Choosing Your Ideal Vanity Call Sign
by Anthony A. Luscre (K8ZT)
UPDATE (March 2021): I have put together a slideshow for QSOToday Expo on this topic. View it here http://tiny.cc/qte-call
You have decided to change your call sign. Maybe you just upgraded your license, moved to a new call area or decided you want a shorter call. Maybe you want something easier to use in contests, a call that is easier for your friends to remember or just plain don't like the way your call "sounds" or "looks".
Hams treat call signs with a special reverence, attaching a whole personality to a short sequence of numbers and letters, so changing your call can be an intimidating event. No matter the reason, this article can help you choose your "ideal" vanity call sign.
First, before we get started on choosing your call sign, a little "how-to" information.There are some great sites that will give you all the information you need to know to be successful in applying for and obtaining your selected call sign:
The ARRL site at www.arrl.org/vanity-call-signs gives you most of the things you know concerning rules, procedures and FCC information.
AE7Q’s website at www.ae7q.com/query provides you with a number of “tools” to find what callsigns are available and assist you in the selection process.
Radio QTH at www.radioqth.net/vanity provides you with a number of “tools” to find what callsigns are available and assist you in the selection process.
HamData at www.hamdata.com has up-to-day FCC information.
What makes an "ideal call sign"? First of all, there is no universal "ideal call sign". Everyone's choice will be personal for them and limited by the group of call signs available to them based on their license class, geographic location, previously issued call signs, etc. Your first step should be to check for available and soon to be available call signs from sites above.
Selection of your "ideal call sign" can first be divided into 3 categories based on your reason for wanting a new call. I have divided these into Personalized, Cute and Optimized Characters (some callsigns incorporate more than one):
Personalized call sign choices can include initials, name, location, nickname, club name, etc. Selection of these is usually pretty easy, simply browse through available call signs to see if one matching your choice is available. In order to increase your chances of finding something that matches do not forget to check all combinations, not just suffixes (e.g., K3JIM, KJ3IM, WQ5RP, etc.).
Cute choices can include a wide variety calls that are visually (W0XX), phonetically (K4BFT - "big fat turkey"), initially (K4FBI, W6USN), acronyms (K2LED), spell words or abbreviations (K8PIE, K4YL, K7OM). Often the numbers 1 and 0 visual similarity to i and o are used to "spell" cute combinations (K1TE, K0RN, etc.)
Optimized Character (OC) call sign choices are based on selecting a set and sequence of letters and numbers that benefit the call holder with one or more advantages including easier to send, easier to receive, fewer errors by the receiver, quicker exchanges, etc. OC calls can be the most challenging to select as criteria can be very subjective and personal. I stewed for a long time on selecting my new OC call sign. I finally made up a spreadsheet and ranked all the potential calls on a number of criteria categories then ranked their scores. The criteria used was collected from a number of sources including articles by experienced contesters and DXers, phonetics studies, psychology and learning studies, graphic arts and marketing studies, personal experience and subjective input from fellow hams.
Optimized Character Criteria Considered Included:
Number of characters- total letters and number(s)
Number of CW elements- total dits & dahs
Total length of weighted characters- the total number of dits x 1 plus the total number of dahs x 3.
Visual appearance- (how will it look on a QSL card or Vehicle License plates)
Letter clarity- how clear are sound of letters on voice contacts without phonetics (b, d, e, t and other sound-alikes) are bad; r, x, o, etc. have their own very unique sounds and are easier to distinguish)
Phonetic clarity- how the call sounds in phonetics and how easy and clear each phonetic is to pronounce
Emphasis letters for DX pile ups both in CW and SSB (hard consonants sound best at end of call in SSB and ending on a dah is preferable in CW but some letters such as "K" can be confused as prosign or abbreviation of part of contact instead of the last letter of call sign)
How the rhythm sounds in CW (I put calls into my keyer's memory and "played them back" at various speeds to listen to them or you can use any of the online code generating sites on my Morse Code web page at www.k8zt.com/morse)
I have developed a spreadsheet, “Compare Your Callsign Choices”, that makes these comparisons easier. It is free and you can choose from different formats:
As an online Google Sheet- open the link, go to File Menu and choose “Make a copy”. Then use the copy to enter your information.
A downloadable Excel or OpenOffice compatible file (you will need to install one of the programs to open this)- open the link, go to File Menu and choose “Download as” and choose the file type.
Other criteria you could use might include difficulty in sending a letter in CW, letters difficult in certain foreign languages, similarity to "well known" call signs, etc.. I rated my selected calls on 1(best) to 10 basis for each category (either subjectively or by numerical value depending on criteria) then found average score for each call. Well, this may sound obsessive (and my wife told me it definitely was!), but I had my old call for 19 years, used it many thousands of times and hope I do not need to change my call again soon.
After you have selected and ranked your call sign selections, you need to complete your FCC Vanity Application. For invaluable help with this process, please refer to the three URLs presented near the beginning of this article. Then the wait begins as you hope the FCC grants you one of your top choices. Fortunately, the process usually takes less than one month. I hope to hear you on the air soon with your "ideal call sign".