Monday, January 8, 2018

My HAM Saga - Part 2 - Vanity Calls

In my first post about my saga of getting my HAM license, I covered my journey to a Technician, General and then Extra Class Amateur Radio operator's license.

In this post I'll cover my quest for a "Vanity Call" sign which was more memorable than the automatically assigned 2x3 signs I received after passing my General and Extra exams.

Before I launched my quest for my own vanity call sign, I had to bone up on all the vagaries of call sign formats, rules, district nos, exceptions, exclusions, and rights by license class.  In short, Extra Class gets access to all formats, including the shortest while Techs get the longest formats.

Call Sign Basics

Call sign formats are broken into 4 groups which all have the basic syntax of:
   {Prefix} {District No} {Suffix}
  Prefix is 1-2 letters
  District No is a single digit, 0-9
  Suffix is 1-3 letters

Variations of this basic syntax are notated by the number of  prefix and suffix letters.
E.g., valid formats are 1x2, 2x1, 2x2, 1x3 and 2x3.

The district numbers are initially* designated as follows:

0CO, IA, KS, MN, NE, MO, ND and SD 5AR, LA, MS, NM, OK and TX
1CT, ME, MA, NH, RI and VT 6CA
2NJ and NY 7AZ, ID, MT, NV, OR, UT, WA and WY
3DE, DC, MD and PA 8MI, OH and WV
4AL, FL, GA, KY, NC, SC, TN and VA 9IL, IN and WI
* "initially" because the FCC allows vanity call with any district, not just your own.

See the map below for a more visual depiction (from Common.Wikimedia) which also shows some of the territorial exceptions for the Pacific, Alaska, Caribbean.
Related image

Call Sign Groups

These 4 call sign format groups and their eligible classes are defined below.
Nb. All formats have reserved or territorial exceptions.

Group Classes Comments
A Extra 1x2 and 2x1 formats (all taken long ago so rarely available)
B Advanced-Extra 2x2 with exceptions (tricky to get)
All new Extra Class licenses are auto-assigned from this group.
C Tech-Extra 1x3 with exceptions (easier to get)
D All Classes 2x3 with exceptions. Has most combinations so it's easiest to get.
All new Tech-General licenses are auto-assigned from this group.

Nb. You can now request any district number even though they are meant to readily identify your transmitter location.  However, with HAMs often relocating in their lifetime, they frequently end up in districts other than the one where they were when they were assigned their call sign.  Beside offering personal choice, this helps to distribute call sign availability, alleviating shortages when one district may have many calls available and others have few or none. 

There are 1x1 call signs but they are reserved for very special events, emergencies, and relief groups in times of disaster and, even then, usually only for fixed periods of time. They are never available to individuals or private clubs.

Quagmire of Quirks

However, signs within the above available groups are further subject to many special exceptions and exclusions such as reserved starting letters, transmitter location restrictions, reserved ending letters, reserved letter combinations like "SOS", and more.  The HAM web site,, spells out many of the quirks they gathered from many pages of FCC fine print.  But, I have yet to find a site that validates call sign requests against all of the rules.  Many site will look up your desired sign, just as well as you can on the site pages.  You can get a query response from any of these sites saying "no record available" or "call is available" when, in fact, the call is invalid.

Territorial Call Regions

In addition to call sign districts 0-9 noted above, US call signs are further subject to rules based on the following four US territorial regions:
  - Atlantic Islands & Territories
  - Continental US
  - Alaska
  - Pacific Islands and Territories

These regions affect the call prefixes.  E.g. Certain prefixes can only be used for transmitters in  Alaska.  Other regional rules are special cases.  E.g., US military and personnel in Korea can apply for an HL9 prefix.  Strangely, non-US citizens can apply for a special US-Korean call sign there.  Like I said ... many quirks!

Learn The Exceptions

It took me a week or two but I created my own spreadsheet with a custom Regular Expression function to verify the applicability of call signs I wanted against a list of all the rules I could find. 
I then made a list of seemingly available calls I was interested in, entered them into the spreadsheet, entered my regional US location (Alaska, Pacific, CUS, or Atlantic), and it would apply a series of regular expression matches to validate the calls against the exceptions and let me know if the call was "probably" valid.  With so many exception, you can never be 100% certain.

So, simply searching for and finding an unregistered for a call sign within one of the groups above you are eligible for won't guarantee work you can have that call sign, let alone win it in a lottery.  It takes research into the rules, patience, and careful timing of your submission request.


I mentioned timing. This has to do with how vanity calls are issued.  The request process runs 18 days, start to finish.  All those who applied for your desired call sign on the same day as you are placed into a pool for that day. At the end of the process period, the winning application is randomly chosen in a lottery from that day's pool of requests.  However, things are trickier than that.  If you apply for an available call when you found it, all those who applied for that call on any previous days it was available are also grouped into their own 1-day lottery groups ahead of your 1-day pool.

