Tag Archives: nostalgia

WKRP to KBBL, and WDBQ

I’ve always wondered why the call letters of WDBQ begin with a W, not a K.

If you’re not from Dubuque, then you don’t know that WDBQ is your AM radio station of choice for play-by-play of the local high-school basketball games, reruns of classic old-time radio plays and series, and updates on how pork bellies are trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Okay, not so much any more, because pork-belly futures are no longer traded.

But when I was a kid, that’s what you heard on WDBQ, along with a surprisingly-eclectic mix of country, folk, and big band music. We had a radio permanently tuned to WDBQ on top of the fridge in the kitchen, and the kitchen was also where the family computer was located, an Apple IIGS. I whiled away many an hour listening to a football game or old episodes of Fibber McGee and Molly or X X X Minus Minus Minus One One One while playing Orgeon Trail or Lode Runner or Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?

And often I’d puzzled over the W in WDBQ, because, as you likely have noticed, radio stations east of the Mississippi begin with ‘W’, while radio stations west of the Mississippi begin with ‘K’. And Dubuque is just barely, but most certainly, west of the Mississippi, and all the other Dubuque radiostations (KLYV 105, KDUB, KDTH) all began with ‘K.’ I thought, perhaps that, WDBQ certainly a venerable institution, may have originated from an earlier time before the W/K dichotomy emerged, but I was always plagued with the uncertainty of not knowing.

So imagine my delight when Strange Maps featured some maps of the K/W dichotomy.

It turns out that the K/W divide is as old as four-letter call signs themselves, which were first assigned in 1912.  But the original K/W line was originally further west than it is today, only shifting to the current Mississippi border in 1923. ‘W’ stations west of the Mississippi were allowed to keep their original call sign.  A-ha, I thought, WDBQ must be older than 1923.

But no!  It turns out that WDBQ was founded after 1923, but received an “[e]xceptional grant of a request to deviate from the general rule.”

Why was the request made? Did “WDBQ” just have a certain ring to it? And why was it granted? Was the FCC powerless before the poetry of the rhyming of “W” and “Q”?

So, there’s a partial answer, but a tantalizing mystery remains.

(Title courtesy of Wikipedia, which is always there for you when you need a lists of things you would never think of making a list of, but which are always gratifying to find when you need them.)

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