Callsign Crisis?

Most amateurs care about callsigns.  Our callsign structures are important to us and have a 90-year history.

Last year the ACMA made significant changes to the 3-letter callsign suffix – all licence classes now have access to three letter callsigns.  The only callsign type to retain a specific licence class linkage is the 2-letter and 1 letter suffixes; these are only available to Advanced Ops.

What hasn’t been as widely understood is the impact of removing the 90-year tradition of the callsign number alignment with your state of residence.  (e.g. VK2 = NSW, VK3 = NSW, VK4 = QLD, etc).

ACMA have decided that if you move to a new State/Territory, you can take your existing callsign with you – you don’t need to apply for a new one to match your new QTH.  A VK8 could be in Sydney, a VK7 in Townsville.

 “So what?”, some may ask. 

Well, Australia is a very large country that spans two DX Zones (29 & 30), as well as hosting a number of rare and highly sought after DXCC entities (VK9 and VK0). 

Indeed, VK9 alone offers six unique DXCC entities. (Lord Howe Isl, Norfolk Isl, Willis Isl, Mellish Reef, Christmas Isl and Cocos Keeling)

To many DX stations, even working a VK8 is a rare and sought-after contact.

Of course, callsign numbers are important to DX and Awards chasers.  Imagine an EU or NA station chasing their first Zone 29 contact.  They hear a VK6 calling CQ and spend some time working the pileup to get the VK6 in the log… only to find later that the VK6 operator now lives in Sydney.

The same goes for VK9, VK0 and VK8.

We have VK0 & VK9 callsigns held by clubs/individuals who have never been to VK0 or VK9 and (to the best of our knowledge) have no approved plans to visit these entities. 

Yet they have been able to acquire these callsigns and renew them annually.  They could start using those callsigns in any mainland location tomorrow.

This situation will undermine award systems…  an overseas operator claims a new zone or DXCC entity to find that the VK6 he worked now lives in Sydney or the VK0 is actually in Perth.

Who is responsible – the VK operator?  The Awards administrator?  Or the poor DXer who has just “worked a new one?”

All of this is quite unnecessary, really.

Locally, portable and mobile ops use callsign numbers to establish the direction and indicative distance when they hear a station calling CQ.  This has an impact on how an operator might assess band conditions and adjust their beam headings; especially important for VHF and UHF Dxers. 

Did I just struggle through a six-metre 339 SSB QSO with VK6 in Perth, or was he just 50kms down the road (pointing west) from me here in South Melbourne?

ACMA have made these changes without any sector consultation.  In recent times we have seen very inconsistent policy settings from the regulator.  Some changes, like this one, are applied with no consultation, whilst others are subject to selective consultation with special interest groups only. 

Just recently, ACMA consulted the sector on something as fundamental as the suffixes “PAN” and “SOS”; their question being “should these be on the restricted list or available for general use?”.  A clearly unnecessary question for anyone who understands the International Radio Regulations….

This change to callsign numbers went through with NO community consultation whatsoever; yet it is probably one of the most far-reaching changes we’ve seen in the last 50 years.

The WIA’s “callsign for life” recommendation gave no consideration to callsign numerics.  At the time the focus appeared to be solely on the three-letter suffix only.

RASA conducted a survey on the topic of callsign numerics.  71% of respondents wanted to see the numeral and state/territory linkage retained.

Some of you may say… “well, callsigns no longer matter in NZ or the USA” and that is true.  We don’t live in NZ or the USA, and contrary to what some may think, we’re not (yet) the 51st state.

If we aren’t careful, we could see compete callsign deregulation with the Class Licence rollout, mooted for mid-2023.

Where to next?

We see three options:

Option 1

Reimplement the linkage between callsign numeric and State/Territory. (VK1=ACT, VK2=NSW, VK3=Vic, VK4=QLD, etc).  Grand-father anyone who has moved and chosen to take their callsign with them.

Option 2

Combine mainland Australia and Tasmania into one group.  i.e. VK1-VK8 allocated for mainland Australia and Tasmania).  No matter where you live on mainland Australia or Tasmania, you could apply for a callsign with any prefix VK1-VK8.

VK9 and VK0 Islands and Territories to maintain their status as being only for stations permanently or temporarily (holidays or DXpeditions) located on the external territory.  Proof of residency or intent to visit would be required.  The callsign would be forfeited for temporary visitors on conclusion

of their stay.

Option 3

Deregulate callsign templates entirely.  No matter where you live in Australia, any VK0-9 prefix would be available to you. VK0XX could be in Sydney.  VK9NFI could be in Perth.  This option would completely undermine a system that has worked well for us in Australia, as well as those around the world for over 90 years. 

Club Presidents and Secretaries:  please discuss these topics at your meetings and forward this to your members.  This matter is above AR politics. 

There is little doubt now that the ACMA is looking for further deregulation and a “hands off” approach with Class Licensing.  If this trend continues, we’ll see the continued deregulation of callsign templates.

If “we” don’t do anything, then nothing will change.  It’s now up to RASA, the WIA and the amateurs of Australia to work collaboratively if we want to see the linkage between callsign numerics and station location retained. 

We have written to the WIA seeking their views on this important matter.

You can read more by clicking these links.

April 2020

April 2020

March 2020

Jan 2021

Aug 2020

Jan 2021

Aug 2020

Feb 2020