Station identification is
the practice of radio or television stations or networks identifying themselves on air, typically by means
of a call sign or brand name (sometimes
known, particularly in the United States, as a "sounder" or "stinger", more generally as a
station or network ident).
(OTA) transmitters may be required by a governmental licensing
authority to identify themselves at regular intervals; this
requirement can apply to any form of transmission over the radio spectrum
by any means, not merely
mass-media audio or video broadcasters
Non-OTA broadcasters, such as cable
or pay TV
networks, may also practice
regular identification as a form of branding
Asia and Oceania
Station identification in Australia is unlimited to the nominated
common or on-air name of the station or network affiliation, both
for radio and television.
station may not have call letters related to its town or district
name, and the company name, hence Charters Towers,
Queensland station 2CHT and Ceduna, South Australia's Ceduna Community Radio Inc's 5CCR; or, the
station may have a name-callsign completely different from its
license callsign, hence the Wollongong, New South Wales station licensed as 2UUL known on air as Wave
television station usually associates with its network, hence the
Regional Television Queensland station RTQ is known as WIN Television (itself associated with the
larger Nine Network), and WIN's
original station at Wollongong bears the callsign WIN.
Station idents are normally used in between shows, and by some are
considered the most important portion of a network's presentation.
Unlike in the U.S., broadcast stations in Europe do not identify by
callsign, although many European networks brand by their usual
channel number, such as for example in the lineup of free-to-air
channels in the United Kingdom -
there is BBC One
(on channel 1 or on 1),
(on 2), Channel
, and Five
. From the 1960s to
the early 1990s, most broadcasters used a single ident, sometimes
making special variants for special events and holidays. Nowadays,
many networks have complete sets of idents based on a central theme
or branding element, and most of the time these idents also build
the basis for the rest of the appearance of the channel. Television
idents have evolved, from mainly being mechanical models such as
the famous BBC Globe, and the advancements of computer technology
allowed television presentation to enter the modern era throughout
the 1980s and 1990s.
In the present day, idents can vary in complexity from a simple
static image to a live-action film, or even computer graphics
generated on the fly
(the idents used by BBC Four
from 2002 to
2005 are an example of the latter approach; its idents reacted to
the sound of the announcer
's voice and
and therefore, at
each playout, no two idents were ever exactly the same).
Before January 1, 1988, on the ITV
programme would be preceded by the ident of the regional company
that had made it, and this would be broadcast throughout the
network, i.e. by all companies showing the programme. It meant that, for
example, viewers in Cornwall would see a
"Yorkshire Television" logo and
hear the corresponding fanfare before Emmerdale Farm (as it was then known), and viewers in London would
see "Scottish Television" idents
before Take the High Road.
Whilst providing a clear indication of the regional and
co-operative nature of the network, and the - for some - exotic
experience of seeing rare idents from the more remote companies
that made very few programmes, for most viewers it served to
confuse, and for advertisers and broadcasters it created extra
clutter in programme junctions, which was why the practice was
scrapped in 1988, and programme-making companies were credited with
a briefer (and from 1989 non-animated) caption at the end of the
programme instead. Since the consolidation of the ITV network in
the early 2000s
, the variety of
creative and distinct regional identities that made ITV
unique in the UK have largely disappeared, UTV
being more or less the only notable exception.
identification is required by the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) for all broadcast
television stations and radio stations in the USA.
When identification is required
In the U.S., the Federal Communications
requires broadcast stations to identify themselves.
For radio, the statute is and specifies identification:
- At the beginning and ending of each time of operation, and
- Hourly, as close to the hour as feasible, at a natural break in
" and "sign-on
" IDs generally have more information, such
as the name of the station's owner, the location of its
transmitter, and its operating
. However, according to FCC regulations, stations are only
required to merely identify themselves before leaving the air. This
means stations are to announce their calls, city of license and
channel number. Many stations give additional details as a common
At one time, the FCC gave specific guidelines for how close to the
top of the hour stations were expected to be:
- "within 3 minutes" for normal scheduled programming
- "within 5 minutes" for unrehearsed programming with logical
breaks, such as sporting events and parades
- "as close as possible" for programming that had no definite
break on the hour, such as speeches and classical music performances lasting longer
than an hour; broadcasters were not expected to interrupt
legitimate programming for a station ID.
