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For the UK radio overnight sustaining service see The Superstation. For the Orcadian commercial radio station see The Superstation Orkney.

Superstation in United States television can have several meanings. In its most precise meaning, a superstation is defined by the Federal Communications Commission as "A television broadcast station, other than a network station, licensed by the FCC that is secondarily transmitted by a satellite carrier." [1]


United States


Early superstations

In the early days of broadcasting, most large media markets had, by standards of the day, a large number of TV stations. Generally, these markets had three VHF stations affiliated with NBC, ABC, and CBS (the then dominant television networks), one or more PBS public broadcasting stations, and several UHF stations without network affiliation. These independent stations relied on reruns, old movies and local news, weather, or sports to fill their broadcast days. Smaller media markets, however, often had only the basic three channels. Cable television systems in smaller areas sought a foothold by "importing" signals from the city for their customers. The stations, anxious for more viewers, assisted by relaying their signals by wire or microwave signals to these towns. These stations, especially those independents owned by Gaylord Broadcasting such as Milwaukee's WVTV, KSTW in Seattle, and KTVT from Dallas along with Houston's KHTV, which all served their respective states with entertainment programming via these connections, became the first "superstations," on a regional basis.

WTCG: The first national superstation

With the advent of C-Band satellites, Ted Turner had the idea of distributing his WTCG in Atlanta, Georgia via C-Band to the entire country (and beyond). This was the first national superstation, and his idea was soon copied by companies who applied for satellite connections to distribute other stations, including WGN-TV in Chicago, Illinois.

One key legal point is that Ted Turner's contracts with content providers charged him for content as if his station were reaching only a local market. No one had thought of adding contract language to deal with satellite broadcast to a much larger market. This loophole was eventually closed, so other local stations that could get a satellite spot were charged appropriately.


This eventually caused conflict between these stations and providers of similar, or identical, programming in local markets. Eventually TBS, the successor to WTCG, gave up its status as a superstation and became a regular cable television channel (outside of Atlanta). The FCC placed tight restrictions on the remaining superstations (excluding WGN America), allowing no new ones and limiting the distribution of the five grandfathered ones to rural areas without distributors of similar programming.

The remaining "true" superstations

In addition to WGN-TV, the five remaining true superstations, WSBK-TV in Boston, Massachusetts and WWOR-TV in Secaucus, New Jersey (part of the New York City area), and CW Television Network affiliates WPIX-TV in New York, KWGN-TV in Denver, Colorado, and KTLA-TV in Los Angeles, California, are carried on some rural cable systems, and on the DISH Network direct broadcast satellite system. But syndicated exclusivity blackout requests have led DISH Network to stop selling one or more stations in some markets. As of 2006, Superstation WGN boasted over 68 million households on cable and satellite.[citation needed]

TBS Superstation is now simply known as TBS. Until May 2008, WGN billed itself as Superstation WGN, but changed its name to WGN America that year. However, while the FCC defines "superstation" as a term, it does not prohibit its use by others such as KIMO in Anchorage, Alaska, which are affiliates of ABC and the The CW, and have a network of repeater stations in other parts of that state and calls itself The Alaska SuperStation. The term is used by many other TV and radio stations, however, none of these operations is a superstation as defined by the FCC.


Canada does not have any television stations that operate as "superstations" in the official sense of the term. Technically, almost every station in Canada is a superstation, as any station that is available on satellite (and almost all of them are), can be carried by any Canadian cable system. The closest Canadian equivalent to the "superstation" model is an independent station (the number of which has grown recently with the demise of E!), and to some extent the television system. Moreover, Canadian providers are able to distribute American television stations in their digital package, regardless of whether or not they are licensed superstations.

Beginning in the late 1980s, Canadian Satellite Communications began distributing BCTV from Vancouver, ITV from Edmonton, and CHCH from Hamilton, primarily for distribution by smaller cable systems throughout Canada. Coincidentally, these stations were, like Cancom, owned (or later acquired) by Western International Communications. As a result of their early availability, which predated most Canadian specialty channels, these stations (the first two now owned by Canwest, the latter by Channel Zero) continue to have a superstation-type status on analog cable in many smaller Canadian communities, and in the United States along border-area cable systems (such as Buffalo, New York/Niagara Falls, New York, Burlington, Vermont, and Bellingham, Washington).

Presently, both the aforementioned CHCH and CJON-TV in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador use the identical slogan "Canada's Superstation" (the channels have no corporate affiliation). However, once again, neither station has any special regulatory status at present conferring that title.

Canadian subscribers to premium movie channels The Movie Network and/or Moviepix also receive several major US superstations like KTLA and WPIX, depending on their cable provider. TBS was removed from the Canadian market when it moved to a cable only service in the US, as this would have required CRTC approval to be carried on Canadian cable. However, it has been replaced with the Atlanta feed of Peachtree TV.


Much like Canada, Mexico has almost all its stations available on satellite and carried on select Mexican cable systems. And just like Canada, Mexican providers can obtain American television stations in their digital package, even if they aren't licensed superstations.

Radio superstations

Radio stations in North America are permitted to uplink to satellite. WSM (AM) got a lot of attention in the 80s as it was delivered via c-band alongside The Nashville Network. Very few stations actually distribute themselves through c-band, as there's not much reason to do so and stations' audio can be dialed in through either ISDN lines, or listened to via an audio stream over the internet (if the station offers such). Ones that do, like WEEI, often do so to feed their station to others which simulcast it. This is the case with several stations in Mexico, as radio in Mexico is very nationalized and most local stations are merely 24-hour-a-day affiliates of a national network.

Some local radio stations are, or have been distributed on satellite radio throughout the United States, and Canada in select cases. Stations once distributed on satellite radio include WLTW New York (XM), KHMX Houston (XM), KIIS-FM Los Angeles (XM), KNEW San Francisco (XM), WTKS-FM Orlando (XM), WLW Cincinnati (XM), WSIX-FM Nashville (XM), and WSM Nashville (Sirius). XM, in particular, used superstations owned by Clear Channel Communications for much of its early programming, and still had two superstations from Clear Channel as recently as late 2008 (talk-radio WLW and country music WSIX); both of those have been dropped as of March 2009.

Only two stations, both of them specialty stations, are currently distributed on satellite radio; these are WBBR New York (Bloomberg Radio) and WCSP-FM Washington DC (C-SPAN Radio). Another station is syndicated nationwide through terrestrial radio stations, KPIG-FM Freedom CA, distributed by Dial Global; WBBR is distributed in a similar fashion by United Stations Radio Networks.

CBS Radio has begun using HD Radio technology to introduce its major market stations to other markets. For instance, KFRG San Bernadino is carried on KTWV-HD3 Los Angeles, KSCF San Diego is heard on KAMP-HD2 Los Angeles, WBZ-FM Boston is heard on WTIC-HD3 Hartford, KROQ Los Angeles is heard on KSCF-HD2 San Diego and an as of yet to be determined affiliate in New York City (likely current K-Rock WXRK-HD2), and WFAN New York is simulcast on three affiliates in Florida (WOCL-HD3 Orlando, WLLD-HD3 Tampa Bay, and WEAT-HD3 West Palm Beach).[1]

In many of these cases where stations are distributed outside of their market area, some concessions are made, such as the original local advertising being replaced with either national advertising or a bed of production music which plays over commercial breaks. Also in the example of WFAN, that station's play-by-play coverage of the Mets, Giants, Devils and Nets is not carried on the Florida HD Radio affiliates and replaced with alternate programming, as the station only has rights to broadcast the programming in the New York metro area.



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