Hidden Meanings Behind American Call Signs

This article was originally aired over Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” program and now forms part of the Radio Heritage Collection ©. All rights reserved to Ragusa Media Group, PO Box 14339, Wellington, New Zealand. This material is licenced on a non-exclusive basis to the South Pacific DX Resource hosted on www.radiodx.com for a period of 5 years from December 1 2003. Author: Adrian Peterson

At the time when broadcasting began in the United States, many of the callsigns that were allocated to the radio stations were simply given in sequence, sometimes almost random sequence. For example, the callsign for the famous Westinghouse station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, KDKA was simply allocated in sequence. The letters KDKA have no special meaning or signifiance.

Likewise with so many other callsigns in the United States during that era. The letters WBZ (ZEE) for the Westinghouse station in Springfield, Massachusetts have no special meaning or significance, and neither do the callsigns for these stations:-

WDY Radio Corporation of America Roselle Park New Jersey
WBL Detroit News Detroit Michigan
KGB (Not the Russian Secret Service!) San Francisco California
KJJ The Radio Shop Sunnyvale California.

However, on many occasions, the callsign that was chosen by a new radio station in the United States contained a hidden meaning that was of real signiificance. We take a look at just a few.

For example, the early broadcasting station WLS in Chicago, which is still on the air today, chose a slogan that was very significant. To the owners of the station, the letters WLS stood for “World’s Largest Store”. And this was true at the time, for Sears & Roebuck in Chicago was the largest mail order company in the world.

Their famous catalog was also the world’s largest selling book, at 300 million copies per year. Only the Bible eclipses that figure with close on 3 billion copies since its first printing.

Not to be outdone, another station in Chicago was WGN. This station was owned by the Chicago Tribune and the letters, WGN, stood for “World’s Greatest Newspaper”. This station is also still on the air to this day.

Another station with a grandiose stance was station WGES. These letters were interpreted to mean “World’s Greatest Electrical School”.

Many stations chose call letters that tied them to their home city. For example, the SL in KSL stood for Salt Lake (City), and the STP in the Minnesota station KSTP stood for St Paul. Another station that was given a meaningful callsign in respect to its location is WWVA, which is interpreted to mean Wheeling West Virginia.

Another smart usage of call letters was for the station WAIT in Massachusetts. These letters, WAIT, stood for “We Are in Taunton”, the name of their city of residence.

A lot of other American callsigns are linked with the name of the company that owns the station. For example, WPRC in Pennsylvania was the callsign for the Wilson Printing & Radio Company. Likewise, the well known WLAC in Nashville has a callsign that means Life And Casualty (Insurance Company). We might also list the rather obvious callsign, WSDA, which was owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in New York City.

Here are a few other interesting callsigns and their meanings:-

KFUM Colorado – Known for Unsurpassed Mountain-scenery
KTHS Arkansas – Kum to Hot Springs
KWKC Kansas – Keep Watching Kansas City
WPG N Jersey – World’s Playground
WTIC Conn – Travelers Insurance Co
WOC Iowa – Wonders of Choirpracty
KTRH Texas – The Rice Hotel

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