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How Do Radio Stations Get Their Call Letters?


By Stephanie Ciccarelli

October 4, 2007

Comments (26)

1290 CJOE

Ever wondered how radio stations get their call letters?

Those 4 somewhat random alphabetical wonders do have a rhyme and reason and this article sets out to discover what it may be.

We've all heard call letters for broadcast radio and television stations, as they are the core purpose of station ids and station imaging.

Perhaps because they seem so commonplace, we don't really ever think about their purpose other than a gentle reminder or reinforcement of the station's branding at regular intervals during the broadcast day as regulated by the FCC.

What I've wondered personally is if you could buy custom call letters like you could obtain a personalized license plate...


For instance, back in the day, my great-grandfather Joe McManus owned a radio station in London, Ontario Canada, a centennial project (Canada's Centennial was in 1967) which he christened AM 1290 CJOE, incorporating his own name into the call letters. At that time, the station was located centrally in the Hotel London in the heart of the downtown on the corner of Dundas St. and Wellington St. This is currently the site of a different building which houses several local radio stations. After the sale of the station in 1972, the station was re-branded as 1290 CJBK and it is still to this day. CJBK is located in the south of the city further down Wellington north of Southdale Rd.

From what I understand, the first letter is decided upon region, perhaps by province or state. All of the Ontario call letters start with a C, or at least the station call letters that I've heard.

Can you add to this conversation? Broadcasters, come on up!

On the other hand, if you're a listener or viewer of broadcast television or radio, what are the most unique call letters you've ever heard?



P.S. If you worked for 1290 CJOE between 1967 and 1972 in London, ON Canada or were a listener, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you!

Related Topics: radio


    I totally rocked out to CJOE while in the womb!!
    (born 1971)

    Posted by:

      CJAD in Montreal got its call letters from the initials of the original owner, J. Arthur Dupont (JAD)

      If I'm not mistaken, all radio stations in Canada have "C" as the first letter of their call letters except for a few in Newfoundland and Labrador. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it.

      "VOCM and its sister station VOCM-FM are among just four radio stations in Canada whose call letters do not begin with "C". The other two, VOAR and VOWR, also broadcast in St. John's. The three AM stations first aired before Newfoundland joined Canadian Confederation in 1949; VOCM-FM adopted the callsign in 1982 because of its corporate association with VOCM. The ITU prefix VO was originally assigned to Newfoundland and remains in use by radio amateurs."

      Posted by:

        Dear Stephanie,

        All radio stations in Canada begin with a C with the exception of Newfoundland where some station call letters begin with V as in VOCM. The best call letters are CFUN Vancouver and WFUN in Miami I like FUN.

        Another great call sign is KRTH ( K-Earth) in Los Angeles.

        Michael Morgan

        Posted by:
        • Michael Morgan
        • October 5, 2007 8:45 PM

          Hi Joe, Jason and Michael,

          Thank you for your comments!

          Joe: I'll bet you were ;) I wonder if there are videos or audio recordings from the station archived somewhere.

          Jason and Michael: It's interesting to know that nearly all of the stations in Canada have a C to kick off their call letters, or in industry jargon, their callsign (call-sign or call signs...). Thanks for pointing out the proper term.

          Pretty spiffy ;)

          Anyone else know of some cool call signs? Those were great Michael, by the way. Thanks for sharing!

          Happy Thanksgiving,


          Posted by:


            Back when I was just getting started in radio I worked for a radio station in Chicago, IL (though it no longer exists) called WAIT. The format was "beautiful music" or as it was sometimes called "elevator music," so the call letters were a perfect match for the format.

            Be well,

            Posted by:

              Dear Stephanie,

              Wow. Just wow.

              I lived in London from 1956 to 1972 and remember 1290 Radio CJOE Very well. If I am not mistaken Mr. McManus made his small fortune for selling motor cars at McManus Motors. I also used to roller skate at a rink that was by McManus Motors but cannot remember the name of it.

              But it was walking distance from where I lived 26 Wortley Road which has long disappeared into the river Thames. I now Live in Ceredigion Wales UK near a Town Called New Quay.

