A Conversation for Hollywood's Laws of Life, Physics and Everything
~ jwf ~ scribblo ergo sum Started conversation Sep 26, 2002
Similar to the 555 situation, TV is usually shown as Channel 10.
Because (I hasten to mention that this is specific to North America)
in the days before cable and satellite TV signals (even before UHF TV signals went into the double and triple digit channel numbers), there were only 12 hertzian wave broadcast channels numbered 2 thru 13.
There never really was a Channel One. And Channel 10 was never assigned to licensed broadcasters. It was held in reserve by Federal regulators, possibly as a future emergency broadcast or public service channel, though to my knowledge no transmitters were ever established and soon the incredibly rapid growth of the TV industry out-stripped the best laid early plans.
There were three big American networks, and usually each was represented by one local station in every market. NBC usually tried to get local Channel 2, CBS got 4, and ABC was often 7 in almost every city. Independent stations, when they came later, got 3,5,6,8,11,12 & 13 and eventually went to UHF in markets that could support that many. Channel Ten (almost) always remained reserved.
As a result, many movies from the 50s, 60s and 70s, with scenes of TV broadcasters, either in the studio or at some live remote action will be from "Channel Ten News". This was done mainly to avoid liabilities and legal action for misrepresentation of any 'real' station or network since there were no real Channel 10s.
With the advent of Cable, Channel Ten became the 'house channel' for each Cable service company who were obliged to run local 'community service' programming and announcements. And now, even in today's 500 channel universe, Channel Ten remains Hollywood's favourite channel. This in spite of the fact that many cable-casters now assign it to show a combination of adverts, news, weather,community info and in-house programming of local sporting and political events often hosted by their own Channel Ten News Team. Now there really are vans and trucks and satellite uplink trailers with Channel Ten logos pasted all over them, it ain't just in the movies anymore. (Of course their signal output is strictly on cable and hackers should note that hertzian broadcast Channel 10 is still clear all over North America - if you want to start a pirate station - at close range a hertzian signal will overide a cable signal.)
Of course by now, Channel numbers have become passe. Most people refer to stations as Fox, ABC, Speed, History, Life, CNN or whatever, so it's easier for Hollywood to make up names like ABS, DNN, NBS, etc.
It gets even crazier with Radio station call letters.
Unless a film is historically representing a specific radio station's roll in the career of some real life pop or country star the film must invent a fictional set of call letters. This is very difficult because all US stations were assigned four letter groups starting with a K (as in KTTC) or a W (as in WINS, WABC, etc) and virtually every combination (that doesn't spell a dirty four letter word) is very likely already assigned as the legal trademark of a station 'somewhere'. Screen writers must be very creative to come up with an original that won't get them sued.
KAOS used to be very popular.
But I understand it too has recently been assigned with the understanding that all films made prior will be protected from liabilities by a grandfather clause.
Sorry to rant on, but the history of braodcasting in North America is a long story to tell.
Obviously, I enjoyed your entry and wanted to add this little piece of info so future viewers can smile knowingly when they see these things represented in older films.
Monsignore Pizzafunghi Bosselese Posted Sep 27, 2002
~ jwf ~ scribblo ergo sum Posted Sep 27, 2002
Your question gets us into a very complex and confusing history, that has more exceptions than rules because, as often happens, reality and practise out-stripped the vision of the orderly and the organised (aka: the Regulators).
The layman's answer (the simple answer that will usually suffice) is that US stations east of the Mississippi start with a W and west of that great river, a K. The first of dozens of exceptions, the one always cited by the anecdotal layman, is KDKA in Pennsylvania around 1921 when for several months all new US stations were given a K.
But it goes further back. Way back to 1906 when an 'INTERNATIONAL' standard was 'established' for radio call signs by the Service Regulations of the Berlin and London Radiotelegraphic Conventions which set up a system of three letter call signs with the first letter representing the country of origin. B would be Britain for example. A call sign beginning with a B meant you were hearing a signal from a British ship.
Remember that radio signals at this time were only Morse code dots and dashes and bear in mind that early radio was mostly considered as means of communciation for 'shipping'. No one forsaw the real future of radio.
To see the original system designations for the entire world as modified in 1913 (after the Titanic disaster), see:
You will notice that the United States got two letters; W in the West and K for the East (backwards to the existing practice) In dividing up the globe the Regulators (in an uncharacteristic fit of ingenuity) took into consideration that America has two coasts on two oceans, thousands of miles apart. To make it easier to readily know where the American ship (and its signal) was based they assigned two letters for the US. Somehow, when later translated to land these ocean designations got turned around completely. (Bureaucrats, phfft!) The KDKA debacle of 1921 was some bureaucrat trying to make things 'right'. He lasted about six months!
Three letter call signs quickly proved insufficient as the number of radio transmitters grew, especially during WW1. A station with a three letter call sign (BBC) is as distinctive and distinguished as a 5 digit h2g2 researcher.
In the US virtually every four letter combo was quickly used up and there were few reserves. There was also an early trend to have 'custom' call letters (like vanity license plates) rather than accept the next sequential grouping that would be assigned by the FCC. Like URL's there was also some selling, trading and swapping very early on.
Here's a mixed bag of links with lots of subsequent links full of historical titbits.
You may have spotted that Canada was not included in the 1913 listings but that all the three letter groups from CAA to CMZ were held in reserve. Subesquently all Canadian stations start with CB, CF, CH, CI, CJ and CK. (The letters D,E,G sound too much like - rhyme with - the letter C so they were omitted as potentially unclear to the ear in early static-filled voice/audio transmissions.)
The one exception to the C for Canada rule is an American station established in Newfoundland during the second war (before NFLD had actually joined the Confederation of Canada) called VOCM. (See the International rules to understand that one!)
In context of the original forum (above) on Hollywood's quirks and cliches, Canadian writers can safely call a Canadian station CXBY or CTTV or somesuch, so it sounds Canuck to our ear but 'we know' it isn't a real station.
Monsignore Pizzafunghi Bosselese Posted Sep 28, 2002
I thought it was only a small question and it turns out to yield stuff for a full-fleshed entry!
I didn't know that 'A' and 'D' stations are German ones but now it all makes sense, although 'DCF77' (the station that broadcasts *time* for radio controlled alarm clocks and whatnot) is the only station that I could call by name. Even more, Bosselshire Broadcasting Service, BBS, perfectly fits into the system
Key: Complain about this post