Many station owners think they can adopt any name, positioning statement or slogan for their station so long as no one else in the market is using the exact same name or slogan. That thinking is often incorrect, and can be very costly if a name is adopted and has to be changed later because it infringes on someone else’s intellectual property rights. Nicknames and slogans used in station advertising or promotion are controlled by trademark law. Even a station’s call sign, which must be approved by the FCC, cannot be too similar to an in-market competitor’s call sign without running afoul of trademark law. You may have read about recent litigation concerning the station nicknames "Bob" and "Bob FM." In that case, there is apparent contour overlap between two separately owned stations using the same name. But trademark law can come into play even when stations are not in the same market and do not have overlapping contours.
Trademark rights can be established in one of two ways. The first station to use a name or slogan can establish priority within that station’s geographic market or contour. Alternatively, one can file an application for registration of a station name or slogan at the US Patent and Trademark Office (the "PTO"), and thereby obtain nationwide rights in that name or slogan, if no one else had prior use or a prior application. Since trademark applications can be filed on an intent-to-use basis, a station can establish priority for a mark it is not yet using. This is why a trademark search is so important prior to using a mark.