How to Pick Your Own Ham Radio Call Sign

You can pick your own ham radio call sign (within certain limits, of course). If you’re the sort of person who likes having a license plate that says IMABOZO or UTURKEY, you’ll enjoy creating a so-called vanity call sign.

Short call signs and ones that seem to spell words are highly sought. Many hams enjoy having calls made up of their initials. Whatever your preference, you’ll likely find a vanity call sign that works for you.

Come up with at least two candidate call signs before you file an application. That way, if your first choice is unavailable, you still have options.

How to search for available ham radio call signs

You can find available call signs by using the FCC’s ULS search function, but that system can be quite cumbersome because it’s designed to return information on only one call sign at a time. WM7D call-sign database offers a good search function that allows wildcard characters, which speeds your search for that perfect call sign.

How to find ham radio call signs available to you

Depending on your license class, you can select any available call sign in the groups listed below. (Note: No new Novice and Advanced licenses are being issued.)

Call signs are referred to as 2-by-3 (2x3) or 1-by-2 (1x2), meaning the number of letters in the prefix (first) and the suffix (second). KDØPES is a 2 (KD) by 3 (PES) call, for example, and NØAX is a 1 (N) by 2 (AX) call.

The FCC assigns certain types of call signs to the various license classes, with the higher-class licensees having access to the shorter and presumably more attractive calls.

Here are explanations of the structure of call signs, broken down by license class:

License Class Types of Available Call Signs
Technician and General 2x3, with a prefix of KA–KG, KI–KK, KM–KO, or KR–KZ and a suffix of any three letters
1x3, with a prefix of K, N, or W and a suffix of any three letters
Amateur Extra 2x3, with a prefix of KA–KG, KI–KK, KM–KO, or KR–KZ and a suffix of any three letters
2x1, with a prefix beginning with A, K, N, or W and a suffix of any letter
1x2, with a prefix of K, N, or W and a suffix of any two letters
1x3, with a prefix of K, N, or W and a suffix of any three letters
Novice 2x3, with a prefix of KA–KG, KI–KK, KM–KO, or KR–KZ and a suffix of any three letters
Advanced 2x2, with a prefix of K or W and a suffix of any three letters

Note: This doesn’t cover call signs in Alaska, Hawaii, or the various U.S. possessions in the Caribbean and Pacific. Special rules apply to those locations.

Occasionally, you hear a call sign consisting of one letter, one numeral, and one number. Call signs of this type — called 1-by-1 (1x1) call signs — are granted on a temporary basis to U.S. hams for expeditions, conventions, public events, and other noteworthy activities. The special call-sign program is administered by several VEC organizations for the FCC. For more information, visit ARRL Special Event Call Signs.

How to apply for a vanity call sign

When you’ve narrowed down your list of candidate vanity call signs, follow these steps to file your application:

  1. Go to ARRL Vanity Call Signs.

  2. List one or more call signs that you like.

    All the call signs must be unassigned and available (which is why you need to search the vanity call websites first).

  3. Fill out the rest of the application.

  4. Pay the $15 fee (as of December 2012) by credit card or check.

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