FM Broadcasting History - Various Articles

New FM Calls Coming

This article appeared in the New York Times on Sept. 19, 1943.


Beginning next month, FM radio listeners will be required to learn and log a new set of call letters. On Nov. 1 all FM stations will abandon such calls as "W47NY," known as number-letter calls, and adopt "WAAX-FM," "WXAY," "WXRI" or some other simple letter combination approved by the Federal Communications Commission. About 4,000 such calls are available. Calls beginning with "W" will be assigned to FM stations east of the Mississippi, while "K" calls will go to stations west of the Mississippi.

Regular broadcasters also operating FM stations may or may not use hyphenated calls. For instance, the new call of the New York FM station of the National Broadcasting Company might become "WEAF-FM"; or for the Columbia System, "WABC-FM"; or Mutual, "WOR-FM"; or perhaps just "WXAF," "WXBC" or "WXOR," respectively.

All broadcasters desiring specific FM calls have filed requests with the FCC. Late-comers will receive calls picked from the general list remaining. There are ample four-letter calls, it is said, for all types of stations now operating and contemplated, including television.

The commission's decision to abandon the number-letter FM calls was based on limitations discovered by the FM broadcasters themselves. They were found cumbersome, hence did not meet with general public acceptance. The old familiar three or four letter call system was well rooted in the industry. It seemed so, at least. Another difficulty was that when an FM station was moved, geographically or along the megacycles, it involved changes in both letters and numerals.

Letter calls are intrenched in the public mind. What old-timer does not remember WBF of Boston operated by the W. B. Filene store in Boston before, during and after World War I; that WABC was derived from the predecessor of the Columbia System, the Atlantic Broadcasting Corporation, or that its first call was "WAHG," after the station's originator, Alfred H. Grebe, radio manufacturer of early broadcast days?

What radio nostalgia such old calls bring back. Old-timers in "wireless" remember that The New York Herald in the early Nineteen Hundreds operated Station OHX, which later became WHB. The locale was near South Ferry. Wanamaker's store was "WA," first two letters of the name. One of the first commercial stations in this city was that of United Wireless at 42 Broadway, which made "NY" known far and wide on the early air waves.

What operator doesn't remember "NAA," Arlington; "NAH," New York; "NAB," Boston; "WSE," Seagate; "WLC," New London; "WSL," Sayville, and the German Telefunken station "DWT"? Or "NBD," Otter Cliffs, Me., which established such an enviable reputation during World War I for transatlantic communications; or the imperishable "DS," initials of David Sarnoff, which the president of the Radio Corporation of America used during his radio-operator days--and still does--to identify himself.

Out of such calls grew the idea of broadcast station letters. It was easier and more natural to adopt a group of letters for a signature than figures, and there was precedent for it. Go back to the beginning of wireless. "CQ" was the ship danger call, later known as "CDQ"--Come quick, danger!"--and still later "SOS"--"Save our ship," liberally translated.

Letters were not only easier to make in the radio code than numbers but were more easily understood--for instance SOS is three dots, three dashes and three dots (...___...). It was desirable simplicity, so why not apply the same system to build calls for the new broadcasters? Incidentally, it is not apparent just why or how Pittsburgh's KDKA received that call instead of another one more like the Westinghouse name, but in general the simplicity rule held. So new broadcasters were assigned letters instead of figure combinations, and except for experimental stations have been receiving them ever since with letter prefixes denoting the countries in which the stations operated.

The idea of letter calls had its inception, the old records seem to show, at least as far back as Dec. 11, 1905, when the late Professor Reginald Fessenden operated his Brant Rock wireless "with such astonishing results" that the Bureau of Equipment of the United States Navy began to be interested.

A letter written to Fessenden a few days later at Boston said that its "operator in charge at San Juan (Puerto Rico) reports as follows: On December 11, at 9:15 P. M., heard a new spark. Never heard it before. Was making signals "BOZ," and kept repeating BOZ (or BOS, Boston) in continental code." That, in fact, may have been the actual beginning of letter calls on the air.

Higher Band Given FM Broadcasting

FCC Orders It 'Upstairs' Between 88 and 106 Megacycles After a Long Fight

This article appeared in the New York Times on June 28, 1945.


