United States of America

In the US, a television network is a company responsible for buying and in some cases producing programming, but does not broadcast it directly. Instead, the network relies on local stations in all the different regions (or ‘markets’) to distribute the programming to the population. These are called ‘affiliates’. Affiliate stations hand over control to the networks at certain times, notably mornings and peak time (called primetime), as well as in the afternoon for lineups of soap operas. The networks handle scheduling during these time periods; if a show gets pulled, it’s across all stations of the network. During these periods, programming is branded under the network name only, although in most cases the local stations do put their own logos on the screen coming back from break or during network promotions. There are 8 main commercial networks, the biggest four being ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. The smaller 5 networks are The WB, UPN, PAX and the non-commercial public broadcaster PBS.

When the affiliates are not broadcasting network programming, their own lineups consist of home-grown output, syndicated programming or local news, With multiple markets in each of the fifty states, it amounts to a colossal amount of broadcast journalism. Syndicated programming is similar to networked programming, although the distribution is not handled by the network; the local station typically purchases and schedules it. Affiliates in the major cities/markets are owned by the networks and are called ‘Owned and Operated’ stations, or O&Os. But for the most part, this is the exception to the rule – most stations are owned by independent companies.

Generally, branding of affiliate stations nowadays is network/channel number. You see a lot of ABC 7s, NBC 4s, and CBS 2s among the O&O station groups but there are still a lot of affiliates that go with just a channel number and/or call letter identifications like ‘”‘WUSA 9’, ‘KARE 11’ or even a ‘catchy’ name like WXIA in Atlanta, which is known as “11 Alive”. According to Fox, all their affiliates have to use Fox-approved names and channel logos, which is why all the Fox affiliates look exactly the same. Identification on Pax’s affiliates is usually just ‘PAX’ with an ID at the top of the hour. Some Pax affiliates, however, have local news and different, separate identifications. Scheduling is controlled by Pax themselves, similar to the modern ITV model.

Although it gets government funding like the BBC, PBS is more like how ITV used to be: less a network than a collection of separate affiliates who produce the programming that’s shipped first to PBS and then ‘networked’ to the local stations. They even used to have frontcaps until recently. While stations such as WHYY in Philadelphia have in the past emphasised their own look over that of PBS, the network has recently asserted itself to a greater extent. Affiliates such as Connecticut Public Television than the University of North Carolina’s ‘The Center’ have given way to national branding and are now known as ‘PBS Connecticut’ and ‘PBS North Carolina’.

USA Cable Channels

USA Local TV Stations

Call signs (or call letters) have been assigned since 1927 by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), initially to radio stations to identify them from all the different kinds of radio services over land, sea, air and space. They serve three purposes, to (1) identify the nationality of the station (2) the type of station and (3) the station ID. Call signs, in effect, are like license plates of broadcasting. Broadcast stations in the US are given call signs by the FCC beginning with K or W. Generally speaking, those beginning with K are assigned to stations West of the Mississippi River and in U.S. territories and possessions, while those beginning with W are assigned to broadcast stations East of the Mississippi.

Since the beginning of radio broadcasting, stations have had the privilege of requesting specific call signs. In requesting their preferences for certain letters of the alphabet, broadcasters have presented combinations of names, places or slogans. For example, the letters NBC are used for stations owned by the National Broadcasting Company, CBS for those of the Columbia Broadcasting System, and ABC for the American Broadcasting Companies. When a call sign begins with a pair of K or W letters, they are collapsed into one.

Examples of individual station call letters are: WGN, Chicago (owned by “World’s Greatest Newspaper” Chicago Tribune); WNYC, New York City; KAGH, Crossett, AK (“Keep Arkansas’ Green Home”); WIOD, Miami (“Wonderful Isle of Dreams”); WLS, Chicago (“Worlds Largest Store”); WACO, (Waco Texas); WTOP, Washington, D.C. (“Top of the Dial”); KFDR, Grand Coulee, Washington, (Franklin D. Roosevelt); WCFL, Chicago (“Chicago Federation of Labor”); WMTC Vancleve, KY, (“Win Men to Christ”); WGCD, Chester, S.C. (“Wonderful Guernsey Center of Dixie”); Educational TV station WXXW, Chicago (the Roman numerals for its channel, 20); and KABL, Oakland, CA, selected its letters to represent San Francisco’s famous cable cars.

If a new broadcast station makes no specific request, it is assigned a call sign by the FCC. Since 1946 the FCC has not guaranteed specific call signs to be granted prior to the grant of a construction permit or special temporary authority. As broadcast stations began to increase in the early 1920’s, three letter call signs could no longer accommodate the growing number of stations, making it necessary to add the fourth letter. With the advent of TV in 1941, new call signs for all such stations were not assigned. Rather, since many TV stations were operated by the same AM licensee in the same license area, the general practice was for the associated TV station to simply add “-TV”, to the call sign of the co-owned AM station. Source: the FCC website at fcc.gov


Formerly KJEO-TV


Minneapolis–Saint Paul


Salt Lake City


Monroe, Louisiana–El Dorado, Arkansas


Washington DC

Parental TV Guidelines

In 1996 The United States Congress and the tv industry designed a voluntary rating system, known as the Parental Guidelines. Similar to cinema ratings, they are designed to provide parents with more information about the content and age appropriateness of programmes. Displayed in the top left corner of the screen at the beginning of a programme, these are the symbols and what they mean:

TVY – ALL CHILDREN This would mean the programme is produced specifically for young children, aged 2-6.

TVG – GENERAL AUDIENCE Suitable for all ages. Programme would contain little or no violence, no strong language, no sex.

TV14 – PARENTS STRONGLY CAUTIONED This programme would contain material unsuitable for children under 14 years such as intense violence, sex and/or strong coarse language.

TVY7 – DIRECTED TO OLDER CHILDREN Viewers aged 7 and above. Themes may include fantasy violence or comedic violence.

TVPG – PARENTAL GUIDEANCE SUGGESTED This programme may contain moderate violence, sexual situations, coarse language.

TVMA – MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY This programme designed specifically for adults. May contain explicit sex, crude or indecent language.