Sound Off

Sound Off: Call letters

If all radio and TV station call letters west of the Mississippi start with K, then why is WIBW in Topeka?

WIBW was originally a radio station in Indiana and kept the same call letters when it moved west of the Mississippi River to Topeka, in the late 1920s.


bearded_gnome 5 years, 1 month ago

there are a couple of other exceptions here and there to this rule, i.e. KDKA in PA

George_Braziller 5 years, 1 month ago

I never even noticed that they all of the started with "K." Why that particular letter?

Tim Quest 5 years, 1 month ago

Hey, look, you're on the internet! You seem like a smart boy, I bet you could even find the answer if you tried!

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 1 month ago

Hey. look, you're a person! Could you not answer a question put forth by another person?

bearded_gnome 5 years, 1 month ago

okay, George, by international agreement going waaaay back, american telecommunications stations (radio, then later TV, etc, plus amateur radio, commercial, public safety, and everything else licensed to use the radio spectrum ) were assigned the first letters W K and N, and then later some A-prefixes. until the 70's N callsigns were all only military. you never see am/fm broadcasters start with N, but you might find an armed forces broadcast radio that did somewhere I think, not sure. am/fm broadcasters are all w or k followed by two or three letters.
if two letters, that used to denote an am licensee to a "clear channel" assignment, meaning that for example KGO didn't have to share 810, at least in the early days.

I am not sure exactly why the US. got these letters, some countries got letters that connected to their names, i.e. France has F and great britain has g.
I wonder if the U.S. chose these letters because they are relatively easy to receive international morse code letters but long enough to be distinctive when heard.

the ITU is the international body that regulates such things.

bearded_gnome 5 years, 1 month ago

*from a past website elsewhere, of interest to you perhaps:

I'll get back to my rant in a minute after mentioning other misplaced "K" and "W" calls:

The W's and the K's As any good student of broadcasting will tell you American call letters beginning with "W" are located east of the Mississippi River. The exceptions being cities that straddle the river (St. Louis, Minneapolis/St. Paul, etc.), KYW, KQV, and KDKA (strangely enough all in Pennsylvania), and WDAZ in Grand Forks and WDAY in Fargo, both North Dakota.

Some people will also know that KYW had a short stay in Cleveland OH, but that's another story.

(By the way, thanks to a sharp eyed, and knowledgeable reader, who pointed that out to me!!!)

Another sharp-eyed reader pointed out that Fond du Lac, WI had KFIZ-AM radio, and for a brief time had a KFIZ-TV back in the 1960's. (thanks Ray & Stephanie!)

(From the newsgroup: KBEK, in Mora, and KLKX in Forest Lake, both Minnesota, and east of the Mississippi River.

From a radio station owner: The furthest west "W" call west of the Mississippi, and the only "W" on the Pacific, is WVUV-AM in Leone, American Samoa, which Kirk Harnack and I now own. It's been dark for almost a year, and is going back on-air this week[26 April 2000] (Kirk is there right now, I'm going on Friday). It will be operated in conjunction with our FM in Pago Pago, KKHJ. Larry Fuss - Delta Radio, Inc. & Contemporary Communications - Cleveland/Greenville, MS

(From an exchange in the same group from Doug Smith: Talk1370 wrote: There's also one more recent anomaly. The FCC goofed in the early 90s and assigned the callsign KTGG to a class IV AM station that was just signing on in a small town in Michigan, hundreds of miles inside the "W" side of the divide. The station didn't object, no one else did, so the mistake stands today. But you can't get a "wrong" call by asking for it, if your city of license is more than a few miles from the dividing line. Indeed, KTGG had requested a completely different call - WSAE, to match an FM they already had. Last year, it happened again. A W call (WPXL, I think) was assigned to a new TV station in Minden, Louisiana, well over 100 miles west of the river. However, the Commission caught their error before the station went on the air, and changed it to KPXJ. A K call was also assigned to an FM CP in Wisconsin (again, over 100 miles from the Mississippi) for awhile about 5 years ago. I think that CP was allowed to expire unbuilt - the current FM Atlas (1999) doesn't list any stations in that town.

(Also see:

I must be falling down on the job because I got this e-mail from Dick Trumbo:

Reading your page regarding "W" call signs West of the Mississippi. You forgot another one. WIBW FM/TV in Topeka, Kansas. Don't know why it has a W instead of a K like the other stations in town except that it was the first on the air in Topeka ...

CharlesinCharge 5 years, 1 month ago

I don't think these "W" stations were mentioned that are or were nearby: WDAF and WHB in Kansas City and the former WREN radio that was in Lawrence and then Topeka.

bearded_gnome 5 years, 1 month ago

George, after much digging, found this most interesting read, have to read down a bit. after ships signaling, seems that K's were assigned in the west to land stations because W's were given to ships. but then leaves th question why W for ships in 1911/1912? bureaucracy, because they were in the west, who knows. interesting read though.

this guy has link to a big page displaying all the stations with K and W broadcast stations out of place and such, including WHB, WREN, WIBW, etc.

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