HAM Radio 101

Ham Radio 101: What is a Call Sign?

For today’s Word of the Day, we go back to the basics. What is a call sign?

After passing your Amateur Radio licensing exam (in the U.S), the FCC will issue you a unique series of letters and numbers known as your call sign, or more familiarly, “your call.” It’s how you will identify yourself on the air and when making eyeball QSOs at a Hamfest or Amateur Radio Club meeting, where you’ll hear Hams frequently introduce themselves simply by first name and call sign (Teri, K8MNJ, Dave, N8NB, etc.).

For new amateurs, receiving your call sign means you now have all the operating privileges afforded to you by your licensing class. It also means you’ve joined a community of more than 750,000 Hams in the U.S. with active FCC licenses, and millions more worldwide. Next time you’re on the road and see a license plate with what appears to be a random arrangement of numbers and letters, there’s a fair chance it’s a call sign. (Note: Also look for other telltale indicators, like an “I Heart Ham Radio” bumper sticker or mobile radio antenna.)

If you’re not content to have the FCC choose your call, you can apply for a custom call sign that can give your on-air presence a more personal or clever touch (e.g., DX Engineering customer/technical support specialist Mark, W8BBQ). Read more about vanity call signs here.

Have a special call sign you’d like to share? Tell us how you came up with it and why it’s important to you.


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