TV & Showbiz

Footnotes: Why There’s No Channel 37 in the U.S.


When I was a kid, television sets had dials you had to manually operate to tune channels. But you could never find anything on Channel 37.

Over the years, I’ve occasionally referred to the TV station I work for as “Channel 37.” But there isn’t one.

I don’t mention my “real job” by name because I want to be clear that I in no way speak for them. I’m not authorized to do so nor would I want to. Likewise, I don’t talk about specific situations involving my employer. My takes on television are just that: my own. I look at the broader picture of TV, not just about what’s happening within the four walls of the TV station I work for.

People of a certain age won’t remember UHF and VHF channels. If you’re like me, you remember very clearly a time when you changed channels with a dial on the television.

Though remote control made its debut in the mid-1950s. But many people didn’t really have them until into the 1970s. In my case, we still used the dial on the front of the television until my folks got cable television in the late 1970s. Cable came with not a remote control but a separate tuning device that was connected by wire to the television.

I think I got my first true remote-control television in the mid 1980s.

Whether you turned a dial or pressed a few buttons on the remote, you could certainly select Channel 37. When cable came along, channel lineups changed. The familiar over-the-air channel numbers moved to different channel assignments based on where cable companies placed them.

My current cable TV lineup, for example, places QVC2 on its Channel 37. I didn’t know there even was a QVC2. One always seemed more than enough for me.

But you never saw a picture from any over-the-air broadcast station on that particular frequency. At least not in the United States.

There’s a reason for that.

You can blame astronomy.

In the 1930s, Bell Laboratories engineer Karl Jansky began experimenting with radio astronomy. He discovered faint electromagnetic radiation of the stars. One set of signals happened to occur at 611 megahertz, which was right in the middle of Channel 37’s portion of the radio spectrum.

In 1959, the International Telecommunications Conference in Geneva suggested reserving a portion of the broadcast spectrum for radio astronomy.

 On Oct. 4, 1963, the Federal Communications Commission reserved channel 37 for the exclusive use of radio astronomy nationwide until Jan. 1, 1974. They renewed that extension and in the United States, there are still no Channel 37s.

There are a handful of stations on that frequency in other countries, but not here.

Meanwhile, Channel 37 became embraced by fiction writers because they couldn’t implicate a real station by using that channel number. You can compare it to the use of phone numbers that begin with the 555 prefix.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.