              Please can you help me here or maybe another reader can:

              My name is Paul Watson and I have another brother named John and Peter. I have a sister named Babara Ann who was born in Victoria Hospital London Ontario 19/10/ approx 10pm. Barbara was adopted by a family named Lehman around 1974 however her first surname was obviously Watson. I saw Barbara in 1982 on a trip back to Canada and she gave me her address but unfortunately this was lost due to unforeseen circumstances and I have lost all contact with her since around 1983. When I saw Barbara she had married a gentleman named Dan and had 2 children one son was provided with the name of Johnathan.

              Barbara's adopted parents Audrey and Jack Lehman had a daughter named Edith. Audrey and Edith were Christian Solders with the Salvation Army where I was christened. I know Barbara's adopted Father Mr Jack Lehman has passed away around in the 1980s and to be honest she doesn't know my mother and father Mr Albert and Mrs Doris Watson has passed away.

              I have tried for a number of years to find my lost sister but have failed on every attempt. Can you please possibly give help maybe the name of a current popular Radio Station in London, Ont where I could place an advert?

              Anyway anything you can advise will be gratefully received as it will definitely if all works out unite brothers and a sister including her other brother John who has not seen her since 1972 when he was 5 years old.

              Please send any electronic correspondence either to my work e-mail address paulw@cantref.co.uk or my Home e-mail paulwatson45@btinternet.com. I really would be very appreciative for any help at all.

              Yours Sincerely,

              Paul Watson

              Posted by:
              • Paul Watson
              • October 10, 2007 10:00 AM

                Hi Paul,

                Thank you for commenting on this post and I'm excited to learn that you remember CJOE and even roller skated in one of the arenas! Yes, McManus Motors (a Chrysler dealership) was one of my great grandfather's businesses and entrepreneurship was definitely a passion of his (one that many of my relatives have inherited as well).

                As for finding your sister, may I suggest that you check out a few resources?

                Placing an advertisement in the London Free Press may be a great idea. You can visit the website here for more information - http://www.lfpress.ca

                Also, a community paper The Londoner may be of some help too. http://www.thelondoner.ca

                Some details including links to local radio stations and the local TV station, A-Channel, can be found here:


                Best of luck to you and I hope you find your sister. If anyone has information they could share with Paul, he has included his contact details in his comment.

                Best wishes,


                Posted by:

                  Hi Stephanie,

                  Sorry for the delay in responding to your request for audio recordings. I have a CD of the opening 10 minutes of CJOE originally going on the air in 1967 if you are interested in a copy. It has remarks by Lester Pearson (the Prime Minister), John Robarts (the Premier), Gordon Stronach (the mayor), Al Graham (the general manager) and H.J. McManus (the president). I also have copies of the original application to launch the station dated in 1965.


                  Posted by:
                  • Scott McFarlane
                  • January 7, 2008 7:47 PM

                    Hi Scott,

                    How amazing! I'll get in touch with you right away.



                    Posted by:

                      Hello all,

                      Very interesting comments posted!. I was wondering if anyone here knows a Canadian radio station for sale. Any leads would be great appreciated. Please contact me at navdesy@hotmail.com

                      Posted by:
                      • Rob
                      • October 11, 2008 6:40 PM

                        I was born & raised in McMinnville, TN. They have an AM station with the "Call Letters," WAKI i.e "wacky." I think it's 1230 "on the radio dial."

                        Posted by:
                        • Ricky L. Scott
                        • October 26, 2008 4:34 PM

                          Well Steph, I don't really know where to start. I know quite a bit about CJOE having worked their as Production Manager, in programming, and on the air.

                          Actually it was my brother Russ Simpson who was I believe the second program director of the station (after Dean Chevalier). I joined the station in 1968 and was there until Rick Richardson bought the station from the McManus family. In fact, I knew your family well as it was Joe Jr. who drive my new bride and I from the church in a big shiny Chrysler from Mcmanus Motors.

                          There is just too much more to mention here right now but if you are truly interested in learning more then I am at your disposal.