WASHINGTON, June 27 - The Federal Communications Commission, in its final report on radio-frequency allocations between 44 and 108 megacycles, ordered today the assignment to frequency modulation of ninety channels between 88 and 106 megacycles, twenty of which, from 88 to 92 megacycles, are for non-commercial educational FM. At present FM is between 42 and 50 megacycles, and the action, consequently, lifts it "upstairs."

Six channels are assigned to television, one between 44-50 megacycles, three between 54 and 72, and two between 76 and 88 mc. Allocation of these six-megacycle bands, it is stated, will make possible immediately the use of all thirteen television channels below 300 megacycles.

Facsimile is assigned the 106-108 megacycle band. The band between 50 and 54 megacycles is allocated for amateur use and the space between 42 and 44, and 72 and 76 megacycles, to non-Government fixed and mobile services.

The allocations announced today are essentially those proposed as Alternative No. 3 of the Commission's earlier report, of May 25, modified only by the movement from 104-108 to 72-76 of non-Government fixed and mobile services, and the adjustment accordingly of the allocations to FM and television.

With the exception of FM, all the services for which provision is made in today's report have allocations in other parts of the spectrum, and so are not wholly dependent on these final assignments.

Commercial FM broadcasting, however, is covered fully by today's action. Today's allocations of the higher frequencies in preference to the present position between 42 and 50 megacycles, or the No. 1 Alternative of 50-68 megacycles suggested in the May 25 report, represents the final decision of the Commission in favor of the newly defined area of operations as one in which, for the indefinite future FM will be freer than elsewhere "from interference and other shortcomings."

The proposed upward movement of FM has been the most controversial issue in the whole program of post-war frequency allocations. In adopting the conclusion announced today, the commission overruled the recommendations of four panels of the Radio Technical Planning Board (panels on FM, television, facsimile and coordination of frequency allocations); of Major Edwin H. Armstrong, inventor of FM; and the strongly expressed opposition of officials and engineers of the Radio Corporation of America, the National Broadcasting Company, the Zenith Radio Corporation, Television Broadcasters Association, FM Broadcasters, Inc., the Electronics Manufacturers Association, and the Pioneer FM Radio Manufacturers. All had advocated the Alternative Number 1 placement between 50 and 68 megacycles.

On the basis of tests, tables and other data presented by FCC engineers, and by K. A. Norton, formerly of the FCC and now a civilian employe of the War Department, however, the commission ruled that the case for the placement of FM in the higher frequencies had been established to its satisfaction.

"Manufacturers, of course, are desirous of marketing receivers at the earliest possible moment; and the commission, too, is concerned that FM receivers shall be freely available to the public early enough to supply the immediate post-war demand," today's announcement stated.

"However, the commission has a duty to consider the long-range effects of its action as well as the effects during the months immediately ahead, and it does not propose to provide an inferior FM service during the decades to come merely because of the transitory advantages which may be urged for an inferior type of service."

Conceding that new equipment for use in the vicinity of 100 megacycles would cost more than equipment for use in the vicinity of 50 megacycles "at least temporarily," the commission argued that "it seems equally clear that competition will reduce the differential substantially, and that the benefit to the public resulting from an interference-free service will more than outweigh the slight increase in initial cost for service in the 100-megacycle region."

Opponents of the change based their objections not only on the increased cost to manufacturers and the purchasers of the new equipment but on the alleged invalidity of the technical data presented by the FCC engineers and by Mr. Norton, on which are based predictions of future interference with the FM service at other than the higher levels.

The testimony on these points of the commission's engineers was challenged at every hearing by Major Armstrong and others, and the presence of a "basic error" in the memorandum submitted by Mr. Norton concerning F-2 layer transmission and interference was also asserted in a statement submitted to the commission on June 18 and signed, in addition to Major Armstrong, by H. H. Beverage of RCA, Charles R. Burrows of the Bell Telephone Laboratories; Dr. Greenleaf W. Pickard, inventor of radio equipment and former instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stuart L. Bailey of Bailey & Jansky, consulting engineers, of Washington.

It is stated by the commission that a converter has been demonstrated which would make existing FM receivers capable of tuning to the higher frequencies and which should retail for about $10.

Arthur Freed, vice president of the Freed Radio Corporation and conference chairman of the Pioneer FM Manufacturers, a trade group, stated here last night that the FCC's decision on allocations represented "a serious threat to the future of the entire industry."

Mr. Freed announced that the FM manufacturers would hold a special meeting within the next few days "on the course of action that will be followed by the industry regarding the FCC's decision."