Some stations (especially college
stations) also identify themselves every half hour, but
according to FCC rules, only once per hour is required.
The advent of automated broadcast
has made it much easier for broadcasters to ensure
compliance with identification rules. Many television stations and
some radio stations have their identifications programmed to play
automatically at the appropriate times.
Why identification is required
Station identification is used because of the sheer number of
signals available over the air. Not only are there radio and
television signals being broadcast, there are also two-way radio
signals from police, emergency crews and private companies as well
as amateur radio
signals. Early radio
operators recognized the need for anyone listening to a signal over
the air to be able to tune in a specific time and immediately know
what station was being heard and where the signal was originating
Additionally, from the FCC's perspective it is critical to be able
to positively identify the source of a broadcast that is not
complying with federal regulations.
According to United States law, the FCC can fine or reprimand a
station for failing to make the appropriate identification.
Identification on other types of signals
In the United States, the policy on radio identification depends on
the service. Station identification is usually done in the
station's standard mode of operation, though the FCC considers
Morse code identification to be universally acceptable no matter
what mode the station is operating in.
- Amateur radio requires the
callsign to be stated at the end of a communication and every ten
minutes during (some hams use countdown clocks to remind them to
identify); modes such as packet radio
and fast-scan television often have a
provision for automatic identification, either including it as part
of a digital data stream or overlaying it over an analog picture.
Repeaters are often designed to
automatically transmit the repeater's callsign, usually in Morse code. The requirements for the United
States are covered in Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations,
- Land mobile two-way (including public safety and business
mobile) require station identifications by callsign. In the case of
the GMRS service, this is to be done by each
station in a similar manner to the amateur practice, though the
time limit is fifteen minutes.
- Repeater systems used in both the Land Mobile and Amateur Radio
services often have provisions for announcing the repeater's call
sign, either in voice or Morse code.
- Citizen's Band radio (FCC Part
95) maintains a requirement to use a station identification that is
rarely enforced due to the outlaw nature of the band; however, a
formula exists for self-assigning a callsign using the letter K, the operator's
initials, and the ZIP code of the
operator's main residence. Most CB operators prefer to use
self-assigned handles reflecting some aspect of their personality;
it is generally considered a breach of CB etiquette to use real
names, even your own.
- FRS and MURS have no station identification
requirement, though groups of individual users have their own
procedures, such as using license plates or informal callsigns.
(Some groups within the Boy Scouts
of America, for example, use the troop number followed by the
scout's initials as a callsign.)
- WiFi access points are not required by law
to identify (they are unlicensed transmitters) but the WiFi
standards include provision for an identifier called an SSID, which is transmitted as a routine part of WiFi
network traffic. However, since a number of standard WiFi channels
are shared with the Amateur Radio spectrum, Amateur Radio-operated
High Speed Multimedia access points
usually use the callsign of the control operator as the SSID, this
suffices as proper station identification for the access point
being operated as an Amateur Radio transceiver.
Radio stations are required to verbally identify themselves each
hour. The station must announce its legal call
, community of license, and any other call signs it uses.
Some stations broadcast on more than one frequency and are required
to announce these as well. However, stations do not have to
announce all translators each hour. Most stations announce only a
few each hour on a rotating basis. Some stations make it a practice
to announce all main call signs as well as all translators at a
certain time of the day, such as midnight. Some radio stations also
announce the signal strength of each translator. Some radio and
television stations will also use a larger nearby city they serve
that is not the city of license
"WSNE, Taunton / Providence") This is acceptable as long as the first city
mentioned immediately after the call sign is the station's city of
Although it is not required, some radio stations
will also announce their frequency or dial setting during the
Some stations downplay their actual city of license and favor the
major city it's associated with instead. For example, "WKTU Lake Success/New
York", where "Lake Success" is said very quickly and
with less inflection before the much more prominent "New
Some stations choose to run their legal ID sandwiched
between two commercials in a stop set (commercial break) that is
close to the top of the hour.
