Station identification (ident, network ID or channel ID) is the practice of radio or television stations or networks identifying themselves on-air, typically by means of a call sign or brand name (sometimes known, particularly in the United States, as a "sounder" or "stinger", more generally as a station or network ID). This may be to satisfy requirements of licensing authorities, a form of branding or a combination of both. As such, it is closely related to production logos used in television and cinema, alike.
Station identification used to be done regularly by an announcer at the halfway point during the presentation of a television program, or in between programs.
Station IDs in the Philippines differ from the original concept. Instead of a way to identify television networks, these are presented in the form of music videos that represent the season in which the ident is aired during, which consist of tag-init (summer season), tag-ulan (rainy season), and Pasko (Christmas season).
Station IDs in the Philippines runs for three to six minutes depending on the television station. The longest station ID is "Isang Pamilya Tayo Ngayong Pasko", which was used by ABS-CBN as a Christmas ID in 2016, lasting for twelve minutes and 30 seconds. However, ABS-CBN, alongside some networks (i.e. UNTV, RPN, IBC, and PTV), also releases CGI-animated station IDs, not yearly but sporadically.
Broadcast stations in Europe do not identify by a callsign, however most networks use a brand based on their common channel number. A form of station identification clip is played between programmes, traditionally incorporating the channel's logo, and accompanied by a continuity announcer that introduces the next programme (and promotes other programmes). These identifiers evolved from mainly being mechanical models (such as the famous BBC globe), to becoming more advanced through the evolution of CGI during the 1980s. From the 1960s to the 1990s, most broadcasters only used a single identifier, sometimes using special variations for holidays and special events. In the present day, most broadcasters use a set of multiple identifiers built around a particular theme or branding element, often based on the channel's current overall look.
Prior to 1 January 1988, each programme on ITV would be preceded by the identifier of the regional company that had produced the show, and this would be broadcast throughout the network, in other words by all companies showing the programme. It meant that viewers across the country would see a "Yorkshire Television" logo and hear the corresponding fanfare before Emmerdale Farm and "Scottish Television" idents before Take the High Road. In consequence, most ITV-produced series shown abroad would also be preceded by the producing company's logo – for example, PBS presentations of Upstairs, Downstairs featured the London Weekend Television logo and fanfare before the start of the programme. Beginning in 1988, these were largely replaced by endcaps. Since the consolidation of the ITV network in the early 2000s, these have generally disappeared, UTV and STV being the only notable exceptions.
Prior to 1988, the two existing channels in the Netherlands, Nederland 1 and Nederland 2, used only the idents of the broadcasters airing on them. With the creation of Nederland 3, all three channels started using their own idents.
The United States' Federal Communications Commission enforces specific requirements for identification that must be followed by all terrestrial radio and television stations. Stations must, when they sign on, sign off, and as close to the top of each hour as feasibly possible (such as within a "natural break" in programming, like a commercial break), present a visual (television) or aural (radio) station identification that contains, at minimum, the station's call letters, followed by its designated city of license. As a courtesy, top-of-hour (TOH) identifications may also contain additional information, such as frequencies and a declaration of the station's ownership. Only the name of the licensee, the station's frequency or channel number as stated on its license, and/or network affiliations, may be inserted between the call letters and station location.
Some stations broadcast on more than one frequency, including low-power stations, and are required to announce these identifications as well; however, stations do not have to announce all translators each hour, but instead must ID them three times per day. All translators must be identified between 7 and 9 a.m., 12:55 and 1:05 p.m., and 4 and 6 p.m. FCC rules specify that additional communities a station serves may also be listed in a legal ID, but the official city of license must always be listed first. The advent of automated broadcast equipment has made it much easier for broadcasters to ensure compliance with identification rules. Many television stations and radio stations may have their identifications pre-recorded or programmed to play automatically at the appropriate times.
On radio, the top-of-hour ID must contain the full, legal call sign (including any relevant suffixes, particularly "FM") as assigned by the FCC, followed immediately by the station's community of license. The call letters must be spoken individually; even if the call letters are pronounced as a word for branding purposes (such as KOMO in Seattle, Washington, which is spoken as "Ko-mo"), the legal ID must still spell out the individual letters.
On television, station identification may occur in either a visual format or aural; visual identifications are often displayed as either a digital on-screen graphic at the top of the hour, integrated into commercials for a program, or displayed within the opening sequence of a station's newscasts. Translators are required to be identified twice a day, once at about 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. local time. Embedding a permanent logo in the picture, logo generators, based on a video line selector are used to merge the logo from memory into the analog video signal.
Identification on other types of signals
In the United States, the policy on radio identification depends on the service. Station identification is usually done in the station's standard mode of operation, though the FCC considers Morse code identification to be universally acceptable no matter what mode the station is operating in.
