When you pass your initial examination, the FCC will automatically assign you what is known as a “Systematic Callsign”. It’s assigns available callsigns in sequential order. Starts off with a fixed region prefix (first part of the call) and 3 letter unique suffix (ending of the call) to the operator. For example KC1AAA, KC1AAB, KC1AAC and so on which uses a 2X3 format. The suffix is unique to the operator. If you went from no license to extra class or have chosen a new systematic callsign on your 605 when you’ve upgraded to extra, you will be assigned a 2X2 call (AC1DE).
Amateur radio operators in the US can apply for a vanity callsigns. This allows the license holder to obtain a callsign that is more either memorable, shorter, easier to say, easier to send in Morse code or a combination. For example, many operators get their initials. Technicians and Generals are allowed to get a custom 1X3 (ex. W1ABC) or 2X3 (KA1ABC). If you hold an advanced class license (which are no longer testing for), you can get a 2X2 (KA1BC) callsign. The FCC dropped the fees associated with applying for vanity callsigns. It’s now free so many people are taking advantage of this and are obtaining vanities.
There are restrictions depending on your license class and the prefix of the call you want. For example, you can not request a license with a prefix assigned for the US Islands or Alaska unless you reside in those areas. You can not request a license with a prefix reserved for another country/entity. There are suffix’s that are restricted as well. For example the FCC will not issue any calls with the letters “SOS” or any of the Q-Code (QRZ, QSY, QTH, etc…) as a suffix. It’s suggested that you read the FCC’s webpage concerning amateur radio callsigns so you have a better idea of what callsigns you can or can not have
You could apply for a callsign that is not in your region as long as it’s not restricted. For example, you reside in region 1 and were systematically assigned KC1AAA. You could apply for K3ABC or K6XYZ. The PVVET suggests that you try to stick with a callsign in the region that you reside in. A lot of hams gauge your location by the number in your prefix. If you get on the air with a 6th area callsign from New England, many people will think you’re either visiting from California or that you are transmitting from California.
If you have an extra class license, it’s possible to get a much shorter call sign such as a 1X2 (ex. N1AB), 2×1 (ex. NA1B) or a 2X2 (AB1CD) along with the 1X3 and 2X3 choices. The shorter 1X2 and 2X1 calls are more difficult to obtain as they are in very limited supply. After a callsign has been canceled, there is a 2 year grace period and then the call sign will be made available to the public. Due to the limited amount of short calls, when one becomes available, there are often many people applying for the same callsign on the very day it becomes available. At this point the applications go into a “lottery” and a random ham that meets the requirements (i.e extra class) will be a assigned the call. There are websites dedicated to hams looking for a short callsign giving them exact dates to apply.
Picking your callsign
Applying for a vanity callsign itself is quite simple but choosing what call sign you want will be the challenge. It’s suggested that you come up with a few (up to 10 calls) that you want in order of importance.
The FCC will not tell you if a callsign is available or not. All the FCC will do is either accept or reject each requested callsign the application. It is up to you to make sure that what you are applying for is available and not restricted by prefix, suffix or license class.
You can simply visit the FCC’s ULS website, search for the callsigns that you would look and it will tell you if there as active license. However, that can be very time consuming and confusing. There are websites with tools that can help you narrow down your choices to available callsigns
Http://www.ae7q.com – This site is normally used for extra class hams but there are tools that can be taken advantage of by techs and generals.
http://www.radioqth.net/vanity/available – This webpage has an excellent resource with a search engine. Make sure their database is updated (They display when it was last updated). Simply select the format you want, prefix, district and start typing the suffix you want. If nothing shows up, you might want to change the prefix to a different letter. If it returns callsigns that say “immediately available” in green, you can apply for those callsigns.
It’s suggested that you pick up to 10 callsigns that you will be satisfied with in order of importance with the first choice being the most important. When you are applying, the FCC will go down the list in order and will assign that the first available call that is not restricted to you. You can submit an application with just one or two choices. It’s up to you.
Once you have your choice(s), you can now apply. All you need is your FRN number and password to the FCC’s ULS. Don’t worry, if you don’t have a password, you can obtain one through the FCC’s website.
First step is to go to the FCC’s ULS webpage and select “Login” next to “Online Filing”
On the next screen you will need to type your FRN and password. If you have never created an account with the FCC, you do not have a password. You will need to click “Contact Tech Support” and you will need to set a “Personal Security Question” (PSQ) in order to obtain a password. You will need your FRN and SSN.
Once you have logged in. You will see your callsign(s) on the main page. Select the callsign you want to change. You might have multiple callsigns if you have a GMRS, LMRS or expired licenses.
On the next page, selected “Request Vanity License” on the far right menu
Next page will ask if you are exempt from fees. Normally you would select “NO” and click the continue button
You will prompted to make a choice. Normally you would select “Primary Station Preference List”. The other two choices have to deal with obtaining a callsign that has been canceled and in the two year waiting period. This allows family members to obtain the callsign of a deceased relative. Third option are for hams that did not renew their license and it’s still in the 2yr grace period.
This is where you put the callsigns you would like in order of importance. You have up to 25 choices. However, if you did your homework, you shouldn’t have to put down that many choices. Press continue when finshed
You will be asked to check your license information. This is the chance to update it as well. Press continue when finished
Next you will be asked if you were convicted of any felonies. If you select yes, you will need to submit information to the FCC in order to process your vanity application.
Next page is a summary to make sure everything is correct
If everything looks correct, click “Continue To Certify” and your application will be submitted to the FCC.
When Will I Get My Call?
Usually around 18-23 days from submission unless there are federal holidays or govt shutdown. Vanity applications are processed on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Use your FRN to search the ULS to make sure your callsign shows up.