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The Why (and Where) of U.S. Radio's K and W Call Signs
The strange birth of America's two 'radio nations'
The natural state of any territory, it seems, is binary. The centre cannot hold. So it splits in two. France is Paris and la province. Russia is European and Asian. Belgium is Francophone and Dutch-speaking. In Italy, the North is distinct from and even opposed to the South. So too in England , while in Scotland it is the Highlands versus the Lowlands. America, for its part, can be described as a pincer-like dichotomy: a bi-coastal entity separated by the flyover states .
Of course, some cookies can crumble in more than one way. Not only is Germany still digesting its decades-long divide into capitalist West and communist East, but is also splits into gastronomically distinct northern and southern halves, along the so-called White Sausage Equator . China is an industrious coastal zone with a western interior in catch-up mode. But it also speaks Mandarin in the North, and Cantonese in the South.
The U.S. can be split in (at least) three different ways into dual geographies. There's that bi-coastal pincer movement, as per above. There's the historical division into North and South. Finally, there's the distinction of 'Back East' versus 'Out West'. An informal dividing line between the latter pair is the Mississippi, a waterway also used to demarcate the border of 10 states .
The river as whole also serves as a single divider, surprisingly enough in the realm of radio - a medium that, on the face of it, is not as bound by the strictures of territorial demarcation. West of the Mississippi, all radio stations have call signs beginning with K. East of the river, all call signs start with W .
The origin of the division goes back just over a century. In 1912, the U.S. federal government started licensing terrestrial radio stations, assigning the call letters W and K to stations in the east, respectively the west of the country. Those letters were the result of international agreements hammered out at International Radiotelegraphic Conferences at the beginning of the 20th century.
Appendix 42 to the Radio Regulations of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)  still lists all international call signs, as assigned at the 1912 London conference. For instance:
- Luxembourg radio stations will have call signs from LXA up to and including LXZ.
- Egyptian radio has three different ranges of call signs at its disposal: 6AA to 6BZ, SSA to SSM, and SUA to SUZ.
- The U.S. has four: not just K and W (KAA to KZZ and WAA to WZZ, to be precise) but also half of A (AAA to ALZ) and all of N (NAA to NZZ).
It seems that the letters A and N apply only to military radio stations (A to Army and Air Force, N to Navy and Coast Guard) - and that they are the basis of the otherwise seemingly random choice for K and W. The Morse Code for A is dot-dash (.-) and for N is dash-dot (-.). Add a dash to each, and you get W (dot-dash-dash, or .--) and K (dash-dot-dash, or -.-).
Incidentally, radio call signs are reversed out on the ocean. Ship radios on America's Pacific coast start with W, and with K on the Atlantic side . It's unclear whether this practise, which precedes call signs for terrestrial radio, is the reverse by intention (i.e. to facilitate the distinction between radio stations on land and at sea) or, as some sources state, the result of miscommunication. In the latter scenario, the aim was to extend W call signs to radio stations on land in the west of the country, and K to terrestrial stations in the east - but the instructions got scrambled somewhere between the draft of the order and its implementation.
Quite early, the border between K Country and W Land had to be fixed geographically. But that dividing line lay further to the west than it does now: it followed the border between New Mexico in the west with Texas and Oklahoma in the east, then north along Colorado's eastern border with Kansas and Nebraska, Wyoming's eastern limits with Nebraska and South Dakota and finally Montana's with the Dakotas.
This was possibly done to continue distinguishing between ship radios in the Gulf of Mexico (which started with K) and land radios in Texas (which started with W when it was an 'eastern' radio state). A decade into the first federal regulation of station call signs, the K/W line was moved to the Mississippi, turning Texas and 10 other 'eastern' (W) states into 'western' (K) ones .
