What is a Flagship Station?


Introduction

In broadcasting, a flagship (also known as a flagship station) is the broadcast station which originates a television network, or a particular radio or television programme that plays a key role in the branding of and consumer loyalty to a network or station.

This includes both direct network feeds and broadcast syndication, but generally not backhauls. Not all networks or shows have a flagship station, as some originate from a dedicated radio or television studio.

The term derives from the naval custom where the commanding officer of a group of naval ships would fly a distinguishing flag. In common parlance, “flagship” is now used to mean the most important or leading member of a group, hence its various uses in broadcasting. The term is primarily used in TV and radio in the United States and Canada.

Examples of Flagships

  • Lotteries:
    • Mega Millions, normally from WSB-TV in Atlanta.
    • Ohio Lottery weekday- and Saturday-evening drawings from WEWS in Cleveland.
    • Michigan Lottery from WDIV-TV in Detroit.
  • Shows:
    • Delilah from KRWM (FM) FM in Seattle.
    • Clark Howard from WSB (AM)/WSBB-FM in Atlanta.
    • Rush Limbaugh from WOR (AM) in New York City and WJNO in West Palm Beach, Florida (where Limbaugh resides and utilizes a home studio for most of the year).
    • Live with Kelly and Ryan from WABC-TV in New York City.
  • Networks:
    • Midnight Radio Network from WBAP (AM) in Dallas/Fort Worth.
  • Events:
    • Masters Tournament from WRDW-TV, as the CBS affiliate since 1956.

Television

US

A flagship television station is the principal privately owned television station of a television network in the US, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Australia and the Philippines.

In the late 1920’s, network owned-and-operated stations (or ‘O&O’) for radio in New York City began producing live entertainment and news programmes, fed by telephone lines to affiliates. These were, eventually, dubbed flagship stations.

When television networks were formed in the US in the late 1940’s and grew during the early 1950’s, network-owned stations in New York City became the production centres for programmes originating on the East Coast, feeding affiliates of ABC, CBS, and NBC in the eastern three-fourths of the country.

Stations in Los Angeles similarly started producing programmes on the West Coast, feeding affiliates in the Pacific Time Zone, Alaska and Hawaii. Consequently, the networks’ New York City stations became known as the ‘East Coast flagships’ of their respective networks and the networks’ Los Angeles stations became known as the ‘West Coast flagships’.

However, before the 1950’s, San Francisco was also considered a West Coast flagship market for the networks, with much of the CBS and NBC network’s West Coast news programming originating from that city. This is seen in the calls of CBS’s KCBS (AM) being based in their original city of San Francisco instead of Los Angeles (the use of KCBS-TV in Los Angeles only dates back to 1984), while KNBR (which was subsequently sold to another party by NBC in 1987) was formerly known as KNBC before the network moved those calls to KRCA-TV in Los Angeles in 1962.

ABC, CBS and NBC are headquartered in New York City, which is the largest television market in the US, so their respective radio and television stations in that market are considered the overall network flagship stations. As programming schedules increased and modern technology improved transmission to affiliates, the networks set up operations centres in New York City (for the East Coast feed) and Los Angeles (for the West Coast feed). Los Angeles is the second largest television market in the US, and traditional home to the motion picture industry and its pool of popular talent, one of the reasons the radio networks set up operations there in the 1930’s and 1940’s (just as the medium of television was starting to take off).

This arrangement is reversed for the Fox Broadcasting Company. When Fox was launched in 1986, its network operations centre was (and still is) based in Los Angeles. However, Fox’s parent company, News Corporation (which spun off its broadcasting properties in July 2013 into the separate 21st Century Fox), is headquartered in New York City, along with its news division. Fox-owned WNYW in New York City is considered the network’s overall flagship, while sister station KTTV in Los Angeles is considered a second flagship station.

Canada

Canadian network flagship locations vary by language. Most English-language networks eastern flagships are located in Toronto, French-language eastern flagships are located in Montreal, and West Coast flagships (regardless of language) are located in Vancouver.

CTV 2, being a secondary system to the main CTV network, maintains its eastern flagship in Barrie (which is on the northwestern fringe of the Toronto market) and West Coast flagship in Victoria (which is on the southwestern fringe of the Vancouver market). CIII-DT-41 had always been considered the flagship station of Global in Toronto despite being a technical satellite station of CIII-DT, which is licensed to Paris, Ontario. However, since July 2009, the CRTC has considered CIII-DT-41 “the originating station” of Global Ontario.

The secondary French-language networks TVA and V are not carried terrestrially in Western Canada, although they are usually available on pay television.

Mexico

As of 2017, Mexico’s national networks hold a nationwide virtual channel, thus most of the flagship stations in the country are on the same channel with the rest of the stations in each network with some exceptions along the American, Guatemalan and Belizean border areas.

Australia

All flagship stations are located in Sydney and Melbourne.

Station Groups

In the US, the term flagship station may also be used in the broadcasting industry to refer to a station which is co-located with the headquarters of its station group and considered the company’s most important station (such a station may or may not be affiliated with one of the major networks).

For example, WDIV-TV in Detroit, affiliated with NBC, is the flagship station of Graham Media Group; and WGN-TV in Chicago was the flagship station of Tribune Broadcasting until it was purchased by Nexstar Media Group in 2019.

In essence, a flagship can be located in the market where the station’s owner is headquartered, or in the largest market where that owner operates. For example, WSB-TV in Atlanta is the flagship of Cox Media Group, because Cox’s headquarters is located in a suburb of that city. However, Cox owns WFXT in Boston, which is larger than Atlanta. The same can be said for TEGNA who lists three of its properties as its flagship stations (WXIA-TV in Atlanta, WUSA in Washington, D.C. and KUSA in Denver)[citation needed], but also owns WFAA in Dallas, which is larger than Atlanta, Washington D.C., and Denver in terms of Media market. Likewise, prior to merging with Gannett in 2013, WFAA served as the flagship station for Belo, as its headquarters were located in Dallas.

The term is also used for stations that operate satellite stations in other cities. For example, KSNW in Wichita, Kansas is the flagship station of the Kansas State Network, a chain of NBC affiliates serving western and central Kansas as well as border areas of Nebraska.

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