                          A couple of call sign anecdotes, neighbouring station in London CKSL (whiach was a country station when I was at CJOE) got its call sign from KSL in Utah. The letter K signifies an American station located west of the Continental Divide (W's are east) and the SL stands for Salt Lake, as in Salt Lake City Utah. CFCO in Chatham stands for Coming From Chatham Ontario, and CFPL stood for Free Press London as it was owned by the Blackburn family who also owned the London Free Press. Thats all for now but if you want to reach me refer to the email above.


                          Steve Simpson

                          Posted by:
                          • Steve Simpson
                          • February 20, 2009 10:29 PM

                            Hi Steve,

                            Thank you very much for sharing this! I will certainly be in touch :)

                            Best wishes,


                            Posted by:

                              I worked briefly at CJOE in 1968 as music librarian.

                              I remember: Steve Simpson, Production Manager; Doug Setterington, Program Director; Bill Ballantyne, Station Manager; Glen Darling, morning announcer, William D. Hutchings, ? afternoon announcer; Ron Roberts, afternoon or early evening announcer; and, Hal Scholz, late evening announcer.

                              There were three salesmen, Jack, Tony and I forget the name of the third person. I married Tony in 1971.

                              Jan worked in traffic.

                              Posted by:
                              • Cheryl (Lancaster) Sanregret
                              • June 13, 2009 10:13 PM

                                Hi Cheryl,

                                Thank you very much for sharing your story! It's very nice to hear from you and I appreciate all you have included in your comment.

                                Best wishes,


                                Posted by:

                                  Stephanie --

                                  Just about anything that transmits over a certain power is going to need an ID by which the station can be identified. Ever watch the old TV show Dragnet from the late '60's? You would hear some say "KMA367." That is one of the radio call signs for the Los Angeles Police Department.

                                  The beginning letter(s)/number(s) of a call sign are assigned by international agreement. Just because a letter is not used to start a broadcast call sign does not mean a letter is not assigned to a country. For example, the US is assigned some or all of A and B, and all of K, N, and W. Broadcast uses K and W. Since the 1930's, broadcast stations west of the Mississippi have exclusively been given K call signs, stations east of the Mississippi have been given W calls signs. There are some grandfathered stations, though: KDKA in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and WBAP in Fort Worth, Texas come to mind.

                                  Canada is allocated the letter C up through L or M (CL or CM), and the letter V. Almost anywhere in Canada, you will find ham call signs beginning with V. The rest of the C range (after the Canadian portion) is assigned to Cuba -- so if your great grandfather's name was Zeb instead of Joe, he could not have made his name into his station's call sign unless he bought a station in Havana.

                                  Posted by:
                                  • Matt
                                  • June 20, 2009 6:28 PM

                                    Radio stations here in the Philippines are assigned call letters starting with D. Luzon stations go by DW and DZ while visayas stations go with DY and in mindanao it's DX.

                                    It used to be K when the Americans first started the first station which is KZRH, now DZRH.

                                    Posted by:
                                    • Junine
                                    • September 9, 2009 9:02 AM

                                      It was so exciting when CJOE started up in London. A new radio station! Hal Scholz' voice was so smooth, so relaxing. Gary Deacon, who I married in 1973, took his auto mechanic's apprencticeship at McManus Motors in the late 1960's. He said everyone would pretty much stand at attention when Joe passed through the huge garage on the way to his office. Every summer Joe would hold a party for McManus employees at his summer home in Port Stanley, and people lined up for a short cruise around the beach in his yacht.

                                      Posted by:
                                      • Ava
                                      • January 19, 2010 11:07 PM

                                        I remember CJOE growing up myself. At one point CHUM had a contest I listen to CHUM and I remember my friends in London answering the phone with I listen to Joe. Its kinda funny because the same contest is going on out here in Edmonton with the radio station 92.5 fm


                                        Posted by:
                                        • Daniel Conium
                                        • February 11, 2010 9:06 PM

                                          Hi Stephanie,

                                          I worked at CJOE in the Hotel London (3rd floor) beginning in September of 1970 for a couple of years. I remember both Joe McManus Sr. and Jr. quite well. Although there were many people at the station I can't remember all their names as that was some time ago. I do however remember people that I spent the most time with. Some of the names are, Roger Albini, David Scott, Jim Ashbee, Jerry Daniell and Wayne McAteer. Jeff Guy and Steve Simpson were there as well. Athough I was a very young guy at the time I view
                                          my experience at cjoe as one of the best times in my life.