"A serious threat to the future of the entire radio industry we believe that this decision, completely disregarding as it does the reasons advanced for adopting Alternative Plan No. 1, will result in widespread unemployment at a time when the industry is mobilizing its plans and resources for the reconversion from war production to civilian radio production," Mr. Freed said.

John Ballantyne, president of the Philco Corporation, one of the largest radio set manufacturers, heralded the FCC decision, however, asserting that it gave "the green light" to both FM and television.

"The commission's decision establishes FM radio on a high-quality basis that will provide interference-free service for the public and, over the years, lead to its fullest possible development," he said.

FM Construction Permits Issued, June 1946

City         AM call  Freq   ERP   HAAT (ft)
Anniston        WHMA 103.9  24,000   654
Birmingham      WJLD  93.5  40,000   750
Ontario CA      ---- 104.3     250  -194
Richmond CA     ---- 104.7     140   346
San Bernardino  KFXM 103.3     470  2260
Santa Maria     ---- 104.3     250  -289
New Haven       WHNC 102.9  20,000   490
New London      WNLC  97.9  20,000   500
Jacksonville    WPDQ  97.5  40,000   317
Miami Beach     WKAT  96.7 306,000   730
St. Petersburg  WTSP  92.1  30,000   437
Augusta GA      WRDW  94.5  30,000   664
Columbus GA     WRBL  96.7  12,000   510
Rome GA         ---- 100.9    1400   910
Carbondale      ---- 100.5    3400   345
Champaign       WDWS 104.3     250   415
Evanston        ---- 104.3     250   225
Quincy          WTAD  98.1  33,000   639
Quincy          WSOY  97.7  32,000   743
Springfield     WCBS 101.7  19,000   417
Elkhart         WTRC 103.1  21,600   422
Wichita         KFH   96.5 185,000   411
Louisville      WGRC 100.3  29,800   355
Frederick       WFMD  98.1    2000  1150
Hagerstown      WJEJ  (?)     1000  1400
Fitchburg MA    ----  99.9  20,000   490
Holyoke         WHYN  95.5    3500   940
Salem MA        WESX 105.5     250   209
Minneapolis     WLOL 101.3  34,000   510
Joplin          WMBH 102.3    2600   336
St. Louis       KSD   93.3  36,000   520
Las Vegas       KENO 104.3     250  -124
Buffalo         WBNY  92.9  48,000   590
Jamestown NY    WJTN 101.5    9500   750
Syracuse        WSYR  93.5    7000   750
Syracuse        WFBL  92.7    1500   740
Watertown       WWNY 100.9    6700   530
Ashland OH      ---- 100.7    8600   380
Athens OH       ---- 102.9  16,500   550
Cincinnati      WKRC  96.9  22,000   480
Columbus OH     WCOL  92.1  31,000   370
Oklahoma City   WKY   98.9 132,000   928
Portland OR     KWJJ  95.7    3200   911
Altoona         WFBG 103.7(?) 3900   900
Easton          ---- 105.7     250   120
Harrisburg      ----  96.9    5500   790
Sunbury         WKOK  99.3    3400   871
York            WSBA  94.9  20,000   500
Spartanburg     WSPA  92.1  24,000  2125
Chattanooga     WDOD  95.3  37,000  1321
Johnson City    WJHL 101.7    9700   720
Wichita Falls   ----  97.7  20,000   500
Salt Lake City  KDYL  98.5    3200   -14
Lynchburg       WLVA 101.5    3700  2080
Winchester      WINC  92.5  15,000  1365
Beckley WV      ---- 101.1    3000   430

New York Times, Sept. 13, 1947

WOR's FM transmitter WHAM--which has been off the air for a year or more except for a series of tests carried on for the Federal Communications Commission, returns to the air with regular programs on Monday, Oct. 20. The dial position will be Channel 254, at 97.1 megacycles. The present one kilowatt transmitter will be used until a 10-kilowatt outfit is installed. Schedules are to include many features heard over the Mutual System but not locally over WOR. [Note: There may be two errors in this Times article: The call apparently should be WBAM and the dial position should probably be 98.7, which is the frequency corresponding to Channel 254.]

When WCBS-FM returns to the air Sept. 21, at 3 P. M., after the current period of silence during which the transmitter and associated apparatus is being refurbished, it will be on the new assignment of 101.1 megacycles, channel No. 266.

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