Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


The TVs Are Coming! Station ID Cards From 1951

• September 25, 2012 • 4:00 AM

In the early days of television, before homogenization set in, the identification graphics each station used broadcast a flash of regional personality for the viewer.

1951 station identification card for WBZ-TV in Boston, channel 4

Think TVs are expensive today? In early 1947 a high-end 24-inch television set would set you back $2,500 (about $24,000 adjusted for inflation). And unless you lived in New York, there really wasn’t much to watch, with just eight TV stations operating in the United States and three of those only seen in New York City.

But over just a few short years the television industry would see tremendous growth, with TV prices slowly coming down and dozens of stations rapidly opening up shop across the country. By early 1951 there were 107 TV stations operating in the United States which had the potential to reach 87 million people in 43 states—provided you had a TV set.

The FCC required then (as it still does today) that station identification occur at regular intervals. Channels across the country had their own station ID cards which were broadcast to inform viewers of what channel they were watching. Today these cards give us a fantastic peek at the regional personality of TV in the middle of the 20th century.

The January 1951 issue of Radio-Electronics magazine included a listing of the nation’s TV stations, along with pictures of their station identification cards. The magazine included reproductions of 101 ID cards, though I’ve included just a handful below.

The card from Boston’s WBZ-TV features an actor pantomiming Paul Revere’s warning that the British are coming; San Antonio’s WOAI-TV includes a photo of the Alamo; San Francisco’s KGO-TV shows the Golden Gate Bridge. And one of the most interesting of the cards comes from KFMB-TV in San Diego, which features a battleship and the station’s call letters spelled out in rope — clearly a nod to the enormous U.S. Navy presence in the city.

Television as a medium had endured a long, tough slog to establish itself, beginning in the 19th century. But once the 1950s hit and the number of broadcast stations across the U.S. exploded, it was clearly here to stay.

WBEN-TV in Buffalo, channel 4

WTVJ-TV in Miami, channel 4

KGO-TV in San Francisco, channel 7

WMAL-TV in Washington, D.C., channel 7

WOAI-TV in San Antonio, channel 4

KNBH in Los Angeles, channel 4

KPIX in San Francisco, channel 5

WDSU-TV in New Orleans, channel 6

WGN-TV in Chicago, channel 9

KDYL-TV in Salt Lake City, channel 4

KFMB-TV in San Diego, channel 8

KTLA in Los Angeles, channel 5

WAVE-TV in Louisville, channel 5

WKTV in Utica, channel 13

WAGA-TV in Atlanta, channel 5

WLAV-TV in Grand Rapids, channel 7

WRGB-TV in Schenectady, channel 4

WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee, channel 3

KRON-TV in San Francisco, channel 4

Matt Novak
Matt Novak writes about past visions of the future for BBC.com and Smithsonian.com.

More From Matt Novak

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


October 20 • 4:00 AM

Coming Soon: The Anatomy of Ignorance


October 17 • 4:00 PM

What All Military Families Need to Know About High-Cost Lenders

Lessons from over a year on the beat.


October 17 • 2:00 PM

The Majority of Languages Do Not Have Gendered Pronouns

A world without “he.” Or “she.”


October 17 • 11:01 AM

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.


October 17 • 10:00 AM

Can Science Fiction Spur Science Innovation?

Without proper funding, the answer might not even matter.


October 17 • 8:00 AM

Seattle, the Incredible Shrinking City

Seattle is leading the way in the micro-housing movement as an affordable alternative to high-cost city living.


October 17 • 6:00 AM

‘Voodoo Death’ and How the Mind Harms the Body

Can an intense belief that you’re about to die actually kill you? Researchers are learning more about “voodoo death” and how it isn’t limited to superstitious, foreign cultures.


October 17 • 4:00 AM

That Arts Degree Is Paying Off

A survey of people who have earned degrees in the arts find they are doing relatively well, although their education didn’t provide much guidance on managing a career.


Follow us


That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

Advice for Emergency Alert Systems: Don’t Cry Wolf

A survey finds college students don't always take alerts seriously.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.