Significance of N, K, W in call sign?

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N2MRG

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With my vanity license plate, I've been asked what N means. I don't know the answer to this.

What do the prefix in call signs mean?
 

ladn

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The N, K, W (and A) are callsign prefixes assigned to the United States by the ITU. The FCC assigns callsigns in blocks. As I recall, the "W" block is the oldest (but since the FCC recycles callsigns and offers vanity calls, it's possible somebody with a "W" call may be a newer licensee).

Here's a link to the ITU callsign series: Table of International Call Sign Series (Appendix 42 to the RR)
 

LtDoc

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The old method of issuing call signs had a 'rhyme/reason' for the prefix, number, and suffix. The new method of call signs has no particular reasoning at all. Very basically, when they ran out of K's and W's they started using N's.
If someone asked the significance of that 'N', just tell them it means 'nothing'... or 'nasty'?
- 'Doc
 

CommJunkie

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I think what he means is does it stand for something. The answer is no. It's just an identifier that means you are from North America.
 

KC0KM

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I always thought it stood for November. Come to think about it I have never given any thought about the prefix anyway. I also never thought that they stood for anything, except identifying what the country is. I go lucky with my vanity, because I wanted a "KC" because I am from Kansas City, so in my case mine "stands for" Kansas City.
 

902

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One more - the US has the ability to allot AA - AL prefixes. You'll see some of these as DoD callsigns, and some as amateur callsigns, usually assigned to Extras.

Yes, there was rhyme and reason to the original assignment. If you called Gettysburg and asked the current people working there for historic reference, they would not be able to tell you, nor might they even care. The number indicated where you were (or more appropriately, which FCC field office you took your test at), when you moved, you needed to change your callsign, although back then you could have had a second callsign for your vacation house elsewhere.

The prefix was a rough indicator of either where you were (H for Hawaii, L for Alaska, P for Puerto Rico) or what you were (N for Novice). When one upgraded, the N was either dropped or changed to an A or B. There were other calls. A "WR" prefix was a repeater callsign throughout the early to mid 70s. A "WC" prefix was a Civil Defense club station, where the trustee could have simply had a "Push to Talk License" (a Restricted Radio Telephone Operator's Permit) at one time. Those have been gone for a very long time. In the transition between manually issuing callsigns through cards in a file cabinet (more or less) to a computer records system, the FCC also issued WDxAyy callsigns, circa 1976. To my recollection, this never progressed beyond 676 licensees in any particular number district, and I don't recall any WDxByy callsigns ever issued sequentially. A N and KA callsigns appeared in 1978 around the same time WR and WD callsigns disappeared. The arrangement used to tell you what class a station was - for example, someone coming in as a Novice got a 2x3, a Technician or General a 1x3, an Advanced a 2x2 starting with the letter K, an Extra a 1x2 or 2x1 (or a 2x2 starting with the letter A).

That's changed as rules changed. No more secondary callsigns, although there are some people who hoard club callsigns. People also license up with vanity callsigns for WX, WC, WD, or other unique prefixes that no longer have the significance they had 50 years ago. Some of the "pools" have dried up. When that happened, the default went down to the next lower grouping. People don't have to change their calls anymore when they move. So, for example, I am a 2x3 and never changed calls when I upgraded to General, Advanced, and Extra. I have a "2" callsign because I lived near New York City when I was first licensed. I've lived in 3 other numbered districts in the last 36 years and never changed my call (because I rather like it).

BTW, public safety callsigns had categorical significance, too.
 

SCPD

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In a nutshell ...

I think this is what the OP was wondering. The below may not be totally correct, but I believe this is somewhat close to the truth.:

When ham calls first started getting issued, they all started with a W, followed by a number indicating the general area that they indicate now, followed by three more letters. The FCC just started issuing calls, alphanumerically. The first call was W1AAA, then W1AAb, etc (examples are if you were in the 1 call area). You didn't get to choose your call.

After they issued, W1ZZZ, they issued K1AAA, K1AAB, etc.

After they issued K1ZZZ, they started on KA1AAA, etc.

Somewhere in this mix, two things happened:

The tech license was created, people could skip the code, and got the first N calls.
So you knew that an N call was a tech.