After January 1923, new radio stations in the switchover states would be assigned a K call initial rather than a W one. But a grandfather clause provided that those radio stations in those states which already had a W call sign could keep it. This explains some of the anomalous call signs still in existence today, if not quite all of them. There are currently 27 exceptions to the general K/W divide - 9 Ks in W Country, and 18 Ws in K Land. This map shows them all, and colour-codes  them into seven categories:
1. Blue: Remnants of the situation before January 1923 in the switchover zone. A grandfather clause allowed the circa 170 existing radio stations in the switchover zone to keep their pre-1923 W call sign. A total of 11 call sign 'fossils' remain: WBAP, WDAY, WEW, WHB, WJAG, WKY, WNAX, WOAI, WOC, WOI, WTAW. However, all newer stations were assigned K call signs.
2. Purple: Anomalous assignment, in 1920-'21, of KD call sign to stations across the country - both east and west of the Mississippi. Only remaining station: KDKA in Pittsburgh, PA.
3. Gray: Formerly 'portable' stations that got their call sign in one zone before taking root in the other one. Three extant examples, all having moved from W Country into K Land: WBBZ, WIBW, WMBH.
4. Dark Green: Regular radio stations that originated on the western (K) bank of the Mississippi before moving over to the eastern (W) bank: KOTC, KSGM.
5. Red: Exceptional grant of a request to deviate from the general rule. Two Ks in W Land (KFNS, KWAM) and four Ws in K Country (WDBQ, WHO, WMT, WSUI).
6. Light Green: government assigned call - KTGG (because someone mistook Michigan for Missouri).
7. Black: reason unknown - KFIZ, KQV, KYW.
Note that Louisiana and Minnesota are marked separately on the map: they are the only states bisected by the Mississippi, and call sign practice varies greatly as a result.
As noted by Thomas H. White, "[i]n 1987, the Federal Communications Commission noted that the current staff practice was to define the remainder of the [K/W] boundary [in Minnesota north of the Mississippi's source] as "a line from [its] headwaters to a point [at the Canadian border] just east of International Falls".
The general K/W map taken here from Media Heritage, a website 'Preserving Radio and Television History'. The map of the border switch to the Mississippi taken here from Grilling Addiction, '[y]our source for grilling tips, tricks, techniques and recipes all year round'. The overview of anomalous call signs taken here from Mr. White's United States Early Radio History, 'Articles and extracts about early radio and related technologies, concentrating on the United States in the period from 1897 to 1927'.
Strange Maps #602
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 Neatly divided into 5 states east, and 5 states west of the river (respectively, north to south: Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi; and Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana). ↩
 This narrows down the location of Springfield, hometown of the Simpsons. Several episodes feature radio station K-Babble, call sign KBBL - placing the intentionally hard-to-pin-down city west of the Mississippi. ↩
 On the Great Lakes, it's W. ↩
 Nine states entirely (North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas), and the larger area of two states bisected by the Mississippi (Minnesota at its source, Louisiana at its mouth). ↩
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Here's why you might eat greenhouse gases in the future.
- The company's protein powder, "Solein," is similar in form and taste to wheat flour.
- Based on a concept developed by NASA, the product has wide potential as a carbon-neutral source of protein.
- The man-made "meat" industry just got even more interesting.
