We're legally required to identify our station once an hour (#3 in 'Things you didn't know about local public radio hosts')

#3 in a four-part series on things you didn’t know about local public radio hosts


We're legally required to identify our station once an hour

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires all radio and television stations (not just public radio stations) to identify themselves hourly. This means the call letters, followed by the city where the station is licensed. For whatever reason, the station identification is also supposed to go as close to the top of the hour as possible. I think this may have to do with the fact that listenership tends to be highest toward the top of the hour.

So, for example, while I'm hosting Morning Edition on WVIK during the first hour of the show, which starts at 5:00 a.m., I'll identify the station sometime between 5:59 and 6:00 a.m. That's the local break closest to the top of the hour. I can phrase it however I want—"You're listening to WVIK Rock Island 90.3 FM" or "Thanks for joining us on WVIK Rock Island 90.3 FM" or whatever. I don't even have to give the frequency; just as long as I say "WVIK Rock Island", I'm good to go.

Between the call letters and the city—as my station’s general manager has informed me since first publishing this post—stations can insert the name of the licensee (the company or nonprofit that owns the stations’s FCC license), the frequency (or channel, in the case of television) and/or the network affiliation (e.g., NPR). But all of that is optional. Only the call letters and city are required, which is what we do at WVIK to keep things simple.

So why is this a thing? The FCC rules don’t say. I imagine the purpose of the station ID rule is accountability. People have the right to know what station they’re listening to (or watching, in the case of television) and where that station is located.

Then there's another FCC rule that requires stations to also identify their translator signal(s) a few times a day. A what?, you ask. A translator, in radio speak, is a secondary radio signal that extends the primary radio signal to a more distant listening area. It receives the original signal, then translates it to a different frequency on which it broadcasts in that area. For example, WVIK has one translator. It's located in Dubuque, Iowa, which is about 70 miles north of our primary signal in the Quad Cities. Our 90.3 FM signal is translated up north there to 95.9 FM. I don't know exactly how it works—or even vaguely how it works, for that matter—but it does its radio magic. These translators allow stations to reach a wider geographic area.

When I identify the station translator on air, I only do so once during my shift, between 7:59 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. break. Why then? Because the FCC says so. Well, anytime between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., per the law (as well as once between 12:55 p.m. and 1:05 p.m., and once between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. But the 7:59 break is when I do it, for consistency's sake). I just tag it onto the primary station identification. So, it's something along the lines of "You're tuned to WVIK Rock Island, with translator K240DZ Dubuque". Yeah, that's right: K240DZ. Translators have very odd call letters (and numbers).

It’s also worth mentioning that stations are allowed to record someone saying their station and translator identification, and configure the recording so that it automatically plays when it needs to. In fact, I would bet that every single public radio station does this for at least part of the day, since there is not someone live on air 24/7, especially in the wee hours of the night (although it could be said that Morning Edition begins in the wee hours of the night).