Broadcaster Legal ID Laws

Written by Attorney Joe Irby

What is a legal ID and when must I run one? Are the requirements the same for radio and television? How do I run a legal ID on my booster/translator?

Legal ID

The Legal ID lets the audience know which broadcast station they’re tuned into. Although your station’s jingles play into and out of every stop set or between each song, the public has a right to know the information that more accurately identifies the station. This will allow the public to look up information on the broadcast station that is supposed to be serving them.


The Federal Communications Commission requires that all television stations must run a notice to the general public throughout the day that properly identifies the station the viewers are watching. Rules for this can be found in the FCC’s rules, namely in 47 CFR Part 73.1201.

  • A legal Identification must be run once each hour of broadcasting.
  • It must be run as close to the top of the hour as possible.
  • It may be run either as a break in the programming as a separate advertisement
  • It may be a graphic that is laid over or placed on the screen in conjunction with the programming.
  • It may be sponsored (run with an advertisement or a promotion)
  • It must include (1) the station’s call letters, (2) the channel number, (3) the city of license.

Radio (47 CFR Part 73.1201)

Much like television, radio stations must also identify themselves throughout the broadcast day. The FCC lays out the requirements for this in 47 CFR Part 73.1201. Here is the breakdown:

A legal identification must be run once per hour of broadcasting.

The traditional rule, is that the ID must be run as close to the top of the hour as possible in a natural break in the programming. The FCC has, in recent years, become much more liberal enforcing strict adherence to this requirement.

The legal ID must include, in this order: (1) the call letters of the radio station, and (2) the city of license. Example: “You’re listening to Hot 103.5, KLMN, Pleasantville… Today’s hottest hits!” is a valid legal ID. In contrast, “This is KLMN, Hot 103.5 FM, Pleasantville…Today’s hottest hits!” is not a valid legal ID because the words “Hot 103.5” are between the call letters and the city of license. This is a small distinction, but an important one.


In 2009, all television stations were required to abandon their analog formats and switch to a digital broadcasting format. Additionally, digital radio is beginning to catch on in many markets. Digital broadcasting allows multiple streams of content to be broadcast on a single signal. Rules regarding digital broadcasts for radio and television can be found at 47 CFR 73.1201(b)(1). The rules for each medium are very similar, but a couple of distinctions are laid out below.

Digital television stations must identify each stream (digital channel) separately. They are allowed to broadcast their network affiliation.

Radio stations broadcasting in digital and on multiple channels must identify its digital channels separately. Identification may be done in conjunction with the analog signal or other multicast, however, the audience must be alerted to the fact that it is listening to a digital audio broadcast.


Translators (boosters) for television and radio serve many purposes. Television stations often rely on translators to provide service to an underserved area that may be out of the broadcast range of the station’s primary signal. Radio stations will use translators for a number of different reasons also. Two of the most common uses for radio booster use are: (1) to provide supplemental service by rebroadcasting another FM signal that is unable to be clearly received due to terrain issues, or (2) to rebroadcast an AM radio station that is underpowered or interfered with in some way. The FCC has set out a few regulations in 47 CFR Part 74.1283 regarding the identification of these translators for both radio and television.

Each translator (television and radio) must be identified either separately or in conjunction with the “parent” station. Example: KLMN Television is licensed to and serves the Pleasantville, Minnesota market. It also wishes to service the community of Blue Lake, Minnesota which is out of the primary broadcast range of the main translator in Pleasantville. Prairie Pioneer Broadcasting, the company owning KLMN, obtains a low-power translator in Blue Lake to rebroadcast the primary signal. Prairie Pioneer Broadcasting has two options: (1) Run a legal ID showing the proper station information for both the KLMN parent signal and the Blue Lake Translator, or (2) split the feed and broadcast separate identifications on each station. The same is true for radio stations.

Translators must be identified three times daily during their hours of operation. The three times daily it must be identified are: (1) between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., again between 12:55 p.m. and 1:05 p.m., and finally between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Streaming on the web

As people become increasingly glued to their computers and other mobile devices, television and radio stations will often “stream” or digitally encode their content and retransmit it through a website. This is done for a number of different reasons and serves many different purposes. Generally, this is done because more information (advertisements and content) can be simultaneously shown to the audience. When, not so long ago, media outlets once used their website to supplement the broadcast signal, more-and-more, stations are using their broadcast signal to supplement their website.

There is no requirement for a legal identification to be broadcast.

In order for the broadcast station to best serve the public, the number one function of stations, a proper and correct legal ID should be run according to the FCC’s rules outlined above.

This post is part of a series of posts on Radio Station & Broadcast Law: 47 CFR 73 – 74 & More

Leave a Public Comment

  • Monica Bouvier-Walker
    November 11, 2015, 1:52 am

    What is the length legal ID’s and translator ID’s must be?

  • Tim L. Bowen
    February 2, 2013, 2:27 pm

    Only the call letters and city of license are required to be in a station ID.

    73.1201 paragraph (b):
    “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.”

  • S. Chewy
    July 18, 2012, 9:40 am

    I believe the stations should also be required to identify themselves on their websites with their call letters city and channels, in a prominent location on their entry page. My Fox “whatever town, CBS “whatever town” NBC “whatever town” doesn’t cut it. For the same reasons listed in the above article, so the public can… … … Also, articles pop up in various places all over the net and it makes it very difficult in trying to source a particular article. It annoys me having to first of all hunt down their contact page to try and ascertain that information, and then it may not even be listed in there, if not, then having to take what information I do have and try and ferret it out on Google. Crazy! I haven’t seen that problem so much with radio stations. It is almost as if TV wants to hide this information for some strange reason, it’s beyond me. Any clue as to why from a legal standpoint they would want to do this? What does one do to get the ball rolling on getting this changed? I worked in radio & TV in the 70’s & 80’s, not only did we have to identify ourselves we had to keep our logs and all news read over the air for “x” number of years for FCC and other official scrutiny. We were very proud of our call signs, cities, channels and/or dial locations… hmmm lol Oh well.