Seriously sustainable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDIzNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjM4NTMzMX0.BCEfYnn6C3z1zUHIS38xOWjXktgamNBi5iyqklSMYK8/img.png?width=980" id="ea524" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="50533380eeb18eb5833b6b6aa3abec38" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>Solar Foods makes Solein by extracting CO₂ from air using <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90356326/we-have-the-tech-to-suck-co2-from-the-air-but-can-it-suck-enough-to-make-a-difference" target="_blank">carbon-capture technology</a>, and then combines it with water, nutrients and vitamins, using 100 percent renewable solar energy from partner <a href="https://www.fortum.com" target="_blank">Fortum</a> to promote a natural fermentation process similar to the one that produces yeast and lactic acid bacteria.</p><p>When the company claims its single-celled protein is "free from agricultural limitations," they're not kidding. Being produced indoors means Solar Foods is not dependent on arable land, water (i.e., rain), or favorable weather.</p><p>The company is already working with the European Space Agency to develop foods for off-planet production and consumption. (The idea for Solein actually began at NASA.) They also see potential in bringing protein production to areas whose climate or ground conditions make conventional agriculture impossible.</p><p>And let's not forget all those <a href="https://www.bk.com/menu-item/impossible-whopper" target="_blank">beef-free burgers</a> based on pea and soy proteins currently gaining popularity. The environmental challenge of scaling up the supply of those plants to meet their high demand may provide an opening for the completely renewable Solein — the company could provide companies that produce animal-free "meats," such as <a href="https://www.beyondmeat.com/products/" target="_blank">Beyond Meat</a> and <a href="https://impossiblefoods.com" target="_blank">Impossible Foods</a>, a way to further reduce their environmental impact.</p>
The larger promise<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDI0MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjU4MTg2OX0.7dZZYT5WEV_EupBuLVFwHynarTiz8RYR9aJtC6Ts2C4/img.jpg?width=980" id="3415d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2e6eebe06d795f844752f9e9d30040d7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>The impact of the beef — and for that matter, poultry, pork, and fish — industries on our planet is widely recognized as one of the main drivers behind climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and antibiotic-resistant illness. From the cutting down of rainforests for cattle-grazing land, to runoff from factory farming of livestock and plants, to the disruption of the marine food chain, to the overuse of antibiotics in food animals, it's been disastrous.</p><p>The advent of a promising source of protein derived from two of the most renewable things we have, CO₂ and sunlight, <a href="https://solarfoods.fi/environmental-impact/" target="_blank">gets us out of the planet-destruction business</a> at the same time as it offers the promise of a stable, long-term solution to one of the world's most fundamental nutritional needs.</p>
Solar Foods' timetable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MTEzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTU1OTMwMn0.wnXh56iO_77x2XKV2uIPf78BKw4AJLUpmiyq_JBVGvo/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=172%2C146%2C62%2C135&height=700" id="0297c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="125c9a98ec818f5c241fa28ef1423e67" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Lubsan / Shutterstock / Big Think<p>While company plans are always moderated by unforeseen events — including the availability of sufficient funding — Solar Foods plans a global commercial rollout for Solein in 2021 and to be producing two million meals annually, with a revenue of $800 million to $1.2 billion by 2023. By 2050, they hope to be providing sustenance to 9 billion people as part of a $500 billion protein market.</p><p>The project began in 2018, and this year, they anticipate achieving three things: Launching Solein (check), beginning the approval process certifying its safety as a Novel Food in the EU, and publishing plans for a 1,000-metric ton-per-year factory capable of producing 500 million meals annually.</p>
The protein powder Solein. Image source: SOLAR FOODS
SEAL training is the ultimate test of both mental and physical strength.
- The fact that U.S. Navy SEALs endure very rigorous training before entering the field is common knowledge, but just what happens at those facilities is less often discussed. In this video, former SEALs Brent Gleeson, David Goggins, and Eric Greitens (as well as authors Jesse Itzler and Jamie Wheal) talk about how the 18-month program is designed to build elite, disciplined operatives with immense mental toughness and resilience.
- Wheal dives into the cutting-edge technology and science that the navy uses to prepare these individuals. Itzler shares his experience meeting and briefly living with Goggins (who was also an Army Ranger) and the things he learned about pushing past perceived limits.
- Goggins dives into why you should leave your comfort zone, introduces the 40 percent rule, and explains why the biggest battle we all face is the one in our own minds. "Usually whatever's in front of you isn't as big as you make it out to be," says the SEAL turned motivational speaker. "We start to make these very small things enormous because we allow our minds to take control and go away from us. We have to regain control of our mind."
Pandemic-inspired housing innovation will collide with techno-acceleration.