When "radiotelephone" sets began to appear on ocean going ships, the operators pretty much made up their own identifications.  As more ships came equipped, this practice soon became a major problem.  It was then decided that transmitting and receiving stations be assigned call signs.  When land-based radio stations popped up in the early part of the last century, the new Federal Radio Commission began to assign call letters- first in alpha-numeric variations (for experimental licensees) and three-and-four letter alpha identifications for commercial operations.  An international conference comprised of the major countries heavily into the development of broadcasting decided that North America would be assigned "N" for U.S. Navy stations; "W" for broadcast stations on the standard medium wave band ("AM") and later on the frequency modulation ("FM") band east of the Mississippi River and "K" for those stations west of the river; "C" would be assigned to stations originating from Canada; and "X" for our southern neighbors in Mexico




The original on channel 4

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Video veteran meets The Video Veteran

Changing Channels- Chicago TV History

Sandy Speaks!- The Don Sandburg Interview

And then there was...DuMont

Chicago's Man Of UHF- The Bob Lewandowski Interview

A Roadmap to the entire site







Call letters are sequentially assigned by the Federal Communications Commission, the successor to the Federal Radio Commission.  The FCC was created as a result of The Communications Act of 1934.  However some calls were requested and as long as no one objected or they weren't assigned elsewhere, that request was usually granted. 


WBBM-TV (We Broadcast Better Music) Made more sense with it's sister radio station. Note: These call letters were sequentially assigned, the slogan came later. For a time, the calls were also known to mean "World's Best Battery Maker" when the radio station was run by the Atlass brothers.  Originally on channel 4, now on channel 2.  It's successor WBBM-DT uses VHF channel 12 as its carrier, but ATSC tuners map the station to 2.1

WBKB (Balaban & Katz Broadcasting) The original owners. The calls are now in Michigan.  Originally on channel 4, then on channel 7.

WMAQ-TV (William A. Quinn) Quinn was publisher of The Chicago Daily News, which at one time owned WMAQ radio. These call letters were also sequentially assigned. For a while, they were known to mean "We Must Ask Questions".  On channel 5.  Its successor WMAQ-DT uses UHF channel 29 for its carrier, but ATSC tuners map the station to 5.1

WENR-TV (E.N. Rauland) The original owner of the radio station. The calls are now in Tennessee.  On channel 7.

WLS-TV (World's Largest Store) Boasted by Sears Roebuck & Company, the radio station's original owners.  On channel 7.  Its successor WLS-DT originally used UHF channel 52 for its digital carrier frequency, it continued transmitting in digital on VHF channel 7 once UHF channel 52 became unavailable.  Technical issues have forced the station to operate on UHF channel 44, while continuing to operate on VHF channel 7.  ATSC tuners map the station to 7.1

WGN-TV (World's Greatest Newspaper) It's what the Chicago Tribune, the station's owners thought of its newspaper.  On channel 9.  Its successor WGN-DT uses UHF channel 19 for its carrier, but ATSC tuners map the station to channel 9.1

WTTW (Window To The World)  On channel 11.  Its successor WTTW-DT uses UHF channel 47 for its carrier, but ATSC tuners map the station to channel 11.1

WFLD-TV (Field) Field Communications was the station's original owners.  On channel 32.  Its successor WFLD-DT uses UHF channel 31 for its carrier, but ATSC tuners map the station to channel 32.1

WCFL-TV (Chicago Federation of Labor) This station never made it to the air. It would have broadcast on channel 38.

WIND-TV (IND for "Indiana")- Though WIND-AM is considered a Chicago station, it actually hails from Gary Indiana. WIND-TV never made it to the air. It would have been on channel 20.

WHFC-TV (Hotel Flanders Company) Another no-go on channel 26.

WPWR (Power).  Originally on channel 60 (with Aurora IL as the city of license) and later on channel 50 (with Gary Indiana as the city of license).  Its successor WPWR-DT uses UHF channel 51 for its carrier, but ATSC tuners map the station to channel 50.1

WCIU (Chicago Illinois UHF).  On channel 26.  Its successor WCIU-DT uses channel 27 for its carrier, but ATSC tuners map the station to channel 26.1

WXXW (The "XX" represent the Roman numeral "20") The call now belongs to a Webster, MA FM station.  On channel 20.

WYCC (We Are Your City Colleges).  On channel 20.  Its successor WYCC-DT uses UHF channel 21 for its carrier, but ATSC tuners map the station to channel 20.1

WCFC (Winning Chicagoland For Christ)  On Channel 38.

WSNS (Essaness- get it?) The Essaness Theater Chain was a part owner.  On channel 44.  Its successor WSNS-DT uses UHF channel 45 for its carrier, but ATSC tuners map the station to channel 44.1

WBBS (Bulls Black Hawks Sox) This short-lived Spanish language station shared time with WPWR on channel 60. WBBS operated 7pm to 2:30 am with WPWR signing on right afterward.  The station also scrambled its signal when airing games from the Sportsvision subscription service.  The call letter origin is unconfirmed.

WFBN (Focus Broadcasting Network) The original licensee for channel 66.

WGBO (Grant Broadcasting Organization) The second licensee for channel 66.  Its successor WGBO-DT uses UHF channel 38 for its carrier, but ATSC tuners map the station to 66.1

WOPT (Oak Park Television) Another no-show. This one would have aired on channel 44. It was licensed to the same owners of WOPA (AM)

WTZR (Television from Zenith Radio) This would have been Chicago's station on channel 1 had the channel remained available.  Originally on channel 1 and later and longer, on channel 2.

WCPX (Chicago Pax)- After Pax-TV, new owners of the former WCFC.  On channel 38. Its successor WCPX-DT uses UHF channel 43 for its carrier, but ATSC tuners map the station to channel 38.1

WNBQ (In the beginning, NBC tagged all their o&o stations with NB_).  On channel 5.

WEHS These call letters have made the rounds across the nation for the last 60 or so years. Originally they were assigned to the student run radio station at Evanston High School. They were used by a few other radio stations later on until they made it back here in the Chicago area as the i.d. for channel 60.

WXFT The Chicago area's newest UHF station (actually hailing from southwest Aurora) quietly took over WEHS and its home shopping schedule.  Targeted to go Spanish in 2002 with an affiliation with Univision's new Telefutura Network.  It may be what the "FT" stands for.    On channel 60.       

WWME-CA   Weigel Broadcasting's "newest" station (it had been on the air as low-power WFBT-LP for several years) on channel 23.  The "ME" is an abbreviation for the station's slogan "Memorable TV."