In broadcasting, a flagship (also known as a flagship station or key station) is the broadcast station which originates a television network, or a particular radio or television program 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 flagship station is primarily used in TV and radio in the United States and Canada, while the term key station (, k? kyoku) is primarily used in TV in Japan (and formerly in the United States).
In the United States, traditional radio networks currently operate without flagship stations as defined in this article. Network operations and those of the local owned-and-operated or affiliated stations in the same city are now separate and may come under different corporate entities.
In the U.S., CBS News Radio produces programming for distribution by Skyview Networks, but local stations WCBS and WINS in New York City and KNX (and formerly KFWB) in Los Angeles are operated separately from the network radio news operation, under a separate company with common shareholders, Audacy, Inc. iHeartMedia follows a similar model: flagship stations WOR in New York City (which it acquired in 2012) and KFI in Los Angeles are both operated mostly separately from its syndication wing, Premiere Networks (Premiere does produce some limited programming, including The Jesus Christ Show, The Tech Guy and Handel on the Law, through KFI).
WWRL in New York City was an affiliate of the now-defunct Air America Radio and carries some of its programs (along with those from other distributors) but is separately owned and operated and does not produce any programs for the network. Originally, Air America Radio leased WLIB (also in New York City) as its flagship station; the station was completely automated and produced no local programming. The network would later lease WZAA in Washington, D.C. as its lone self-operated station.
Fox Sports Radio's flagship station is KLAC in Los Angeles, with which it merged operations in 2009. SB Nation Radio is flagshipped at KGOW in Houston; one of its predecessors, Sporting News Radio, was previously flagshipped at WIDB (now WNTD) in Chicago. CBS Sports Radio is nominally flagshipped at WFAN (although that station does not produce programming for the network). ESPN Radio has no true flagship station, as it operates out of ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut; Windsor Locks-licensed WUCS (owned by iHeartMedia) serves as its de facto flagship, serving ESPN's home market of Hartford.
Nash FM, a country music network, is nominally flagshipped at WKDF in Nashville, Tennessee; its classic-leaning counterpart Nash Icon is flagshipped at WSM-FM in the same city. MeTV FM, a classic oldies/soft rock network, is flagshipped at WRME-LD in Chicago, the home base of its owner, television broadcaster Weigel Broadcasting. The Satellite Music Network networks were flagshipped at a cluster of stations in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex during their existence; KMEO, for example, served as the flagship for Unforgettable Favorites. CloudCast is flagshipped at KZOY in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with much of its programming voicetracked from WGWE in Little Valley, New York.
Former flagship stations for now-defunct networks in American radio's "Big Four" era of the 1940s-1980s were:
In Canada, current CBC/Radio-Canada flagships are CBLA-FM (99.1) in Toronto, which broadcasts in English, and CBF-FM (95.1) in Montréal, which broadcasts in French. Both are former AM clear channel operations which have moved to FM.
Former flagship stations for now-defunct networks were:
While CJBC remains on-air on its original frequency, it is now an owned-and-operated station of the French-language Radio-Canada network.
For syndicated radio programs, it refers to the originating station from which a program is fed by satellite or other means to stations nationwide, although the show may also originate elsewhere or from a home studio via an ISDN line. Some programs such as Imus in the Morning are simulcast on television (Fox Business Network in this case). Others are simulcasted on XM Satellite Radio and / or Sirius Satellite Radio. Flagship stations of prominent syndicated radio programs currently include:
In sports broadcasting, the flagship radio station is the sports team's primary station in the team's home market that produces game broadcasts and feeds them to affiliates. For example, WJZ-FM is the radio flagship station of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team, which feeds Orioles' games to 20 stations in Maryland and adjacent states.
In the late 1920s, network owned-and-operated stations (or "O&O") for radio in New York City began producing live entertainment and news programs, fed by telephone lines to affiliates. These eventually were dubbed flagship stations.
When television networks were formed in the United States in the late 1940s and grew during the early 1950s, network-owned stations in New York City became the production centers for programs 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 programs 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 1950s, 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 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 U.S., 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 centers 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 U.S., 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 1930s and 1940s (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 center was (and still is) based in Los Angeles. However, Fox's parent company, Fox Corporation (which spun off its broadcasting properties in July 2013 into the separate 21st Century Fox, then that company spun off many of its film and cable assets to Disney in 2019), 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.