Low-power (Part 15 in the U.S.) stations do not always identify, being unlicensed (this would be essentially impossible for small FM transmitters for consumer use, such as those used to broadcast music from an MP3 player to a car radio), but those that run as community-based radio stations (including college stations using carrier current) usually do. Station identification in that case usually consists of the station's name, frequency, and a slogan; unlicensed stations are not allowed to use formal callsigns.
International shortwave broadcasters usually do not use callsigns, instead giving the name of the service and the location of the home office, and occasionally the frequencies that the current broadcast is being transmitted on. There are a few exceptions, particularly in the United States, the time station WWV being a prime example.
Amateur radio requires the callsign to be stated at the end of a communication and every ten minutes during (some hams use countdown clocks to remind them to identify); modes such as packet radio and fast-scan television often have a provision for automatic identification, either including it as part of a digital data stream or overlaying it over an analog picture. Repeaters are often designed to automatically transmit the repeater's callsign, usually in Morse code. The requirements for the United States are covered in Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 97.119.
Land mobile two-way (including public safety and business mobile) require station identifications by callsign. In the case of the GMRS service, this is to be done by each station in a similar manner to the amateur practice, though the time limit is fifteen minutes. Repeater systems used in both the Land Mobile and Amateur Radio services often have provisions for announcing the repeater's call sign, either in voice or Morse code.
Citizen's Band radio no longer maintains a requirement for station or transmission identification, but operators are "encouraged to identify" transmissions using one of the following: a previously assigned callsign, "K" prefix followed by operator initials and residence zip code, operator's name, or "organizational description including name and any applicable operator unit number." The use of a "handle" (nickname) is encouraged by CB rule 17 only in conjunction with these methods, not by itself. Most CB operators prefer to use self-assigned handles reflecting some aspect of their personality; it is generally considered a breach of CB etiquette to use real names, even that of the user.
FRS and MURS have no station identification requirement, though groups of individual users have their own procedures, such as using license plates or informal callsigns (some groups within the Boy Scouts of America, for example, use the troop number followed by the scout's initials as a callsign).
WiFi access points are not required by law to identify (they are unlicensed transmitters) but the WiFi standards include provision for an identifier called an SSID, which is transmitted as a routine part of WiFi network traffic. However, since a number of standard WiFi channels are shared with the amateur radio spectrum, amateur radio-operated High Speed Multimedia (HSMM), or "hinternet", access points usually use the callsign of the control operator as the SSID, this suffices as proper station identification for the access point being operated as an Amateur Radio transceiver.
With the advent of digital radio, station identification becomes more complicated, because more than one audio stream can be part of the same station. Stations broadcasting HD Radio feeds identify by their stream channel, and unlike television, the HD1 channel is included in the identification (for example, "WXSS-HD1, Wauwatosa/Milwaukee", "98.3, WUBG HD-1, Plainfield-Indianapolis" or "WCBS-FM-HD1, New York"). AM stations which simulcast via an FM HD subchannel identify both the main stream and the HD stream, and if broadcasting in HD Radio format in AM, also list that as part of the identification (for example, "WISN HD, Milwaukee, and WRNW-HD2, Milwaukee", or "WINS, WINS-HD, WNEW-HD3, New York"). Public Radio Stations do not read HD1 in the identification, they just read HD without a number 1, 2 or 3 (for example: WQXR HD, Newark and New York or WFUV HD, New York)
The FCC clarified what is required in these cases:
§ 73.1201 Station Identification. (b) Content. (1) Official station identification shall consist of the station's call letters immediately followed by the community or communities specified in its license as the station's location; Provided, That the name of the licensee, the station's frequency, the station's channel number, as stated on the station's license, and/or the station's network affiliation may be inserted between the call letters and station location. DTV stations, or DAB Stations, choosing to include the station's channel number in the station identification must use the station's major channel number and may distinguish multicast program streams. For example, a DTV station with major channel number 26 may use 26.1 to identify an HDTV program service and 26.2 to identify an SDTV program service. A radio station operating in DAB hybrid mode or extended hybrid mode shall identify its digital signal, including any free multicast audio programming streams, in a manner that appropriately alerts its audience to the fact that it is listening to a digital audio broadcast. No other insertion between the station's call letters and the community or communities specified in its license is permissible.
A radio station may have call letters related to its town or district name, and the company name; for example, Charters Towers, Queensland station 4CHT and Ceduna Community Radio Inc's 5CCR in Ceduna, South Australia. The station may have a name-callsign completely different from its licensed callsign, such as Wollongong, New South Wales station 2UUL, which is branded on-air as "Wave FM".
A television station usually associates with its network; for example, the Regional Television Queensland station RTQ is known as WIN Television (itself associated with the larger Nine Network), and WIN's original station at Wollongong bears the callsign WIN.
