- 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."
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
, 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 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
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
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
, New Jersey
(part of the New York City
area), and CW Television Network
in New York, KWGN-TV
, and KTLA-TV
in Los Angeles
, 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.
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.
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 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, now owned by CanWest Global, continue to have a superstation-type status on analog cable in many smaller Canadian communities, as well as in American border cities, such as Buffalo, New York.
CJON-TV in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador has used the slogan "Canada's Superstation" in recent years, although, again, the station has no special regulatory status 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 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), and WSM Nashville (Sirius). Stations currently distributed on satellite radio include WLW Cincinnati (XM), WSIX-FM Nashville (XM), WBBR New York (XM and Sirius), and WCSP-FM Washington DC (XM, no longer on Sirius). Another station is syndicated nationwide through terrestrial radio stations, KPIG Freedom CA, distributed by Dial Global.