In 2006, when The WB and UPN merged to form The CW, Philadelphia station WPSG and San Francisco station KBCW were designated as the network's de facto East Coast and West Coast flagships, respectively, due to CBS owning half of The CW's controlling shares at the time. New York's affiliate WPIX and Los Angeles' affiliate KTLA did not have such status since the network's inception, as Tribune Media (who had a minority stake in The WB) opted not to have any controlling interest with The CW, by selling off its share of The WB; instead, to secure the affiliation across most of the former WB affiliates they owned at the time. Nexstar Media Group then bought Tribune in 2019; however, it had to sell off WPIX to the E. W. Scripps Company to prevent breaching the required market ownership cap set by the FCC for each broadcaster. Two years after WPIX returned to Nexstar control through partner company Mission Broadcasting, the Irving, Texas-based media giant bought 75% of CW's shares in August 2022. With the purchase completion announced on October 3, 2022, both WPIX and KTLA formally became flagship stations for the first time.
|Network||East Coast flagship
|West Coast flagship |
WCAU 10 (Philadelphia)1
|CBS||WCBS-TV 2||KCBS-TV 2|
|ABC||WABC-TV 7||KABC-TV 7|
|Fox||WNYW 5||KTTV 11|
|The CW||WPIX 11||KTLA 5|
|MyNetworkTV||WWOR-TV 9||KCOP-TV 13|
|PBS2||WNET 13/WLIW 21
WGBH 2/WGBX 44 (Boston)
WETA 26 (Washington D.C.)
WHYY 12 (Philadelphia)
|KOCE 50/KCET 28/KLCS 58 |
KQED 9/KQET 25/KQEH 54 (San Francisco)
|Ion Television||WPXN-TV 31
WPXM-TV 35 (Miami)
WSCV 51 (Miami)1
KSTS 48 (San Francisco)
|Estrella TV||WASA-LD 24
WLTV-DT 23 (Miami)1
|Azteca America||WKOB-LD 42
W16CC-D 16 (Miami)1
|KEMO-TV 50.2 (San Francisco)|
WAMI-DT 69 (Miami)1
|CTN||WCLF 22 (Tampa)||none|
|WGN-TV 9 (Chicago)||none|
Heroes & Icons
|WJLP 33 (MeTV)
WZME 43 (MeTV Plus)
WCIU-TV 26 (Chicago)1
|KAZA-TV 54 (MeTV)|
KHTV-CD 6 (MeTV Plus)
KSFV-CD 27 (Heroes & Icons)
KPOM-CD 14 (Decades)
KTLN-TV 68 (Heroes & Icons; San Francisco)
KAXT-CD 1 (Decades; San Francisco)
|WOOT-LD 6 (Chattanooga)1||none|
|NewsNet||WMNN-LD 26 (Cadillac)1||none|
|Almavision||WEYS-LD 54 (Miami, Florida)||KTAV-LD 35|
|CTVN||WPCB-TV 40 (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)||none|
|Daystar||KDTN 2 (Denton/Dallas, Texas)||none|
|Family||WHME-TV 46 (South Bend, Indiana)||none|
|3ABN||W15BU-D 15 (Johnston City, Illinois)||none|
|TCT||WTCT 27 (Marion, Illinois)||KDOC-TV 56|
KTNC-TV 42 (San Francisco)
|TBN||WTBY-TV 54||KTBN-TV 40|
1 East Coast flagships are located in the New York City designated market area (DMA), while the West Coast flagships are located in the Los Angeles area. WCAU in Philadelphia is listed for NBC because its parent company Comcast is headquartered here.
Meanwhile, Miami stations are also listed for Univision, Telemundo and UniMás (formerly TeleFutura) due to their operations being major production bases for those networks. The Miami area station for Ion Television is also listed due to their parent company being based out of West Palm Beach; however none of the Ion stations listed originate programming for the national Ion network (which consists almost entirely of reruns). Networks designated for digital subchannels are usually flagshipped at local stations in the home cities of their corporate headquarters. MeTV, MeTV Plus, Decades, and Heroes & Icons are owned by Weigel Broadcasting in Chicago; Weigel-owned WCIU carries each full network feed as a digital subchannel, while KAZA-TV alongside KHTV-CD, KPOM-CD, and KSFV-CD in Los Angeles carries MeTV, MeTV Plus, Decades, and Heroes & Icons, while WJLP and WZME in New York City carry MeTV and MeTV Plus, with KAXT-CD and KTLN-TV in San Francisco carries Decades and Heroes & Icons. Heartland, Retro TV and Rev'n are all based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the home base of WOOT-LD and common owner Get After It Media. NewsNet is based in Cadillac, Michigan.
2 While the Virginia-based Public Broadcasting Service in the United States does not have an official "flagship" television station, WNET in the New York City area held an official primary role with PBS predecessor, National Educational Television (NET). There cannot be any owned-and-operated stations within the Public Broadcasting Service; individual PBS stations are typically owned by local non-profit groups (such as WPBS-TV), universities (such as KPBS) or state-level entities as part of a state network (such as KETA-TV and WGTV). The system itself is owned collectively by the local PBS member stations. A station's importance to the system is built as much or more on the programming it produces for national distribution (a metric which places WNET as a strong third-place contender behind WGBH in Boston and WETA in Washington, D.C.) instead of local media market size.
