Radio stations are extremely eager for you to remember their names. That's why announcers seem to surround every sentence with a recitation of the station's call letters and dial position.
The radio business is utterly dependent on ratings, and unlike television or the Internet, its ratings depend not on passive electronic monitoring but on listeners' handwritten diaries of what they listened to. So planting the station's name in your memory is Job One.
That's why stations adopt catchy names. In the early years of radio, call letters were handed out sequentially (ABC, ABD) by the feds. But station owners could request call letters that actually said something, so long as they were not already in use elsewhere in the country. Stations snapped up letters that spelled words (WSUN, WFUN, KFOG) and later tried names that suggested the style of music the station played. (Washington's WJZW plays light jazz, and classical WGMS is the city's "Good Music Station.")
Here's a sampling of the meaning behind some of the area's station names:
WMAL (630 AM) was named for its original owner, a downtown business called M.A. Leese Optical Co. The station is Washington's oldest still in operation.
WPLC (1050) is the former WGAY, which was named for its easy-listening light-music format, not -- according to radio historian Thomas White -- for Connie Gay, a DJ who bought the station in good part because it shared his name.
WUST (1120) was named for its studios, then located on U Street NW, at what is now the 9:30 club.
WFAX (1220), a Falls Church station, honors its location in Fairfax County.
WWRC (1260) is the latest incarnation of WRC, a station that has been shuttled around the dial in recent years, but was one of the city's most important stations through most of the past century. It's named for Washington Radio Corp., owned, as the TV station of the same name still is, by NBC, which was then part of RCA, the Radio Corporation of America.
WYCB (1340) is "Your Community Broadcaster."
WNAV (1430), the voice of Annapolis, is named for the city's premier attraction, the Naval Academy.
WPWC (1480) in Dumfries proudly announces its home base in Prince William County.
WTOP (1500 and 107.7 FM) was named for the station's position at the top end of the radio dial. In later years, when the station adopted an all-news format, it repurposed its name to denote its promise to deliver "top news instantly."
WPGC (1580 and 95.5 FM) is named for its home in Prince George's County.
FM call letters, like the stations they represent, have a much shorter history and tend to change frequently as stations are sold or switch formats (WIHT spins "hot" hits, WBIG offers the big hits of the past.)
WAMU (88.5) is named for its owner, American University.
WPFW (89.3) reflects its owner, the Pacifica Foundation, and its location in Washington.
WETA (90.9) is named for its owner, Washington Educational Telecommunications Association, which also runs the TV station of the same name.
WGTS (91.9), Columbia Union College's station in Takoma Park, abbreviates the school's motto, "Washington's Gateway to Service."
WFLS (93.3) is short for the name of its owner, Fredericksburg's Free Lance-Star newspaper.
WHUR (96.3) is Howard University Radio.
WHFS (99.1) was Washington's "High Fidelity Stereo" station.
WWDC (101.1) is named for its home town, Washington, D.C.
Among the sources used for this report is a history of Washington radio by Thomas H. White at http://earlyradiohistory.us/hist-dc.htm#current.