So you just passed the Tech license exam and your new call sign just appeared on the FCC ULS database. Congratulations!
Let’s say you were assigned KG5ZXY, but that’s both hard to remember and hard to pronounce phonetically. Or maybe you’ve been licensed for years but just don’t like the call sign you have.
Either way you would really like something different; maybe a catchy one or a call that has your initials or something shorter or easier to remember. Don’t despair! You can request a specific call sign if it is available, termed a vanity call.
Vanity call signs typically include alphabetical characters of personal significance (e.g., licensees initials, parts of names, hobbies, etc), or sometimes are simply chosen because they are shorter calls, or sometimes they have double or triple duplicate characters (e.g., W1WWW).
Note: this information is valid for USA hams. Many other countries have vanity call programs but the details and rules will be different.
Now there are limitations to call signs, of course. This is a good time to review our call sign variations topic where you can learn about valid prefixes, suffixes, formats, and quantity of characters.
It goes without saying that you cannot request a call that is already issued (for two years after expiration or death, in fact), so a call sign must be available for starters.
Then there is the issue of privilege. Here’s where the Extra class license gets top priority because they can choose any vacant, valid US call sign; 1×3 and 2×3 formats, and, more typically, the prized 1×2, 2×1 or 2×2 (beginning with letter A), for which there is fierce competition.
Advanced class licensees (legacy; no longer issued) can seek a 2×2 or 1×3 call sign (beginning with prefix N, K or W), or a 2×3 call sign (beginning with prefix letter K or W).
General or Technician class licensees can seek a 1×3 call sign (beginning with prefix N, K or W), or 2×3 call sign (beginning with prefix letter K or W). Few 1×3 N calls are available.
Note that you do not need to keep your regional number with a vanity call; any number from 0-9 may be selected. This greatly expands the pool of available calls just by changing the number. There are also some call signs blocked off from vanity assignment (see list below).
Most new Tech or General hams with 2×3 calls are likely to go for a more tidy 1×3, but if a particular 2×3 spells out something fun, memorable, or personal, go for it!
Application for a vanity call can be done directly with the FCC through their ULS website. You have to be logged in with your FRN number and password and then follow links that will be shown once you look at your own license. There is still a snail mail option by submitting FCC Form 605, Main Form and Schedule D via post.
At the time of this writing there is no fee for requesting a new assigned or vanity call sign. FCC processing take at least 18 days (patience required). Once the FCC assigns a new call your old one is invalid until reassigned.
Navigating the FCC ULS site may be easy for most but it is a bit cryptic plus it requires a compatible web browser and Java. For this reason some hams prefer to have a third party do the work for them. The ARRL and W5YI offer processing of vanity call applications for less than $30.
From the FCC vanity call FAQ: The following call signs are not available for assignment:
- KA2AA-KA9ZZ, KC4AAA-KC4AAF, KC4USA-KC4USZ, KG4AA-KG4ZZ, KC6AA-KC6ZZ, KL9KAA- KL9KHZ, KX6AA-KX6ZZ;
- Any call sign having the letters SOS or QRA-QUZ as the suffix;
- Any call sign having the letters AM-AZ as the prefix (these prefixes are assigned to other countries by the ITU);
- Any 2-by-3 format call sign having the letter X as the first letter of the suffix;
- Any 2-by-3 format call sign having the letters AF, KF, NF, or WF as the prefix and the letters EMA as the suffix (U.S Government FEMA stations);
- Any 2-by-3 format call sign having the letters AA-AL as the prefix;
- Any 2-by-3 format call sign having the letters NA-NZ as the prefix;
- Any 2-by-3 format call sign having the letters WC, WK, WM, WR, or WT as the prefix (Group X call signs);
- Any 2-by-3 format call sign having the letters KP, NP or WP as the prefix and the numeral 0, 6, 7, 8 or 9;
- Any 2-by-2 format call sign having the letters KP, NP or WP as the prefix and the numeral 0, 6, 7, 8 or 9;
- Any 2-by-1 format call sign having the letters KP, NP or WP as the prefix and the numeral 0, 6, 7, 8 or 9;
- Call signs having the single letter prefix (K, N or W), a single digit numeral 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and a single letter suffix are reserved for the special event call sign system.
If you are seriously considering getting a vanity call sign, we strongly encourage you to read through all the detail presented below (helpful hints in particular) to know what’s involved and how to go about it. Note that the FCC changed many of their web pages recently so some of the hyperlinks may no longer work well. Also be advised that the VanityHQ site/service referenced in some links was shuttered several years back; no longer an option or resource.
Below are hyperlinks to good info on vanity call signs