"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.
Wavescan 505, September 5, 2004
The Story of Old Forgotten Callsigns
Back in the 1920s when shortwave stations were first established in the United States, each transmitter was given a callsign that indicated an experimental unit. In actual fact, these callsigns looked a lot like amateur radio callsigns and the only way to differentiate was the letter "X" in the middle of the callsign. The letter "X" indicated "experimental."
For example, the Westinghouse station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
was allocated the experimental callsign W8XK; the Crosley station
in Cincinnati, Ohio was W8XAL; the educational station in Boston
was W1XAL; and the General Electric station in San Francisco was
This system of callsign allocations continued in regular usage for nearly 20 years, from November 1920 till August 1939. At this stage, there were 14 shortwave transmitters on the air that were considered to be in regular broadcast usage. With the political events in Europe building up towards a continental crisis, the FCC in the United States determined that it was time for the American shortwave stations to change their callsigns from the experimental style to the egular four letter style beginning with either "W" or "K."
During this era, some of the shortwave stations were aware that changes were coming and they had already filed a request with the FCC for meaningful new callsigns. The official FCC date for the changeover of all experimental callsigns was September 1, 1939, though some stations made an earlier change, and a few were just a little tardy.
Among the stations that made a changeover a few days early were the following:-
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from W8XK to WPIT
Westinghouse, Hull, Massachusetts, from W1XK to WBOS
General Electric, Schenectady, New York, from W2XAD to WGEA
General Electric, San Francisco, California, from W6XBE to KGEI
Now, according to the available information, there were a few stations that made the changeover on the appointed date, September 1, 1939. Among these stations were the following:
Brook, New Jersey, from W3XAL to WRCA
RCA-NBC, Bound Brook, New Jersey, from W3XL to WNBI
Isle of Dreams, Miami, Florida, from W4XB to WDJM
Labor Federation, Chicago, Illinois, from W9XAA to WCBI
At the time when these callsign changes were taking place, there was a delay on the part of one station, and when the FCC issued an amended list one week later, that is on September 8, 1939, this change was made:
CBS, Wayne, New Jersey, from W2XE to WCBX
However, most interesting is the fact that five of these American shortwave stations actually made a double change in their callsigns. The first change was made at around the time required by the FCC, and then another change was made just a few days later. These five stations were:-
NY, from W2XAF to WGEU, and then to WGEO
CBS, Philadelphia, PA, from W3XAU to WCAI, and then to WCAB
Crosley, Mason, OH, from W8XAL to WLWU, and then to WLWO
World Wide, Boston, MA, from W1XAL to WSLA, and then to WRUL
World Wide, Boston, MA, from W1XAR to WSLR, and then to WRUW
Thus the title of our topic for today, "The Story of old Forgotten Callsigns." Indeed, the early experimental callsigns of these revered old shortwave stations are almost forgotten. In addition, it is very little known these days that there were five old shortwave callsigns on the air for just a few days each, and these were, as we mentioned earlier, WGEU, WCAI, WLWU, WSLA and WSLR.
We are holding nearly 100 QSL cards from these stations during this particular era and they all confirm the interesting transitions mentioned in today's program. However, it would be almost certain that no QSL cards exist for the five temporary callsigns that were in use on the air for no more than just a few days.