What's so special about TV channels 3&4?

Why are they the choices for VCR settings?
Why not 2 or 13, or 99?

For the best quality signal, you don’t want your VCR to compete with a broadcast channel. So you want the VCR (or cable box, game console, etc.) to feed into the TV on a channel unused in your area. This way, when tuned to that channel, your TV gets only the signal you want it to get, and not the signal from your VCR plus the Five O’clock News in the background.

In every TV market I’ve checked out, either channel 3 or channel 4 (broadcast, not cable) is unused. I believe the FCC does this puposely, not allowing both channels to be licensed for broadcast in the same area. Why they picked 3 and 4 I’m not sure, although I thought that channel 3 was unused in most of the country during the “early days” of broadcasting, and they may have decided to capitalize on that.


Uh, in every place I’ve ever lived channels three or four are always used. Usually CBS, from my experience.

Yes, but were both used?

Right, but not both. That’s the point, you can always get either 3 or 4 without a signal.

Don’t think so.

I live on the border between Illinois and Indiana. Therefore, I pick up broadcast from both states. I get channels 2-9, 11,12, and 13 broadcast.

Channel 2 is IN
Channel 3 is IL
Channel 4 is IN
Channel 5 is local (IL)
Channel 6 is IL
Channel 7 is IL
Channel 8 is IN (I think)
Channel 9 is IL
Channel 11 is IN
Channel 12 is IL
Channel 13 is IL

Not that it makes any difference, as our VCRs work just fine…

I grew up in eastern Long Island and channel 3 was always a CBS affiliate, while channel 4 was NBC out of NYC.

Just to further confuse things I’ve seen several different A-V products that use 2 & 3 as the operative channels. These are usually older models.

Nevertheless I’m guessing that while the theory posted is likely correct, the overlap of radio signals and the international nature of manufacturerers probably makes it more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule.

Another guess as to why only 2, 3, and 4 are used :

These channels happen to be in the lowest part of the broadcast TV spectrum (54-72 MHz). It’s easiest for VCR manufacturers to produce the signal at the lower frequencies, so they use the lowest channels. Maybe the 3 & 4 thing is to avoid interference, though; I think the original plan of 13 channels was chosen by RCA to give all major areas at least 3 broadcasting channels that wouldn’t interfere.
The FCC has a list of all broadcast TV stations, by state. There’s no easy way to link directly to it, but if you go to the NARA CFR retrieval site, and enter Title 47 CFR 73.606 in the boxes (you only need to enter the numbers actually) it will come right up.

All TV channels, listed alphabetically by city in the state, are there. I don’t have the time or inclination to figure the list out geographically to see everyone who collides.

But I did look up a few areas, and it seems that in some regions, but not too heavily populated you might get both a 3 and 4. In Arizona you might pick up channel 3 (Pheonix) and 4(Tucson). Also somewhere between Hartford, CT & Boston, MA you might get a 3 & a 4.
I also tried to figure out where Garfield226 is receiving from, but couldn’t find a Channel 5. IL has one in Chicago, but that’s a little far away from the Indiana border … is it a new station (the data is from 2000)? Or maybe from Michigan?

Well, the Channel 5 is local, it’s the cable company’s information channel. You can pick it up on broadcast, though.

The point is that the FCC never licensed both 3 and 4 in the same city (obviously, there were cases of overlap if you were between two cities). VCR manufacturers used that (and the other advantages mentioned) as a reason to use 3 and 4. For those in the middle, the VCR signal would be stronger than either, but if you were in a city that had one or the other, the local signal could leak through, hence the choice.

Thespos – if you truly came from Eastern Long Island (as I do), you couldn’t get channel 4 from New York without cable. (Where are you from, BTW?)

I don’t think so. In littleton CO channel 4 is CBS and Channel 3 is UPN. Right smack dab in the middle of the city. Golden is the same way.