TV and Radio

What do the call letters and numbers on an FM station mean?
Answered by HowStuffWorks
  • HowStuffWorks

    HowStuffWorks

  1. When you hear a radio DJ say, "You're listening to 98.5, WAVE," he means that you're listening to a radio station broadcasting an FM radio signal at a frequency of 98.5 megahertz, and with the FCC-assigned set of call letters WAVE. The transmitter at this particular radio station is oscillating at a frequency of 98.5 megahertz, or 98,500,000 cycles per second. If your FM radio is tuned to that frequency, you'll hear the station. All FM radio stations transmit in a band of frequencies between 88 megahertz and 108 megahertz. This band of the radio spectrum is used for no other purpose but FM radio broadcasts. There is no particular reason for this. It just happens to be where the FCC decided to designate FM radio broadcasts. Inside that band, each station occupies a 200-kilohertz slice, and the FCC decided all of the slices should start on odd number boundaries. This is why station frequencies always end in odd numbers. You'll never hear of a station called 98.6 in the United States.

    Interestingly, the "K" or "W" at the beginning of station call letters means something too. Stations starting with a "K" are west of the Mississippi River, and stations that begin with a "W" are east of the Mississippi [source: University of Texas].

    It's also interesting to remember that, by their nature, radio waves are simply out there in the air -- for anyone to fetch them if they have the right equipment. Take a scanner, for example. A radio scanner is a device that is designed to pick up multiple radio signals from the atmosphere. Outside of traditional radio broadcasts, radio waves are used for other forms of communication. These conversations float freely on the airwaves and anyone who wants to purchase a radio scanner and tune in can pick up a number of radio transmissions. Police, firefighters, race car drivers, astronauts and even baby monitors transmit signals that you can pick up with a radio scanner.

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