Callsign options for Foundation Licencees

Background

Foundation licencees (FL) were granted digital modes by ACMA in September 2019.  However, the four-letter suffix callsigns used by FL are not fully compatible with many popular radio data programs, such as FT8 and APRS. 

FL need a callsign with a three-letter suffix to fully utilise their new privileges. 

RASA-WIA discussions

There are only two realistic options – removing the connection between suffix and licence grade or a new prefix such as VJ for FLs.  The Q block (e.g. VK2QAA) can not be used, as it would provide a short-term solution only; there are insufficient callsigns available in the block for the populous states (VK4, 2 and 3).

The RASA and WIA Presidents discussed the callsign issue over numerous telephone calls and emails in October 2019.  The WIA proposal of removing the link between suffix and licence, the so called “callsign for life”, represented a fundamental change, so it was agreed that the views of amateurs should be sought via a survey. 

RASA’s position has always been that we would be guided by the outcome of our survey.  If the survey was in favour of the WIA proposal, we would support it.

The pros and cons of each option were detailed in the introductory text to the RASA survey – this is reproduced below.

Options – introductory text to RASA survey

Option 1 – Remove the connection between callsign suffix and licence class

Removing the connection between callsign suffix and licence class would mean that any licencee could apply for any suffix, although 2 letter suffix callsigns would continue to be reserved for Advanced class licencees. 

Advantages: 

  • Most efficient use of the existing callsign block

Disadvantages: 

  • Licence class can not be determined by callsign.  ACMA online database must be consulted.

Option 2 – Allocate a new prefix, such as VJ

The block would be used for FL only, and would be limited to 3 letter suffixes.  The normal State/Territory numeric designator would apply.  Once the block is operational, no further VK four letter suffix callsigns would be issued.  All existing FL callsigns would eventually be converted to the new block after a one or two year sunset period.

Advantages:

  • Allows for significant growth. 
  • New prefix stimulates activity, particularly on HF.  Foundation stations would become sought after by DX stations.
  • Existing FL who wish to convert their four letter callsigns to the new block simply drop the F prefix – i.e. VK2FABC becomes VJ2ABC

Disadvantages:

  • Callsigns in the new block could not use the AX or VI prefix to commemorate days of national significance, such as Australia and ANZAC Day, because of clashes with existing VK callsigns.

Survey results

The outcome of the survey was that a majority preferred Option 2 – the VJ prefix. 

A detailed breakdown of the survey results may be found here:  http://vkradioamateurs.org/fl-callsign-survey-results/

The current situation

After significant delay, the WIA have embarked upon their own “opt in” survey – effectively ignoring those of you who voted in the RASA survey.

Would the WIA have accepted the outcome of the supposedly “flawed RASA survey” if it was in favour of their option?  Of course they would have…

The WIA have always wanted their own option to go ahead – it appears that they don’t care what you think, as evidenced by their partisan background survey document circulated recently.  They want you to vote as they dictate

The RASA survey simply outlined the options and their relative pros and cons – without dictating a preferred position. 

Removing the link between callsign suffix and licence class is a significant change for Australian amateur radio.  Multiple suffixes have been in place since the introduction of the Limited Licence (aka the “Z call”) in 1954.

Is removing the link between suffix and licence class justified? 

The majority of respondents to the RASA survey feel that it is not.

We have received considerable feedback on the “callsign for life” option, which can be summarised as follows:

  • if callsigns never change, a person who studies hard for advancement will not be rewarded with a new callsign – friends and fellow club members could not be aware of his/her success….the motivation to upgrade is reduced; and
  • random allocation of 3-letter callsigns creates a new type of elitism, as 2-letter callsign holders retain confirmation of their Advanced status, while the remainder of Advanced operators effectively have their license qualification cast into the ‘Unknown’ category.

A VJ prefix for FLs – the preferred option from the RASA survey – would stimulate HF operation – FLs would be very popular with DX stations. 

ACMA have told RASA that they have no objection to implementing VJ. 

So, FLs could have been enjoying a new, distinctive prefix and all the features of their new modes 3 months ago….if not for WIA obstruction…

It is naive to think that a simple change to callsigns will guarantee inclusive behaviour.  History shows that there was elitism back in the days of a single class of licence.  Sadly, some amateurs will never change their attitude towards those who they believe to be inferior.  This is simply human nature.

The best way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them and, as in this case, call them out for what they are.

If you are voting in the WIA “survey”, use your judgement, evaluate the options and make your own decision.

Think about what is best for the hobby; now and into the future.

It would be apt to end this piece with some lessons in survey methodology from the master, Sir Humphrey Appleby.

73

Glenn VK4DU

President