Since the publication of the original New York call-letter history article in "DX News" in May of 1989, many of you have stepped forward with a great deal of additional information. Thomas White for example loaned me a tremendous package carefully assembled from official Commerce Department documents from the earliest days of broadcasting. Kermit Geary sent copies of station lists from the critical, frequency-shifting days of 1941. And more recently, Sid Steele sent a wonderful package of station lists from the 1930's through the 1970's. With such a wealth of new information, we now have a series of charts far more complete and accurate. Also, in this revision I've tried to take into consideration your many kind suggestions and comments. In particular, the geographical scope of the project has been extended eastward to include all of Long Island, northward to New York's Westchester and Rockland Counties, and southward to New Jersey's Ocean County.
To help us understand the call-letter charts, let's first review the chronology of the AM broadcasting band in the United States.
1922 - This marked the first full year of significant broadcasting activity in New York and across the country. In those early days, all licensed broadcasters shared a single frequency of 360 meters, approximately 833 kilocycles. In June of that year, ten broadcasters in the greater New York City area voluntarily agreed to limit their hours and schedule their broadcasts to ensure they didn't interfere with each other. As more and more broadcasters became licensed, the Commerce Department, which regulated radio activity in the United States, allocated 485 meters (619 kilocycles) for weather and stock-market reports, and 400 meters (750 kilocycles) as a second entertainment wavelength for quality, high-powered stations. Since many stations were authorized for several wavelengths based on the particular type of programming at a given hour, we simplified the charts by omitting these alternative frequencies.
6/30/23 - Faced with an explosive growth in the popularity of radio broadcasting, the Commerce Department took a bold step forward and allocated a significant portion of the radio spectrum, from 550 kilocycles to 1350 kilocycles, for broadcasting purposes, with stations to be spaced 10 kilocycles apart. Existing stations were distributed across the band, and many new stations were soon authorized as well. The broadcast band was further expanded to 1500 kilocycles a short time later.
1926 - After a few years of orderly growth, the industry was thrown into disarray when Chicago broadcaster WJAZ successfully challenged the Commerce Department's legal authority to assign station licenses, frequencies, and power levels. In no time at all, small businesses, budding scientists, and everyone else - it seemed - took advantage of the unexpected opportunity and began constructing new stations. The number of broadcast stations in the greater New York City area leaped from 37 to 66. Many established stations jumped frequencies and increased their power in a futile attempt to avoid interfering signals on the horribly congested broadcast band. Co-channel interference, manifesting itself as squeals and whistles on the primitive receiving equipment of the day, made pleasurable radio listening nearly impossible, and posed a genuine threat to the entire industry.
4/26/27 - The Federal Radio Commission, newly empowered by Congress to regulate the broadcasting industry, implemented its initial, temporary plan to reorganize the radio spectrum. Changes were limited in scope. Only six stations in the greater New York area were eliminated from the overcrowded airwaves; most stations were allowed to remain on the frequencies they occupied.
6/15/27 - The FRC implemented what it hoped would be a permanent assignment of station frequencies. It attempted to eliminate crowded conditions through the use of "time sharing" plans, whereby certain stations would operate on the same frequency in accordance with a pre-arranged schedule. Most New York area stations were required to share a frequency, usually with two other stations. While their operating hours were limited, no metropolitan area stations were eliminated at this point.
12/1/27 - The FRC modified frequency assignments for about 10% of the nations broadcasters to try to alleviate congestion on the airwaves, but it was clear that more drastic measures were needed.
11/11/28 - On this red-letter day in broadcasting history, the FRC reconfigured the entire broadcast band with the creation of the clear, regional, and local channels that we recognize today. In greater New York, only a handful of stations were eliminated, but most stations were "shoe-horned" into four-way time-sharing arrangements.
The 1930's - This was a decade of consolidation. With the nation mired in a terrible economic depression, most broadcasters found it impossible to operate profitably with airtime severely limited by restrictive time-sharing arrangements. The more financially secure stations quickly "gobbled up" their weaker share-time partners, thereby extending their own hours. By the end of the decade, nearly all the share-time arrangements had either been eliminated or significantly modified.
3/29/41 - In conjunction with the expansion of the broadcast band to 1600 kilocycles, a final major frequency reallocation was implemented. Entire blocks of frequency assignments were shifted up by 10, 20, 30, or 40 kilocycles. For example, all assignments between 1200 and 1450 kilocycles shifted up 30 kilocycles. In the years that followed, many new broadcasting licenses were granted, particularly in suburban locations.