On a whim, I thought it'd be funny to change my randomly-assigned amateur radio callsign from KC1HBK to W1DNS. Why that? I live in the northeast United States, where W1 is a local prefix. Also, I work in the IT industry, where we have a running joke that
it's always DNS. I decided that getting a one-time chuckle and/or annoyed groan from people was definitely worth the $35 application fee.
This article is geared toward ham radio operators living in the United States. For everyone else, requesting and getting a vanity callsign from your country's licensing authority is left as an exercise to the reader.
First Step: The FCC
If you're applying for a vanity callsign, that means that you already have a valid amateur radio license, and therefore a working relationship with the FCC and an FCC Registration Number. (Go find your FRN if you've forgotten it.)
Next, log into the Universal Licensing System and look for the option Request a vanity callsign.
Now, you will be asked which option you want: a callsign of your own choosing, a previous callsign of yours, or a relative's former callsign. Pick whichever option is best for you. In my case, I wanted to make up something, so I chose the first one, so I provided no more than 25 callsigns that I could potentially be assigned.
Click through the rest of the application, and don't forget to pay the FCC while you're here.
The FCC will take several days to process your application. In my case, I filed the application on , and by Thanksgiving, they had processed it. As soon as they do, there is a ten-day waiting period. On the morning of , I received an email with a link to my new license grant.
Just like when you got your Technician license, you weren't allowed to use your shiny new callsign until it showed up in the ULS. This is no different. Chill out and wait until you see it live. Once you do, immediately start using your new callsign on the air; when your new callsign was formally assigned, your old callsign was automatically revoked.
Now that you've updated your callsign with the FCC, you're probably realizing that you've been using your old callsign in a lot of places. You might have a long contact list. You might have a QRZ page. You might have registered a DMR hotspot, or you might be using apps such as Winlink 2000 or Echolink. This is the part of the process that I'm hoping to unpack and lay out, to save the next vain ham from a little bit of grief.
Notifying the ARRL: Surprisingly Difficult
If you're a member of the American Radio Relay League (and you American hams should be), then you'd be surprised to hear that they have no way to update the callsign that is associated with your membership.
Update: I logged in, and they quietly updated the callsign associated with my membership. I'm not sure when or how, but they figured it out on their own.
If you are a registered VE with ARRL-VEC, luckily, that portion is much easier. Simply email ARRL-VEC and they'll update your record immediately. They will also mail you a new badge with your new callsign. However, you have no need to take a break from proctoring exams. My VEC manager, Maria Somma, AB1FM, let me know that I can still use my old badge and new callsign on paperwork such as VE reports, CSCEs and NCVEC forms.
Get (Back) on DMR: Brandmeister, RadioID, and More
Your DMR ID number will not be changing, thankfully. That being said, you still need to let the network operators know that your callsign has changed.
RadioID.net is your first stop. There is no automated way to do this, but it's easy enough. Log into your account and click on Support. Submit a ticket, and provide your old and new callsigns. While you wait for your RadioID account to be updated, fire up your radio's programming software, and update your callsign in your own radios.
For Brandmeister, I'll save you the hassle of signing up for Jira Service Desk and give you an apple from inside the walled garden: just create a new SelfCare account. To expedite things, be sure to use the same DMR ID and email address.
Once you've gone through all the steps, then you will have a brand-new account. This means you will need to set the hotspot security password again.
Speaking of hotspots, you will need to put your new information into yours, too. I have a Pi-Star MMDVM hotspot, and all I needed to do was update my callsign. Update your Brandmeister hotspot security password if that got changed, too. How you do this will vary depending on your hardware and software.
Now for the bad news. DMR radios have a user-supplied contact list that doesn't update automatically. Your old callsign will show up on every single DMR radio on the planet, until the operator manually updates their contact list. That's just how it goes, sadly. Still, you are expected to identify yourself with your callsign on DMR, just like you have to do in analog modes, so this will only be a minor annoyance. (Speaking of which, when is the last time you updated your contact lists?)
Ah, the VoIP of the amateur radio world. I use the open-source qTel app for my day-to-day Echolink usage. To change your callsign, you will need to make a new account, which means you will need to install the proprietary Windows Echolink client; the official app contains some account management functions that aren't present in the FOSS alternatives. Begrudgingly, I fired up my Windows virtual machine and got the app installed, then I logged in with my former callsign and password. The next step was to click on Tools > Setup, and change my callsign.
Once that's all done, and they've validated your new callsign, go to the Change Callsign page. Supply your old and new callsigns and Echolink passwords.
I'll lead with this: your callsign is your email, ergo you will get a new email address, and forwarding is no longer supported. Let your contacts know.
Just like with Echolink, you're going to create a new account. If you already use Winlink Express like I do (via WINE), then this is easy. Open the app, and add a new callsign. Complete the form and click on Update.
Finally, if you've paid the Amateur Radio Safety Foundation to register Winlink Express, you'll notice the registration nagging is back. Simply email W3QA and let them know that they need to transfer your registration to your new callsign. (Or pay for Winlink Express again. ARSFI could always use the money.)
If you use another app besides Winlink Express, consult its documentation. The article in the Winlink Book of Knowledge contains general instructions.
You'll be glad to hear that all you need to do is wait. They will get a list of license changes from the FCC on the next business day. QRZ will email you and let you know that they've updated your record. No action is needed on your part, though you might want to mention in your bio that you had a former callsign.
All About APRS
If you have any automated scripts (for example, a device or script that uses an aprs-weather-submit command line) or anything else that has your callsign saved, be sure to update them.
As far as the website APRS.fi is concerned, you can simply update your callsign under My Account. If you've used your callsign as your username, though, you'd have to delete your account and create a new one. If you use APRS.fi's API keys, deleting your account means you'll need to replace them all.
Seventy-Three For Now
This was everything I could think of. Naturally, I'm sure I've forgotten a few things, so I will update this article as needed. Changing your callsign should be a once-in-a-lifetime thing (unless you're indecisive). Hopefully, this guide made this task a little bit easier.
- FCC Universal Licensing System
- ARRL-VEC Support
- RadioID.net Support
- EchoLink app
- EchoLink Callsign Change
- Winlink Book of Knowledge: Callsign Change