Just what does that stand for?
Kindness, Happiness and Joy. George B Storer. Ten-Q. “Kiss-FM.” Power 106. What do all of these have in common? They are all “names” for stations, or more accurately, variations of their call letters.
Well, sort of.
I’m a call-letter guy, in the sense that I like when stations use their given call letters instead of a generic name that can be heard anywhere. But that idea tends to get lost as marketing managers do anything they can to stand out, even if standing out means being a carbon-copy of your co-owned station in Atlanta. Or San Diego. Or Pittsburg. Or all of the above.
But call letters have a certain mystic, due mainly to the fact that only one AM, FM or television station can have the same call sign. Anywhere. For example while you can find “My FM,” (one of the top winners in the stupid name contest) in Los Angeles; Independence, Kansas; Chicago, Illinois; or even Idaho Falls, Idaho, there is only KBIG-FM.
So what do call letters mean? And why?
First, the basics. In the United States, call signs begin with the letter K, W or N. N is reserved for military and government use, so we are left with K, generally for stations West of the Mississippi River and W for those East. But it wasn’t always that way: prior to January, 1923 the dividing line was the Eastern borders of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. And the rule was not always fully enforced anyway, so there are some Eastern K stations and Western W stations, though few and far between. According to mentalfloss.com, the most Eastern of the Ks is KYW/Philadelphia, still using the same call sign, and the most Western W station was WLAY/Fairbanks Alaska, which broadcast in 1922 and ’23.
Three letter call signs were all issued in order, similar to ho license plates are issued for cars. Originally, four-letter calls were issued in the same way … KDKA followed by KDKB, then KDKC, etc. Soon the Federal Radio Commission, precursor to the Federal Communications Commission, allowed stations to request specific call letter combinations, and that’s when the real name game began. And while the original assignment for three-letter calls was arbitrary, after the requests were allowed, stations could request three-letter combos as they became available.
And even the arbitrary letters had marketing meaning … old timers may remember when KHJ used the slogan Knowledge, Happiness and Judgement; or later Kindness, Happiness and Joy. Supposedly, KFI stood for Farm Information, but like KHJ and KNX, the KFI calls were issued randomly. Other meanings, for stations that may or may not still exist locally:
KGFJ – Keeping Good Folks Joyful
KMPC – MacMillan Petroleum Company
KFAC – Fuller, Auborn and Cord (automobile dealershios owned by station owner E. L. Cord)
KGBS – George B. Storer
KIIS – Not “kiss” but instead “K Double-I S,” chosen because the letter combination IIS looks like 115, the AM frequency that once was the home of the station.
KFSG – Four Square Gospel church.
KPPC – Pasadena Presbyterian Church.
KPCC – Pasadena City College.
KRLA – Radio Los Angeles (KTLA Channel 5 stands for Television Los Angeles).
KCSN – Cal State Northridge.
KBIG – “Big.” The station has one of the most powerful FM signals in Los Angeles.
KBRT – “Bright.” Once paired with KBIG playing beautiful music as Big and Bright.
KEZY – “Easy (listening).”
KTNQ – Ten Q, the ten meaning the rounded-off frequency, 1020 AM.
KROQ – The “rock” of Los Angeles in the 1970s as an AM station; Rock of the 80s later.
KMZT – K-Mozart.
KPFK – named for the owner, Pacifica.
KRKD – broadcasting from the “Arcade” building in downtown Los Angeles.
KLSX – Classics.
KPWR – Power (106).
KRTH – formerly KHJ-FM; named “K-Earth” in the early 1970s due to a format that never happened, harkening back to the attitude that eventually launched earth day.
KSWD – Sound, as in “The Sound.”
KSUL – Cal State University Long (Beach).
KSBR – Saddle Back (College) Radio.
KDAY – “Day,” once a daytime-only station on AM
KGRB – Gloria (and owner) Robert Burdette
KBOB – Bob (Robert Burdette owned this one as well)
I am running short of space so I’ll stop for now. I know, absolutely, I am missing more than a few. If you would like to add to this list please drop me a line. Even if it is out of town but perhaps still well-known. The Chicago Federation of Labor’s WCLF comes to mind, as does once-owned-by-Sears WLS … World’s Largest Store.