The second thing, I believe it was in 77, an extra could get a 1X2 call. I believe this was the first time you could choose your letters and numbers. And the number was not geographically limited. I'm not sure if 2X1 calls came out at this time also, or if they were later.

Now, you can choose just about any vanity call you want. If you don't make a choice, you get the next call in alphanumeric order for your geographic area.

All of the above I think is pretty close to the truth.
 

902

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Here's a great article on amateur radio licensing that goes back to the beginning of radio. I thought it was great reading, but I like history and such stuff.

The only other thing that I'd like to interject is that the "N" did stand for Novice during the period where the license had a one year time limit and was not renewable.
 

n5ims

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Here's a great article on amateur radio licensing that goes back to the beginning of radio. I thought it was great reading, but I like history and such stuff.

The only other thing that I'd like to interject is that the "N" did stand for Novice during the period where the license had a one year time limit and was not renewable.
The N for Novice wasn't the initial character but the second character (as in "WNzxxx"). When the novice upgraded, the N was either dropped (way back when they issued Wyxxx calls) or replaced by the letter currently being used for the licenses. For example, if the new Novice was given the call of WN4ABC and the FCC would normally be assigning call signs starting with WA4 for higher class licenses, the novice, when upgrading, would be assigned the call of WA4ABC.
 
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w2xq

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1977 was the end of the Extra Class licensee being able to choose a 1x2 call. Years before, the licensee had to hold the Extra for a number of years. For 12 months prior to mid-1977 and the vanity call startup, Extra licensees with less than the time requirement were, in four stepdown phases, were permitted to apply for a 1x2 call. I was in the last group; simultaneously the FCC released the 'X' suffixes from the experimental service to the amateur radio service. Most people could choose a call from a printed list available for an SASE, BC (before computers).

I had a WN2, then WB2 over 18 months, before taking the last test in Jan 77 in the FCC Philadelphia office. T'was a cold and snowy day that shut down area roads and the city. I took a bus into the city. One other person and I showed up. The FCC examiner was the only employee to come in that day. Had to take the 20 wpm code test first...

HTH a bit.
 
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902

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The N for Novice wasn't the initial character but the second character (as in "WNzxxx"). When the novice upgraded, the N was either dropped (way back when they issued Wyxxx calls) or replaced by the letter currently being used for the licenses. For example, if the new Novice was given the call of WN4ABC and the FCC would normally be assigning call signs starting with WA4 for higher class licenses, the novice, when upgrading, would be assigned the call of WA4ABC.
I didn't even think of the N in a 1x3 when I wrote that. That wasn't until after 1978. I meant it as a follow-on to Wyandotte's post that the N (the second letter in the prefix) was for technician. The N as a prefix in the 1x3 *was* for technicians, but generals, as well - at least while they were available.
 

AgentCOPP1

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W used to be the prefix for all stations east of the Mississippi and K was the prefix for all stations west of it (at least for broadcast). I think ham radio might have followed this convention at some point but obviously we don't anymore. Broadcast stations still do though. Besides that, I don't think they have any inherent meaning besides the fact that the FCC just issues them out in blocks like others have stated.
 

N8IAA

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Somewhere in this mix, two things happened:
The tech license was created, people could skip the code, and got the first N calls.
So you knew that an N call was a tech.
Not so. N calls existed in 1985 when I was first licensed as a Novice. I had a KA prefix. January of 1986, I took the Tech/General written test and became a Tech. No code Techs followed a year or so later. I could have changed to a N call in 86, but didn't like the suffixes. Waited a year and got N8IAA.
Was grandfathered to General when they eliminated the 13wpm requirement.
Lots of extras and general class licensees had N calls in the mid 80's.
Larry
 

N8IAA

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Ah.. kdka kqv etc. are east of Mississippi.....
You are confusing commercial broadcast call signs with amateur radio call signs. East of the Mississippi begin with a W. West of the Mississippi, K.
Nothing to do with ham radio call signs.
Larry
 

W9BU

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January of 1986, I took the Tech/General written test and became a Tech. No code Techs followed a year or so later.
Codeless technician licenses started being issued in February/March 1991. I was among the first. I called a VE team leader in January 1991 to see if he would let me just take the Technician written test and he declined. I had to wait until February to sit for the test. I was originally issued N9KRS in March 1991.
 
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