                                          Posted by:
                                          • Dave Bacon
                                          • April 7, 2010 7:20 PM

                                            My family is related to Joe McManus and we attended family reunions at the summer house in Port Stanley every four years, for a number of years, the last being in 1982. We remember Uncle Joe very well and our dear cousins Steve and Corle, and Pat and Pauline and Anne...Our mother is the daughter of John (one of the twins) and Ellen McManus. My sister Catherine and I once broadcast from the CJOE during a reunion. We had a blast!

                                            Posted by:
                                            • D'Arcy Tammaro
                                            • September 27, 2011 8:07 PM

                                              Just came across this posting & thought I'd add my 2-centsworth.

                                              I worked in advertising at CJOE during the '67-'68 period when John Tyrell was GM (I believe Joe Jr. was the original GM); Doug Setterington (who came from CHSC) was PD; Russ Simpson was morning man (before departing for New York) and Ron Roberts & Randy Gordon were mid-day & afternoon on-air personalities.

                                              The arena mentioned in an earlier posting was simply called the London Arena, and was managed by an adopted an adopted son of Joe Sr.

                                              In those days, Joe Sr. owned: Hotel London; London Arena; Sterling Fuels; CJOE; McManus Motors & a gas bar on Dundas Street, directly across from the hotel.

                                              Fun to remember. Cheers.

                                              Posted by:
                                              • David Price
                                              • January 13, 2012 12:12 PM

                                                HAM radio and other "non-public" stations have K as one side of the Mississippi, and W for the other side. Being that I live in MN (in fact, I live in one community that can say we live NORTH of the Mississippi! haha), I cannot say which is which side!

                                                I do not know that "public" broadcast stations are under the requirement of the E/W Miss regulation, as are translators, HAMs, etc. WGN and WBBM are Chicago stations, while WDAY is in Fargo, ND. They may well have been grandfathered into current regulations, as all three have been on the air for a long time! KVLY-TV (Fargo) has not been on the air nearly as long. Now you and some other posters have me thinking! Some radio/TV stations in our area ALL have K call-signs! Maybe they ARE subject to FCC regs in that way! Hmmm... KGLE, Glendive, MT; KXJB (Fargo [named after John Boler, owner); KTRF (Thief River Falls, MN), WHO (Des Moines, IA -- long-time station); KOA (Denver -- long-time station); KDLM (Detroit Lakes, MN); KFAB; KMSP (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN); KDAL (Duluth, MN); yet WDIO (also Duluth, but started in 1966)...

                                                I wonder if I can get an answer from some engineers I know...

                                                Posted by:
                                                • Eric Allen
                                                • February 13, 2012 2:19 AM

                                                  Was so thrilled to discover this website. It brings back so many memories.

                                                  My brother, Russ Simpson, and I both worked at CJOE and were there right through the days it went on the air to the day it left the Hotel London and moved up Dundas Street and eventually changed its call sign to CJBK when Rick Richardson bought the station.

                                                  There are too many stories to post here but stories a-many I have.

                                                  I was a jack-of-all-trades at CJOE doing everything from a weekend swing shift on-air, to being production manager and junior helper to our engineer, Jeff Guy.

                                                  Today, I am a Commissioner at the CRTC, repsonsible for BC & The Yukon.

                                                  Posted by:
                                                  • Steve Simpson
                                                  • May 8, 2012 3:50 PM

                                                    Hi Stephanie:
                                                    My mother was married to your great-grandfather's brother, Walter, who was killed in Ireland during World War II. After she married my father, his family still considered her part of the clan, so we were invited to the family reunions Joe and Bessie used to host at the Hotel London and at the cottage in Port Stanley.
                                                    Just wondering where, exactly, you belong in the family tree.
                                                    Hamilton, Ont.

                                                    Posted by:
                                                    • Mary Nolan
                                                    • July 15, 2012 7:45 PM

                                                      Hi Mary,

                                                      Thank you for writing! I am so glad to hear from you :) I will get back to you with more information soon :)

                                                      Best wishes,

                                                      Posted by:

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