What’s in a callsign?

Modernising the Australian amateur callsign template



Radio callsigns are structured in accordance with blocks of letters or letters and numbers issued to each country by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The actual composition of callsigns is determined by individual countries.

The current list of international callsign blocks may be found here:


The 1912 London International Radiotelegraph Convention allocated Australia the block VHA-VKZ.  Australia and the other British colonies were issued blocks beginning with V to commemorate Queen Victoria.

The 1927 Washington Radiotelegraph Conference expanded the Australian block to VHA-VNZ.

Additional callsign blocks of AXA-AXZ and VZA-VZZ were allocated at the 1947 Conference in Atlantic City, USA.

Australian amateur callsign structure

The current callsign structure is described in the tables below.

Numeric identifier:

Antarctica ACT NSW VIC QLD SA WA TAS NT Ext. Terr.

Callsign suffixes:


AA-ZZ Advanced
GGA-GGZ Girl Guides
SAA-SDZ Scouts
RAA-RZZ Repeaters (with exceptions)
RSA-RTZ Beacons (with exceptions)


FAAA-FZZZ Foundation


Two letters good, three letters bad?

Before WW2, Australian amateur callsigns had two trailing letters.  Three trailing letters were introduced in the late 1940s (Axx) and early 1950s (Zxx).  Since then, callsigns have expanded to use most available letter combinations.

Callsigns with two trailing letters are seen as exclusive.  “Two letter calls” (as they are known) have always been sought after.

For many years, the ACMA’s predecessors had no particular policy on issuing of two letter calls – if the callsign was available, it was issued.

However, two letter calls were restricted in the late 1970s, with issue frozen for a few years in VK2.

In the mid-2000s, ACMA decided that issuing of VK2, 3 and 4 two letter calls should be controlled by a raffle type process, which continues to the present day.

Does the raffle achieve its aim – that of ensuring a fair distribution of a limited resource?

Should a more laissez faire approach be adopted?  That is, pricing VK2, 3 and 4 two letter callsigns at a higher level – say $500, for argument’s sake….?

Call area vs QTH

Most Australian radio callsigns, apart from merchant ships and aircraft, have traditionally included a numeric designator to indicate the State/Territory in which the station is located.

Should this practice be continued?

Regulatory issues aside, the numeric designator is very useful from a propagation/operating perspective.  A station’s area of operation is readily discernible from their callsign.  Having a VK5 station in Sydney, for example, would be confusing and a backward step in many ways.

On the other hand, freeing up the numeric designator would allow more stations to have more choice in callsigns…

However, on balance, there are more advantages in maintaining the current system.

Moreover, changing the numeric designator would require a major policy shift by ACMA.

More prefixes?

Do we need another prefix for general amateur use?

How about VZ or VN?  Why not open up VI/AX?

As of 2018, all VK suffixes have been assigned, apart from Qxx.

Under the current VK callsign template, there are approximately 13000 Advanced, 4000 Standard and 17000 Foundation callsigns available per call area, so we aren’t going to run out any time soon…

General use of VI/AX would dilute their value for special events.  The current reservation should thus be maintained.

Special event/unusual callsigns

There needs to be complete transparency in the process for allocation of special event callsigns.

The current process is demonstrably subjective, with approval of callsigns dependant on the whims of a mysterious group known as the WIA “callsign committee”.

The membership of said “committee” seems to be a closely guarded secret.

Some callsigns are approved almost immediately, whilst others are delayed or even rejected, for no apparent reason…

The process is driven by personalities and politics.  It is entirely unsatisfactory for what is an outsourced Government function.

2 x 1 contest callsigns

Short “2 x 1 contest calls” are used in many countries.

The 2 x 1 template (i.e. VK2A, VK3B) has traditionally been reserved for experimental stations in Australia.  However, these stations are normally not used on amateur bands.

2 x 1 callsigns could be issued for contests on a restricted basis, for example:

  • used only for a defined number of contests; and
  • used by bona fide contest/club stations only.

The 26 callsigns available per call area and the restriction to club/contest stations would provide sufficient callsigns for genuine contest stations in the populous states.

Q calls for Foundation licenses?

Computer programs used for digital communications often do not allow the use of callsigns with four letter suffixes, such as those used by Foundation Licences.

The only vacant three letter block suitable for FLs is the QAA-QZZ series.  This has been set aside in the past to avoid confusion with Q codes.

With the demise of commercial Morse Code services, the amateur service is now the only active user of Q codes.  Further, only a very small number of codes are actually used on air by amateurs these days.

To avoid confusion, the block within the Q series used for amateur Q Codes – QRA-QUZ – could be set aside.  This still leaves approximately 500 allocations available per call area.

The Q series should not be mandatory: it should be available to FLs who wish to use data modes or want a 3-letter suffix.  The existing four-letter suffix block should continue.

Repeater callsigns and the need to ID

Do we need specific repeater callsigns?  Is this unnecessary bureaucracy?  Why can’t repeaters simply be licensed with the callsign of the sponsoring amateur or club?

Why do we need a CW identifier on repeaters if CW is no longer compulsory?  A 25 WPM CW ident is meaningless to about 95% of amateurs.

Indeed, why do we need an identifier on repeaters at all….?

Commercial repeaters are not required to identify, as they are assigned a specific frequency and location.

Amateur repeaters are assigned in the same fashion and are also listed in the ACMA RADCOM database…..

If propagation is such that two repeaters are received at once, perusal of the database and monitoring of the stations on the repeater will soon enable identification…


Tell us what you think.


Glenn VK4DU

President RASA