So, if you submitted on the 5th day a call was available, you'd literally have to have the previous applicants of the 1st 4 lottery pools all to fail and then you'd still have to win the 5th day's lottery.  This is nothing like Power Ball where chances of winning are of 1 in 10 trillion.  Your chances in the vanity lotteries are more like 1 in 3, 1 in 15, 1 in 2, etc. Bottom line: If you're after a desirous call and you are not in the 1st day's pool of applicants, your chances of winning near zero!

When to Apply

Knowing the process takes exactly 18 days before the FCC processes your request, a conclusion many might draw would be to submit their request 17-18 days before the call sign is available so that you are hopefully in the 1st pool on that actual processing day.

Well, it turns out that would guarantee failure.  You see, another tidbit that helped make my 2nd attempt a success was some fine print buried deep within the FCC site stating that any submissions for a call that was not yet available on the day of your submission would be invalidated.  E.g., after perusing the various sites that fetch FCC information for you, you will often see the exact date that an expiring call will available for re-assignment.  If it's now the 1st and the call is available on the 18th, you might want to submit on the 1st or 2nd with the hope of landing in 1st day pool seeking that call on the 18th.  Forget it. The FCC mandates that the call had to be available on the day of your submission, not 18 days later when they do the actual pool processing.  

Although the submission/available date rule may seem to makes things yet more complicated, it actually does the opposite.  To wit: You need no longer worry about timing.  In other words, if you see a call is available on the 1st, you apply on the 1st and you will be guaranteed to be in the 1st day's pool.  Even so, for any call that is attractive, easy to remember or simply cool, there will be many applicants in tha same 1st day pool so lottery luck still remains a huge factor.

My Vanity Request(s)

Within a week of passing the Technician and General tests, I received my General license and call sign from the FCC by email.  The 2x3 call sign (2 letter, number, 3 letters) I was assigned was obtuse and hard to remember so, for the Extra exam, I requested the next available call sign for my Extra test.  Within 6 days after the Extra test, I had my new license and 2nd call sign which was a 2x2 and a bit more visually memorable but still not something I could relate to.

The first attempt ...
Having run all the gauntlets to earn my Amateur Extra Class license, I thought I should at least try to request a "vanity" call sign of my own choosing by providing a list of 1x2, 2x1, 2x2, and 1x3 calls that were available to Amateur Extras  and "seemingly" available.  My 1st pick was a 1x2 with only 5 phonetic syllables followed by another 4 of 2x1 and 2x2 formats with 6 phonetic syllables and some 1x3 calls with my initials.  By brother also got the bug and submitted his own request the same day.

You are allowed to request up to 20 call signs which are processed in the order of entry so be sure to put your most desired 1st.  However, you do NOT was to end up with a call you do not really want so don't go crazy and feel obligated to request all 20 calls.  It's better to enter a few calls that you would be *very* happy with.  There no longer is a fee for a vanity request so take your time and reapply as often as you wish. If you don't find that perfect call, you can try again in 18 days.  If you submit a 2nd request before 18 days, you may give up a 1st best choice if your 2nd batch scores a hit.

Well, 18 days passed after my 1st submission.  My brother and I both received the worst-worded rejection only a government agency could compose.  It read something like "your submission was rejected due to malformation of data".  Huh?  I reviewed our applications and all seemed in perfect order.  I can only guess it was because we applied before the date some were available, calls were won by others, or the entire request was invalided by an error with one call. Clear as mud!

If at first you don't succeed ...
So, I returned to the drawing and commenced a deeper dive into the vagaries of vanity calls on various amateur radio internet sites catering to such things. That's when I unearthed the rules noted at the beginning of this post. 

An important thing I discovered was that all applications are public record and listed on the FCC Universal Licensing System.  So, for my 2nd attempt, I downloaded a successful application, waited for the exact day of availability of a particular call sign, included a few more calls that had no previous registrations yet and passed my spreadsheet test, and verified my final application draft against the successful one.  Only then did I hit submit.While waiting I reviewed this second submission against my first and I could not find any differences in its construction.

After another 18 days, I logged into the page.  Eureka!  I was welcomed as having a one of the call signs in my vanity license submission for which there was no previous record and I found little chance of getting.  My 1st choices were 2 variations of my initials, a palindrome of my name and my authoring moniker, and a few other cool calls.  The one I thought least possible was the palindrome of the initials, "TK", of my name, Thomas Kashuba,  "1" for my New England region, and "KT" for my enterprise, "KT Anthony Research". 

So, I am now the proud owner of KT1TK which is a palindrome (a word that is spelled the same forward and backward) and represents a few things of importance to me!

My World for an Antenna!

For my next posting effort, I'll try to cover the challenges and disasters trying to get on the air with my first minimal antenna.  Oh, boy! Let the nightmares begin!

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