Many livestream channels use identification although there is no rule to have identification on livestream channels. Many channels use corner bugs with the channel logo. Channels sometimes can be very creative creating many animated idents. Others have idents which are short adverts mentioning the channel name. Some of the channels that have idents include Tv47, GU3, EnglishTV, GTVTWO and TheKorienMovieChannel. Many livestream channels even use graphic design companies to create idents for their channel.
Combining identification with promotion
Many television stations have devised a clever way to use station identifications as a promotional tool. By combining a short promotion for an upcoming show (such as an upcoming edition of a local newscast), the station can fulfill its identification requirements while building its audience. During this short clip, the station will run its call sign and the communities in its service area on screen, often in very small type. No audio announcement of the call sign is necessary if the information appears on screen, so stations are free to use, in this example, the audio of an anchor or reporter promoting the story. Stations also use similar techniques to promote entertainment shows. If the correct and complete information appears on screen, it is a legal identification.
One notable example of this in the 1990s was KJTV-34 in Lubbock, Texas. By combining multiple variants of their logo with brief clips from their most popular shows and Night Ranger's "The Secret of My Success", they created 15- and 30-second station identifications which were entertainment unto themselves.
Any combination of this is also acceptable. For example, some stations air a short (5 to 10 second) announcement with their station logo and an announcer reading the call signs. In this example, the communities that the station serves were not announced verbally.
Some television stations have even monetized their station identification; for instance WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee, Wisconsin has of late offered their top of the hour identification as a short five second ad slot, where an entity (in this case, a discount furniture store and WTMJ's sister radio station) will have their slogan and logo voiced out and displayed while the station's call letters display on the bottom in basic legal type.
As an example, in the 1990s, radio station WQLR in Kalamazoo, Michigan would provide the weather forecast (provided by Accuweather) at the top of the hour. The weather report would be prefixed with "WQLR Kalamazoo Accuweather", and because the callsign and city are announced back-to-back, it is a perfectly legal station identification.
Digital television concerns
The advent of digital television originally made it necessary for stations simulcasting both their analog and digital on the same channel to include both call signs in all identifications. Both stations have the same base callsigns, with the only difference being the analog ending in "-TV" and digital ending in "-DT" (originally "-HD"). Low-power stations identify with the designator "-LD". After the June 2009 digital transition, stations had a one time opportunity offered by the FCC to either retain the -DT designation on their digital signal, or move over the analog calls with either the "-TV" suffix or no suffix if so identified. Additionally, a station could add the "-TV" suffix to their calls for standardization purposes among broadcast groups, even if those calls were not shared by an FM or AM radio station. PSIP also continuously carries the station's ID digitally encoded.
Digital subchannels usually identify themselves in one of two ways, with a limit of seven characters in the PSIP tag:
- By first providing the call letters, followed by the main channel number, and then the subchannel broken up by either a dot or a dash. For example, "WXXX 2.3" or "WXXX 2–3".
- The station may identify the channel as a certain stream by placing the subchannel number after the "-DT" designation within the callsign, as in "WXXX-DT3" for that station's third subchannel.
In addition, subchannels which carry weather information – such as those carrying NBC Weather Plus, AccuWeather, or a weather feed created by the station itself – may identify that channel via their PSIP flag with the non-standard "WX" suffix, as in "WXXX-WX", though they must be identified by their subchannel number in on-air identifications. Some subchannels may also display only the name of the network it is affiliated with in the PSIP flag rather than the station's calls.
The former two standards are voluntary and interchangeable, and the station can choose to identify all the channels by only the base callsign, although they are encouraged to differentiate each channel from the primary channel (or for LP/Class A analog-only stations digitally airing as a subchannel on a sister or LMA partner station). The primary channel usually does not use a .1/-1 or -DT1 suffix to identify itself beyond some PBS member stations such as the stations of Milwaukee PBS, and minor broadcasters which sell subchannel space to other broadcasters for their own brokered programming.
Digital on-screen graphics and teletext
Teletext, an information service provided by many broadcasters, provides station or network identification in many countries worldwide. As almost all modern sets can display this information, it is a simple matter of checking teletext if the identity of the station is not clear. Some broadcasters do not provide a teletext service, and there is no specific requirement or standard for station identification in it. While teletext is widespread in Europe and is closely associated with the PAL television system worldwide, it was non-existent in North America during the analog television era, in which the NTSC standard was used. However, digital television standards generally include station identification.
A common worldwide practice is to use a small overlay graphic known as a Digital on-screen graphic (DOG), "Bug" or watermark created by a character generator in the corner of the screen, showing the logo of the channel. While not a substitute for proper station identification, this makes it easy to identify the station at a glance. VH1 originated the practice in the United States around 1993, with most other cable networks following until most used them in the early 2000s.