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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 Statesmarker, as a "sounder" or "stinger", more generally as a station or network ident). Over-the-air (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.

A radio station may not have call letters related to its town or district name, and the company name, hence Charters Towers, Queenslandmarker station 2CHT and Ceduna, South Australiamarker'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 Walesmarker station licensed as 2UUL known on air as Wave FM.

A television station usually associates with its network, hence the Regional Television Queenslandmarker 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.

Hong Kong



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), BBC Two (on 2), Channel 4, 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 background music and therefore, at each playout, no two idents were ever exactly the same).

Before January 1, 1988, on the ITV network, each 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 Cornwallmarker would see a "Yorkshire Television" logo and hear the corresponding fanfare before Emmerdale Farmmarker (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.

United States

Station identification is required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for all broadcast television stations and radio stations in the USAmarker.

When identification is required

In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission requires broadcast stations to identify themselves. For radio, the statute is and specifies identification:

  1. At the beginning and ending of each time of operation, and
  2. Hourly, as close to the hour as feasible, at a natural break in program offerings.

"Sign-off" 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 power. 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 courtesy.

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 radio stations) also identify themselves every half hour, but according to FCC rules, only once per hour is required.

The advent of automated broadcast equipment 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 from.

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, part 97.119

  • 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 identification

Radio stations are required to verbally identify themselves each hour. The station must announce its legal call sign, 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. (example: "WSNE, Tauntonmarker / Providencemarker") This is acceptable as long as the first city mentioned immediately after the call sign is the station's city of license. Although it is not required, some radio stations will also announce their frequency or dial setting during the station identification.

Some stations downplay their actual city of license and favor the major city it's associated with instead. For example, "WKTU Lake Successmarker/New Yorkmarker", where "Lake Success" is said very quickly and with less inflection before the much more prominent "New York". 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.

Proper format

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 Hazards 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 KMRImarker) in Salt Lake City, Utahmarker once identified itself as WKRP N Salt Lake City. Because the 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 current) 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.

International shortwave broadcasters 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 example.

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.
(b) Content.
(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.

Television identification

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-TVmarker 7 Carthagemarker-Watertownmarker" would signify the village of Carthage, New Yorkmarker as community of license. This may also display as a visual transition; for instance, "WNETmarker thirteen, Newark NJmarker" would be textually displayed first before being replaced by a visual transition to "WNETmarker thirteen, New Yorkmarker" for a Newarkmarker-licensed station broadcasting from atop the Empire State Buildingmarker.

Another way a station can transmit its legal identification is to do it continuously by putting readable text in the vertical blanking interval. One station that identifies this way is CKVUmarker in Vancouvermarker, Canadamarker. WKEFmarker is also known to identify itself in this way. Alternatively, a station can encode its callsign within the vertical blanking interval using the Extended Data Services specification. The vast majority of American PBS stations encode their identification using this method (especially for member networks such as KET and Wisconsin Public Television 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 verbally.

Some television stations have even monetized their station identification; for instance WTMJ-TVmarker in Milwaukee, Wisconsinmarker 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.

As an example, in the 1990s, radio station WQLR in Kalamazoo, Michiganmarker would give the weather (provided by Accuweather) at the top of the hour. The 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.

Subchannel identification
Digital subchannels usually 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 subchannel.

In addition, subchannels which carry weather information – such as those carrying NBC Weather Plus, AccuWeather, 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/Class A analog-only stations 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 itself.


Digital on-screen graphics and teletext

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 television system worldwide, it is nonexistent in North America (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 Statesmarker this practice was adopted by Viacom cable television music station VH1, but is still not a popular practice in the United States.

Amateur television operators often use a lower third or bug containing their callsign in lieu of voice identification. This is an accepted practice in the United States and United Kingdom.

See also


  1. 47 CFR 73.1201 (a)(2)

External links

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