Do you remember Northern Exposure? I hope so. Chris had a light-sign in his office:

"On the air"

And when you search Google Images for "on the air" some of the signs shown have "on air" without "the".

So which one is grammatically valid?

Personally I'd prefer "on the air" as it looks better as a sign.

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    What exactly are you asking? In terms of warning signs in studios, as you've obviously already found, both are used, but "ON AIR" is more common. If you prefer "ON THE AIR", that's your choice. Make your own sign as you see fit. – FumbleFingers Jan 24 '14 at 23:50
  • "What exactly are you asking?" So the question is not clear? I've highlighted it a little bit for you. – Marian Paździoch Jan 25 '14 at 0:03
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    They're just signs, so there's no real meaning to the concept of "grammaticality". But even if there were, it would still be "valid" to use either, since both are used. I therefore think any answers can only be Opinion-Based – FumbleFingers Jan 25 '14 at 0:11

There are subtle differences between the two constructs in other contexts, however, real stations have used both interchangeably for warning lights. KAKM, in Anchorage, had "on the air" at one door to the soundstage, and "on air" at the other, back in the late 1970's. The transmitter light, however, said "on air" as did the monitor. (This author spent time in that studio.)

On the air as a phrase is almost always referring to the current state of being broadcast, and rarely is used as an adjective about the potential of being broadcast. E.G.: Fred is on the air. (Meaning: Fred is currently being broadcast as the speaker says it.)

On air, sometimes on-air, can be used to convey the state of being currently broadcast, but also is often used for the potential to be broadcast, or the expectation of being broadcast. E.G.: John is on-air talent. (John can be expected to be broadcast.) Fred is on air right now. (Same as Fred is on the air.)


Both are logically and grammatically valid. I grew up in the SE United States with a couple of relatives who worked in the broadcast industry. The phrase I always heard, and continue to use, is "on the air." There is some difference between the frequency of use of the two terms in American English and British English. For what it's worth (Nothing), I was a fan of the show and I remember the signs changing.


Have a look at Oald "air". For BrE you find under idioms "on air". If you swtich to AmE it is "on (the) air". Oald Both expressions mean on radio or TV without any difference.


The slang phrase "on air" has been annoyingly extended further. News anchors will often say "on our air." For example, "He spoke last night on our air" or "on CNN's air." The standard for American usage of the English language, High American English, is only spoken in Cleveland, Ohio. Dialects spoken in other parts of the country contain all kinds of colloquialisms, such as "evidence for" instead of "evidence of" and just because they are in use doesn't mean they are proper. Thus "on the air" is the correct phrase.

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