs at all, since a moniker or slogan is more easily remembered by listeners (and those filling in diaries for the Arbitron radio ratings). However, in the United States, the Federal Communications Commission does require periodic station identification using the formal call sign, as close to the beginning of each hour as possible, at a "natural break in programming". However, this rule is now rarely enforced. Stations are also required to identify their community of license.[14] Only the frequency, name of the licensee, channel number, and/or network affiliation may come between the two.

HD Radio stations must identify clearly that they are using a digital transmission mode, and must identify each program stream individually, but need not do so in any particular form; many licensees have chosen to identify as "WXXX HD2" and so on but this is not part of their call sign. Translator stations only need to have their call signs announced three times a day (at particular times) through the main station, or though some broadcast automation means (via voice or via Morse code) hourly by the translator.

There are some unusual cases, such as the low-frequency WWVB time station. Because of the station's very narrow-bandwidth signal, that station only broadcasts a one bit per second signal that cannot usually be understood by human beings, so the station is identified by shifting the broadcast carrier wave's phase by 45 degrees twice an hour [see Phase-shift keying (PSK)].

A common method of station identification by radio is along the lines of the call sign, the frequency, and the ownership (for example: "KQKS Lakewood/Denver: A Lincoln Financial Group Station. This is KS1075".)

Callsigns as Names or Initials

It is fairly common for stations to choose a call sign that can be transformed into a name, such as Boston's WXKS-FM (107.9 Medford), one of many Clear Channel Communications-owned stations that call themselves "KISS." In other instances, the letters may be an initialism for a name or slogan. Some of the most famous of these include WGN (WGN and WGN-TV), owned by the Chicago Tribune, which stands for "World's Greatest Newspaper", WIS in South Carolina, which stands for "Wonderful Iodine State," and WISN, which dually stands for the station's original owner, the Wisconsin News, and the station's location in Wisconsin.

Affiliates of the Big Three television networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) in New York City and California get their call signal from their network, with New York stations adding the "W" and Los Angeles or San Francisco stations adding the "K". Stations operated by schools and universities may adopt their school's "initials" into the call sign, such as WWVU in Morgantown, West Virginia, the university-owned radio station of West Virginia University.

Callsigns as Numbers

It is also common for television stations to choose call letters that either directly or indirectly reference the station or channel number upon which they broadcast. Some examples of this are: in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the call sign WXII was chosen to represent the Roman Numeral 12 which is the channel on which the station broadcasts, the former WIIC (now WPXI) in Pittsburgh was chosen to accent the fact that the station broadcast on Channel 11, Philadelphia's WPVI was chosen to remind viewers that the station broadcast on Channel 6 and WTWO was chosen to remind Terre Haute that their NBC affiliate was on Channel 2.

Experimental and non-broadcast stations

United States amateur radio call signs are issued with one or two letters, followed by a single digit, and then one to three more letters. Generally the shorter the call (up to a 1x2 or 2x1 format) the higher the grade of license, but an amateur who upgrades is not required to change his or her call sign. In any case some of the available blocks have been used up. The 1x1 call signs, such as K6O, are for short-term special event stations. Outlying areas have special calls. For example, those issued in Hawaii can (like other American call signs) start with A, K, N, or W, but then will have H6 or H7 before the one to three additional letters. Other Pacific possessions use other H numbers. For example, a station on Guam could be KH0–. Stations in Alaska have L as their second prefix letter, and stations in the Caribbean region (such as the Virgin Islands) use P for their second letter.

Map showing the numeral codes for amateur radio call signs in the United States. The region in which the operator was licensed determines the numeral.

The number in the call sign refers to one of the 10 radio districts into which the United States is divided, but that only indicates where the license was issued. It is no longer necessary for an American amateur radio operator to change his/her call sign when moving to a new district. Most amateurs going to an exotic location will sign/(prefix) to show their location. Thus a station visiting American Samoa could be (regular call)/KH8. American amateurs are also permitted to operate in Canada under their own call signs with a location indicator.

Amateur stations are required to identify themselves by their call sign once every ten minutes during a transmission or series of transmissions and at the end of the transmission.[15]

Experimental stations use call signs out of the amateur radio sequence, with the letter following the region digit required to be an X. (All VHF TV stations before World War II were licensed as experimental stations.) Notable experimental stations included Major Armstrong's FM station W2XMN in Alpine, New Jersey; Powell Crosley's 500-kW superpower AM W8XO, operating nights only with WLW's programming and frequency from Mason, Ohio; and Don Lee's pioneering television station, W6XAO in Los Angeles. (Synchronous "booster" transmitters for AM stations are still considered experimental in the U.S., despite fifty years of experience in Europe, and new experimental call signs are being assigned for new licenses even now, by inserting a region digit and the letter X into the parent station's call sign.).

Leisure craft boats with VHF radios may not be assigned call signs, in which case the name of the vessel is used instead. Ships wishing to have a radio license anyway are under FCC class SA: "Ship recreational or voluntarily equipped." Those calls follow the land mobile format of the initial letter K or W followed by 1 or 2 letters followed by 3 or 4 numbers (such as KX0983 or WXX0029).

US territories

Puerto Rico, Navassa Island, and the US Virgin Islands all use the American standard call signs of W (being east of the Mississippi River). Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands use K. American Samoa uses K as well, but WVUV was grandfathered in, and remains as an AM radio station; the low-power TV station that was WVUV-LP changed its call sign to KKHJ-LP in 2008. All of these areas are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Other regions

Call signs are also used in other parts of the world, particularly those which have had significant U.S. influence at some point. This includes the Philippines, Japan, and formerly Australia. Another well-known call sign outside of the region is HCJB in Ecuador, and several radio time sources used to set radio clocks or for audible listening, such as CHU in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

See also

  • City of license — another element of station licensing
  • Facility ID — used by the FCC in the United States to distinguish broadcast stations without regard to call sign changes


The rules governing call signs for stations in the United States are set out in the FCC rules, 47 C.F.R. chapter I. Specific rules for each particular service are set out in the part of the rules dealing with that service. A general overview of call sign formats is found at 47 C.F.R. 2.302. Rules for broadcast stations' call sign are principally defined in 47 C.F.R. 73.3550.

External links

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