Radio announcers must be careful to announce the station
identification exactly as instructed by the FCC. For example, if
station doesn't have the "FM" part on its official license and
registration with the FCC, the announcer cannot say it. In
addition, announcers need to be careful to avoid adding additional
words between the call signs and the community names, and are
disallowed from making the station identification in the form of a
complete sentence. For example, saying "This is W/K--based in
Anytown" is not acceptable because of the words "based in." The
community name should immediately follow the call signs, according
to FCC regulations. The format is: WXXX/KXXX, City of License.
Anything else is not a legal ID, though certain NOAA Weather Radio All
stations have been allowed to insert the word "in"
between the call sign and the city of license (e.g. "This is KEB98
in Buffalo and WWG32 in Little Valley").
There are, however, some more creative ways of announcing station
identification that are legal. For instance, KRPN (now KMRI) in Salt Lake
City, Utah once identified itself as WKRP N Salt Lake City.
call sign KRPN (with the "N" serving as a homophone for the word
"in") and the city of license are stated in the proper format, it
is a legal identification, despite the extra W in front.
Many radio stations post a sign in their studios with the official
and correct identification announcement printed on it so announcers
are always reminded of the correct, legal identification. Most have
a prerecorded station identification, which reduces errors.
Low-power (Part 15
in the U.S.) stations do
not always identify, being unlicensed (this would be essentially
impossible for small FM transmitters for consumer use, such as
those used to broadcast music from an MP3 player to a car radio),
but those that run as community-based radio stations (including
college stations using carrier
) usually do. Station identification in that case
usually consists of the station's name, frequency, and a slogan;
unlicensed stations are not allowed to use formal callsigns
usually do not use callsigns, instead giving the name of the
service and the location of the home office, and occasionally the
frequencies that the current broadcast is being transmitted on.
There are a few exceptions, particularly in the United States, the
time station WWV
being a prime
With the advent of digital radio, station identification becomes
more complicated, because more than one audio stream can be part of
the same station. The FCC clarified what is required in these cases
in FCC rule 07-33
§ 73.1201 Station Identification.
(1) Official station identification shall consist of the station's call letters immediately followed by the community or communities specified in its license as the station's location; Provided, That the name of the licensee, the station's frequency, the station's channel number, as stated on the station's license, and/or the station's network affiliation may be inserted between the call letters and station location. DTV stations, or DAB Stations, choosing to include the station's channel number in the station identification must use the station's major channel number and may distinguish multicast program streams. For example, a DTV station with major channel number 26 may use 26.1 to identify an HDTV program service and 26.2 to identify an SDTV program service. A radio station operating in DAB hybrid mode or extended hybrid mode shall identify its digital signal, including any free multicast audio programming streams, in a manner that appropriately alerts its audience to the fact that it is listening to a digital audio broadcast. No other insertion between the station's call letters and the community or communities specified in its license is permissible.
As noted above, 47 CFR 73.1201 mandates that television stations
are also required to identify themselves each hour. However,
because television is a visual medium, these announcements can be
either visual or audio. Again, the station must identify its main
callsign along with the community of license and any other call
signs it uses. Translators are required to be identified twice a
day, once at about 9 a.m and 3 p.m. local time.
As with radio, the city of license
must be the first community listed. For instance, "This is WWNY-TV 7 Carthage-Watertown" would signify the village of Carthage, New
York as community of license. This may also display
as a visual transition; for instance, "WNET thirteen, Newark NJ" would be textually displayed first before being
replaced by a visual transition to "WNET thirteen, New York" for a Newark-licensed station broadcasting from atop the
Another way a station can transmit its legal identification is to
do it continuously by putting readable text in the vertical blanking interval
station that identifies this way is CKVU in Vancouver, Canada.
