TV Stations in the USA

Are all TV Stations in the USA commercial or are there also Goverment stations?

I am not aware of any Government stations, although there may be some low-power ones serving DC that I’ve never heard of.

The closest we have is PBS, which used to be partially funded by federal grant money, but is still run as a not-for-profit corporation.

There used to be public television stations that where government grant funded, but the government didn’t make the content or pick what was shown like the BBC does. The public television stations now receive a lot of solicited funding to stay on the air. Those that didn’t would have gone off the air.

What do you mean? The UK government doesn’t make or set content for the BBC, either.

The people stating that PBS gets no federal money currently are mistaken - the PBS network and individual PBS stations get some funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. About 20% of the CPB budget is from the federal government and another quarter comes from state and local governments.

In addition, the Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities directly fund certain programming - at least if the announcements at the beginning of these shows are anything to go by.

Fair to say that while listener contributions make up the bulk of public broadcasting support, and foundation and corporate support takes up much of the slack, the federal investment in PBS is considerable. This shouldn’t just be dismissed.

There are currently six broadcast networks in the U.S.:

The CW

These are the names that they are usually called.

ABC, CBS, and NBC are commercial networks that have existed since the late 1940’s or early 1950’s. (For a few years back then there was a fourth network called Dumont, but that network soon folded.) Fox is a commercial network that has existed since the 1980’s. The CW is a commercial network that was recently formed from the merger of two commercial networks that have existed since the 1990’s, the WB and UPN.

PBS is a noncommercial network that has existed in its current form since the 1970’s. Before then it was known as NET, and only showed some local education programs. PBS is funded by charitable contributions from viewers, charitable contributions from corporations that are allowed short announcements of their funding before the show they fund, and federal appropriations. The money comes from viewers, corporations, and federal funds in decreasing order of amounts.

Most local commercial stations (which are what broadcast the network shows, as well as some local shows) are owned by a company unrelated to the network. Commercial networks are only allowed to own a limited number of their local stations. PBS local stations (which broadcast PBS shows and some local shows) are owned by either a nonprofit body organized purely for control of the station or a university. The federal government (and any state or local governments) doesn’t directly own any networks or local stations.


C-SPAN is a cable network, and is operated as an NPO by a consortium of cable companies, and receives no government funding.

From the “About Us” page on your link:

I see nobody stating there is no federal funding for the public television stations.

As for the BBC I was thinking of the license fees the government collects to pay for the BBC to run. I know the BBC has been changing over the years, but being in the USA I don’t know the details of the changes.

Capt. Ridley’s Shooting Party feel free to tell us the way the BBC works.

Most of the U.S. posters here seem to be guessing the meaning of the OP is “are any U.S. TV stations official voices of the government?” The answer is no, except for TV Marti, a single U.S. government-owned station that broadcasts specifically to Cuba.

There are a few non-commercial stations that are owned by an agency of a state or local government, usually a state’s department of education or local school district.

Both you and unclelem stated that PBS used to be funded by government grants - strongly implying that it isn’t currently, to say the least. Hence my reply.

I don’t think the OP is asking that- he’s asking whether there are government-funded TV stations like the BBC, to which the answer is yes- PBS. The BBC is not “the official voice of the Government” any more than PBS is. It’s run by trustees, and is about as independent as any publicly funded body is likely to be. Anyway, to clarify, we don’t have state television, but we do have television that’s subsidized in the public interest.

Well, to a degree that’s correct. However the DoD has a broadcasting arm for its active duty members overseas (American Forces Network) and much of this programming is being aired domestically on the Pentagon Channel on many cable networks - especially those serving military intensive areas.

The BBC collects the fee itself. For more details, knock yourself out with this thread.

There is a degree of complexity in the way American television works that isn’t necessarily clear from the responses so far – station, channel, and network don’t necessarily refer to the same thing here. And things work differently in traditional broadcasting and cable/satellite.

The basic unit of service in American broadcast television is the station, which is licensed to broadcast at a certain frequency to a defined service area, usually a city and its surrounding suburbs. A station might be owned by a larger corporation or chain (or even a network), but it is supposed to operate independently, serving its designated geographical area. A big metropolitan area like New York has 14 stations assigned to its region. A medium-sized metro like Dayton, Ohio, has six. Smaller cities and rural areas have even fewer.

Most of the stations are assigned commercial licenses and they are free to adopt whatever commercial format they like – usually advertiser-supported broadcasting, although in the past, some stations were subscription based. A few of the stations will be reserved for educational/non-commercial licenses on which “advertising” (but not “underwriting”) is barred and the station is subject to stricter public service standards.

Every station is free to seek programming from whatever source they want. Most commercial stations sign up with a network (many of them are, in fact, owned by a network or a parent company of a network), like those listed in post No. 7. All stations – including network affiliates and non-commercial/educational stations – are free to seek programming from a variety of sources. Generally speaking, commercial stations and non-commercial/educational stations seek programming from different sources, but there’s no stricture in that direction. Non-commercial/educational stations often run programming that was originally intended for commercial television.

There are no “government” stations as such, although, as has been stated, non-commercial/educational stations do receive some funding from sources that are ultimately governmental in origin (the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is not a government agency, but it is a government-owned and government-funded corporation). Individual public stations are often owned by a state (as opposed to federal) government agency (often a state university), but many of them are owned by private entities as well (“community broadcasting”).

Historically, there hasn’t been a problem with the government trying to influence programming on public television, until the Bush administration, which exerted a lot of pressure on P.B.S. to “balance” against Bill Moyers.

Another piece of the pie is that a significant number of non-commercial/educational licenses are held by religious organizations who use those stations to air exclusively religious programming.

To clarify:
They were federally funded. Their funding was drastically cut and they have to solicit funds or go off the air.

The non optional fee sure is a tax, no matter what the BBC and government want to claim. The linked thread shows that’s how other people take it too. I won’t bring it up again though as it’s a hijack of the OP’s thread.

The PBS stations have always solicited funds. CPB funding was drastically cut in 1995, but it’s back up now to old levels.

I’m afraid this goes back way further than you think: