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Choosing Your Ideal Vanity Call Sign

Created by Anthony A. Luscre, K8ZT on 2019-11-26
Choosing Your Ideal Vanity Call Sign

by Anthony A. Luscre (K8ZT)

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 gives you most of the things you know concerning rules, procedures and FCC information.

  • AE7Q's website at provides you with a number of "tools" to find what callsigns are available and assist you in the selection process.

  • Radio QTH at provides you with a number of "tools" to find what callsigns are available and assist you in the selection process.

  • HamData at 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):

  1. 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.).

  2. 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.)

  3. 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

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".

 2017 Copyright All rights reserved Anthony A. Luscre (for reuse please contact email contact information-- or
Re: Choosing Your Ideal Vanity Call Sign
I wrote an article titled "How I Chose My Vanity Callsign" which shows the methodology that I used. It has been well-received by hams around the country.
Reply to a comment by : KC0W on 2019-11-27

Back when I was shopping for a 2x1 or 1x2 vanity call there were hundreds (thousands?) available. After the CW requirement was dropped 2x1 & 1x2 callsigns went flying out the door............These days you will be in competition with 30+ people who are all applying for the same callsign. How times have changed. Tom KH0/KC0W
Choosing Your Ideal Vanity Call Sign
What makes an "ideal call sign"?
1. Personalized...Nope N8RA, K8RA, etc were being used
2. Cute...No I'm not, so why should my call :~)
3. Optimized Character...There you go. In fact back in the late 90's someone
devised a program, for a Commodore 64 to help choose a call with the least
amount of bits and bytes.

Well at the time, November 1999 my call was WA8RXI.
I plugged in a few calls e.g. K8RA, N8RA, WA8XI, N8XI, etc.
N8XI won the contest!!
Once I got my new Call, I started telling everyone...
Hey I'm a CW operator, less wear and tear on the fingers, wrist...
Oh, BTW in my opinion one of the worst calls to have as a CW OP is
one that has a K as the last letter in the suffix. Just my observation.
And some of the QRP guys started obtaining Vanity calls like... K3ESE, N5ESE, etc.
Your ExCel Spreadsheet works great

Calls to Compare # Char # El CW Wt. Visual Appearance Letter Clarity Phon Clarity CW Emph SSB Emph CW
Rhythm Total Average
Auto Calculated Please enter your rating on 1 (best) to 10 (worst) for each.
See "Notes" page for descriptions for items. Auto Calculated (Lowest is Best)
K8ZT 4 5.2 5.4 5 6 6 3 3 3 40.6 4.51
WX0XXX 6 9.6 11 1 1 1 6 3 6 44.4 4.93
KF6BQF 6 9.6 9.6 10 7 6 8 5 8 69.2 7.69
N8EV 4 4.8 4 5 3 2 7 5 5 39.8 4.42
wa8rxi 6 7.6 7 20.6 6.87
k8ra 4 5.2 5 14.2 4.73
n8ra 4 4.8 4.4 13.2 4.40
n8xi 4 5.2 4.6 13.8 4.60
wa8xi 5 6.4 6 17.4 5.80
Choosing Your Ideal Vanity Call Sign
My last try at getting a closer call sign resulted in 17 other
extra class operators with the same idea!
Looking back (a long way back) I really believe I should have kept my original "N" call sign when I upgraded to Advanced.
Choosing Your Ideal Vanity Call Sign
A couple buddies and I formed a club to do events (FD) and contests. At first we used our sequentially assigned call KC9CCQ (Chunky Chili Queen!) -- which was fun on SSB but murder on CW (don't get me started when we were /0). Then somehow we let that expire and faced with our new call KD9KOA (Kampgrounds of America!), I decided we should have some vanity fun. So contrary to the article, I picked the most god-awful call. A tongue-twister on SSB (you really need to focus) and SO bad on CW. But it generally brings a laugh once it registers on the other side of the QSO. We are The Pretty Good Ham Club, WO0GIE Yeah, not kidding :-)
Choosing Your Ideal Vanity Call Sign
Back when I was shopping for a 2x1 or 1x2 vanity call there were hundreds (thousands?) available. After the CW requirement was dropped 2x1 & 1x2 callsigns went flying out the door............These days you will be in competition with 30+ people who are all applying for the same callsign. How times have changed.

Tom KH0/KC0W