WKEF is also
known to identify itself in this way.
station can encode its callsign within the vertical blanking
interval using the Extended Data
specification. The vast majority of American PBS
stations encode their identification using this
method (especially for member networks such as KET
to trigger their full identification
throughout a series of stations during uninterruptable
programming), though few commercial television stations do.
Combining identification with promotion
Many television stations have devised a clever way to use station
identifications as a promotional tool. By combining a short
promotion for an upcoming show the station can fulfill its
identification requirements while building its audience. For
example, a station may show video of a local fire and tell them to
tune in to the next newscast. During this short clip, the station
will run its call signs and communities on screen, often in very
small type. No audio announcement of call signs is necessary if the
information appears on screen, so stations are free to use, in this
example, the audio of an anchor or reporter promoting the story.
Stations also use similar techniques to promote entertainment
shows. If the correct and complete information appears on screen,
it is a legal identification.
Any combination of this is also acceptable. For example some
stations air a short (5 to 10 second) announcement with their
station logo and an announcer reading their call signs. In this
example the communities the station serves were not announced
television stations have even monetized their station identification; for
instance WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee, Wisconsin has of late offered their top of the hour
identification as a short five second ad slot, where an entity (in
this case, a discount furniture store and WTMJ's
sister radio station) will have their slogan and logo voiced
out and displayed while the station's call letters display on the
bottom in basic legal type.
example, in the 1990s, radio station WQLR in
Michigan would give the weather (provided by Accuweather) at the top of the hour.
weather report would be prefixed with "WQLR Kalamazoo Accuweather",
and because the callsign and city are announced back-to-back, it is
a perfectly legal station identification.
Digital television concerns
The advent of digital television
originally made it necessary for stations simulcasting
both their analog and digital on the
same channel to include both call signs in all identifications.
Both stations have the same base callsigns, with the only
difference being the analog ending in "-TV" and digital ending in
"-DT" (originally -HD). Low power stations identify with the
designator "-LD". PSIP
also carries the
station's ID digitally encoded.
identify themselves in one of two ways:
- By first providing the call letters, followed by the main
channel number, and then the subchannel broken up by either a
dot or a dash.
For example, "WXXX 2.3" or "WXXX 2-3".
- The station may identify the channel as a certain stream by
placing the subchannel number after the -DT designation within the
callsign, as in "WXXX-DT3" for that station's third
In addition, subchannels which carry weather information – such as
those carrying NBC Weather Plus
, or a
weather feed created by the station itself – may identify that
channel with the non-standard "WX" suffix, as in "WXXX-WX" .
The former two standards are voluntary and interchangeable, and the
station can choose to identify all the channels by only the base
callsign, although they are encouraged to differentiate each
channel from the primary channel (or for LP
digitally airing as a subchannel on a sister or LMA
partner station). The primary
channel usually does not use a .1/-1 or -DT1 suffix to identify
Digital on-screen graphics and teletext
, an information service provided
by many broadcasters, provides station or network identification in
many countries worldwide. As almost all modern sets can display
this information, it is a simple matter of checking teletext if the
identity of the station is not clear. Some broadcasters do not
provide a teletext service, and there is no specific requirement or
standard for station identification in it. While teletext is
widespread in Europe
and is closely
associated with the PAL
worldwide, it is nonexistent in North
(where the NTSC
system is used).
However, digital television
standards generally include station identification.
A common worldwide practice is to use a small overlay graphic known
as a "bug
" or a "DOG"
(Digital Onscreen Graphic) or watermark in the corner of the
screen, showing the logo of the channel. While not a substitute for
proper station identification, this makes it easy to identify the
station at a glance. In the United States this practice was adopted by Viacom cable
television music station VH1, but is still
not a popular practice in the United States.
often use a lower third
containing their callsign in lieu of voice identification. This is
an accepted practice in the United States and United Kingdom.
- 47 CFR 73.1201 (a)(2)