In sports broadcasting, the flagship television station is the sports team's primary station in the team's home market that produces NFL preseason telecasts, along with in-season surrounding programming such as team, coach's, and pre-game/post-game shows and feeds them to affiliates. For example, WJBK in Detroit is the flagship station of the Detroit Lions Television Network, which feeds Detroit Lions pre-season football games to six stations in Michigan. However, the "sports flagship television station" is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, with the growing popularity of cable- and satellite-exclusive regional sports networks such as Fox Sports Networks and NBC Sports Regional Networks, which hold exclusive broadcast rights to several teams in their market for Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association.
The National Football League has a different structure, as all games require over-the-air broadcast and the league and teams are generally loath to use only a local cable broadcaster to distribute preseason and team programming. An anti-siphoning policy is also used by the league in order for local stations to bid for Monday Night Football games for over-the-air distribution when local teams play. Most of the league's teams partner with a local station or regional network of stations, which distributes team programming and weekly analysis shows featuring a team's head coach, with those stations allowed to market as a team's 'official station', often tied into preseason rights. In a lesser arrangement, Major League Baseball teams often name a local broadcast station their official weather forecasting partner and allow them to market as such.
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.
|Network/System||Eastern flagship||West Coast flagship|
|CBC Television||CBLT-DT (Toronto)||CBUT-DT (Vancouver)|
|Citytv||CITY-DT (Toronto)||CKVU-DT (Vancouver)|
|CTV||CFTO-DT (Toronto)||CIVT-DT (Vancouver)|
|CTV 2||CKVR-DT (Barrie)||CIVI-DT (Victoria)|
|Global||CIII-DT (Toronto)||CHAN-DT (Vancouver)|
|Ici Radio-Canada Télé||CBFT-DT (Montreal)||CBUFT-DT (Vancouver)|
|Omni Television||CFMT-DT/CJMT-DT (Toronto)||CHNM-DT (Vancouver)|
Networks/systems with only one flagship station
|Yes TV||CITS-DT (Hamilton)|
As of 2017, Mexico's national networks hold a nationwide virtual channel, thus all of the flagship stations mentioned below in most of the country are on the same channel on the rest of the stations in each network with some exceptions along the American, Guatemalan and Belizean border areas.
|Network||Flagship||Digital Channel||Virtual Channel||Location||Owner|
|Azteca Uno||XHDF-TDT||25||1.1||Mexico City||TV Azteca|
|Imagen Televisión||XHCTMX-TDT||29||3.1||Grupo Imagen|
|Multimedios Televisión+||XHAW-TDT||25||6.1||Monterrey||Grupo Multimedios|
|Azteca 7||XHIMT-TDT||24||7.1||TV Azteca|
|Canal Once||XEIPN-TDT||33||11.1||Instituto Politécnico Nacional|
|Once Niños||XEIPN-TDT||33||11.2||Instituto Politécnico Nacional|
|Canal 22||XEIMT-TDT||23||22.1||Secretaría de Cultura|
|Una Voz Con Todos||XHOPMA-TDT||30||30.1||Sistema Público de Radiodifusión del Estado Mexicano|
|Ingenio TV||XHOPMA-TDT||30||30.4||Secretaría de Educación Pública|
|TVounam||XHOPMA-TDT||30||30.5||Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México|
|Proyecto 40||XHTVM-TDT||26||40.1||TV Azteca|
|Canal del Congreso||XHHCU-TDT||45||45.1||Congreso de la Unión|
1 The total number of stations is including the three stations listed in the table.
2 There are 13 independent stations in Japan.
|Network||Flagship Station||City of license||Notes|
|People's Television||DWGT-TV||Quezon City|
|RPN/CNN Philippines||DZKB-TV (Radio Philippines Network)|
|ABS-CBN Sports and Action||DWAC-TV|
|leased from Nation Broadcasting Corporation|
1 Sonshine's main headquarters are in Davao City, but also has a fully owned broadcast building in Metro Manila, thus giving the Manila station equal flagship.
In the United States, 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), 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 same also can be said for Nexstar listed two of the stations as flagships, one cited was WYOU-TV in Scranton, which Perry Sook said it was the flagship, the other listed was KDAF-TV in Dallas, which became its flagship after its acquisition of Tribune Media in 2019, the latter partially is located in a suburb of that city and also owns and operates several stations larger than Dallas, such as WPIX-TV in New York, KTLA in Los Angeles, WGN-TV in Chicago and WPHL-TV in Philadelphia. Shortly after its acquisition of Young Broadcasting by Media General in 2013, WRIC-TV in Richmond become one of the two flagship stations of the Media General group prior to the 2017 acquisition by Nexstar, the other flagship was WFLA in Tampa Bay, which was always the television flagship of the group. The same can even be said for Scripps, which listed WCPO-TV in Cincinnati as the flagship, but also owned Ion Media, which is several times larger than Cincinnati themselves. Even the same can be said for Sinclair Broadcast Group, which listed WBFF-TV in Baltimore and WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C., listed as the flagship stations of the group.
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.