Calling radio stations "channels".

Forever and ever Television was referred to in “channels”, and radio in “stations”.

Over the past couple of years I’ve observed radio stations referring to themselves as channels (“your classic rock channel”). And it’s not just satellite radio, over the air broadcast radio stations are doing it too.

This is a rather recent trend. What is the origin of this and what purpose does it serve?

because of satellite radio (Pandora is what ive used ) and mtv and things like you tube where theres a "ramones channel " or a " tom petty channel " theres even music channels that plays music on tv "music choice " its called (we have 100 of them on spectrum ) also these days you can use a remote on your stereo (if you still have one ) like a tv …

Moved to Cafe Society.

General Questions Moderator

This has answered the OP how?

He’s claiming it came over from the use of “channel” in satellite radio and from the Internet. I know I can more easily listen to my local radio stations online than I can on my actual radio. None of them have good enough antennas. (My car does, but the radio is messed up there.)

It’s not a GQ answer, but it does at least seem plausible.

The practice of referring to radio station frequencies as channels, while uncommon, actually goes back further than you think. Seattle’s KJR-AM called itself Channel 95 when it had a Top 40 format during the 70s and 80s.

My father worked in radio until seguing into TV in 1968. The stations he worked for never used the term “channel.” He worked in at least three states, maybe four.

As far back as the 60s, an AM station in our town that was on 850 kHz called itself Channel 85.

I’ve heard “station” used in relation to TV, at least in regards to local news.

TV stations use Channels because of the way the spectrum is allocated and the receiver is designed: each station gets a specific channel, TV sets can only receive stations which broadcast on-channel. Radio stations aren’t allocated like that: even when two remote stations are allocated /almost identical/ frequencies, they aren’t allocated identical frequencies.

Once you go to digital radio, the stations /are/ using allocated channels.

In North America, FM stations officially operate on channels 200-300, which correspond to the “center frequencies” of 87.7 to 107.9 MHz. Our friend Wikipedia has a page with the List of channel numbers assigned to FM frequencies in North America. Internally the Federal Communications Commission uses FM channels extensively for regulatory purposes. For example, its Table of Allotments, listing currently unused FM assignments by community, lists the FM channel numbers, followed by the power class.

The FM channels reflect the fact that a station’s 200 MHz bandwidth is wide enough to support multiple transmitters, with the services in addition to the main audio programming known as Subsidiary Communications Authority transmissions.

Officially AM stations operate on frequencies, not channels, but, as noted by some examples in earlier posts, for marketing purposes “channel” sounds more impressive.

I can’t figure out what you are trying to say here. Over-the-air AM and FM stations operate very precisely on common frequencies. In contrast, during the days of analog TV, to avoid interference some over-the-air TV stations operated at slightly higher or lower frequencies, called offsets, to avoid interference with nearby stations on the same channel.

“Station” and “Channel” don’t mean the same thing. A station is the facility with the antennas which is doing the broadcasting. A channel is the band of spectrum they’re broadcasting on.

Now, why one would become preferentially associated with radio and the other with TV, I’m not sure.

Maybe some of it has to do with how TV broadcasters have traditionally worked their channel number into their branding (TV50, Fox 2) while FM broadcasters have used their actual carrier frequency in their branding (101 the WRIF, WWJ 950, etc)

Yes, both definitely get used in TV, but in different contexts. If I ask “what station is it on?” I expect an answer like “WGN.” If I ask “what channel is it on” I expect an answer like “Channel 9.” So, at least around here, I hear “station” in the TV context to refer to the actual call letters or network name, while “channel” is the broadcast band of the TV station.

Now, how this works with the OP’s observation that some radio stations are being called channels, I don’t know.

nighteshadea nailed it although IMO the explanation leaves a bit to be desired.

The business they’re in is transmitting audio-only entertainment and ads to the public. 50 years ago the only technical medium to do that was AM & FM radio. So it made a certain sense that their branding of their product included a reference to the tech. They had government mandated call letters, but the key thing the owners wanted you to remember is what setting to use on your radio dial. Hence all the jingles and trade styles like “KXYZ 870 - Your home for country/rock/classical/news.”

In Olden Dayes each local radio station was independent. Each made their own ads and jingles for themselves. Since the 1970s they’ve all been slowly bought up and now they’re all mostly owned by just a couple big operators. At which point the call letters and frequency are less important than the overall brand name.

Today the main medium is streaming internet audio or satellite radio. AM & FM are now relics that are quickly dying off. The owners want a brand that means something whether you’re sucking it down on your phone, your XM in the car, your smart TV or whatever.

One thing’s for sure: in this new world the call letters and AM or FM frequency are NOT the important thing.

So what term should we/ they use for the general product? The product is “A planned pre-recorded flow of audio entertainment and advertising carefully designed to appeal to a particular sellable demographic wanting a particular style or genre of entertainment.”

They could call it a channel, a stream, a brand, a flow, or any number of other words. “Channel” won the luck of the draw. Aided by the fact the same term was used in TV.

I agree with most of what you said here, except this.

It will be quite a while before FM goes away (AM maybe, but it has the advantage of a very long range).

Most people have radios in their car, new cars are still equipped with them, and not everyone wants to pay a monthly fee to use it.

Yup. I’m sure most people have a clock radio by their bedsides and wake up to their local morning zoo or to NPR. People can stream local stations over their computers and smartphones. All smartphones have a chip capable of picking up terrestrial FM radio and some manufacturers enable the chip in their phones to pick up FM broadcasts.

I think channel/station has to do with WHO is doing the broadcasting.

IMO it was a station when the same facility was broadcasting or a freqency all day.
Now a days more or all stations re-broadcast content from other places/stations sometimes/all the time on a freqency. This makes it seem more like a channel…because you don’t hear the same STATION through that CHANNEL.

Note a station has an address
A channel has a freqency

All of this is loose interpretation,YMMV, I have no facts to support this, it’s not my kid, the check is in the mail

Clear channel station

This. Good post. You explained what I was thinking and you explained it simple and quite well.

I’m going to be 57 this month and I’ve been to all 50 states and listen to radio in each over the years.

And it’s only been recently (5 years, maybe) that I’ve heard the term “channel” used to refer to a radio station. Even if some have been using it longer, overall in the past it was unusual for radio to use that term. I’m just wondering why it’s been a trend all of a sudden. Especially for over the air broadcasts.