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In broadcasting and radio communications, a call sign (also known as a call name or call letters—and historically as a call signal—or abbreviated as a call) is a unique designation for a transmitting station. In North America they are used as names for broadcasting stations. A call sign can be formally assigned by a government agency, informally adopted by individuals or organizations, or even cryptographically encoded to disguise a station's identity.
The use of call signs as unique identifiers dates to the landline railroad telegraph system. Because there was only one telegraph line linking all railroad stations, there needed to be a way to address each one when sending a telegram. In order to save time, two-letter identifiers were adopted for this purpose. This pattern continued in radiotelegraph operation; radio companies initially assigned two-letter identifiers to coastal stations and stations aboard ships at sea. These were not globally unique, so a one-letter company identifier (for instance, 'M' and two letters as a Marconi Station) was later added. By 1912, the need to quickly identify stations operated by multiple companies in multiple nations required an international standard; an ITU prefix would be used to identify a country, and the rest of the call sign an individual station in that country.
- 1 Ships and boats
- 2 Aviation
- 3 Spacecraft
- 4 Amateur radio
- 5 Broadcast call signs
- 6 Military call signs
- 7 Transmitters requiring no call signs
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Ships and boats
One of the earliest applications of radiotelegraph operation, long predating broadcast radio, were marine radio stations installed aboard ships at sea. In the absence of international standards, early transmitters constructed after Guglielmo Marconi's first trans-Atlantic message in 1901 were issued arbitrary two-letter calls by radio companies, alone or later preceded by a one-letter company identifier. These mimicked an earlier railroad telegraph convention where short, two-letter identifiers served as Morse code abbreviations to denote the various individual stations on the line (for instance, AX could represent Halifax). 'N' and two letters would identify US Navy; 'M' and two letters would be a Marconi Station. On April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic station MGY, busily delivering telegram traffic from ship's passengers to the coastal station at Cape Race, Newfoundland (call sign MCE), would receive warnings of ice fields from Marconi stations aboard the M.V. Mesaba (call sign MMU) and the S.S. Californian (call sign MWL). Its distress call CQD CQD CQD CQD CQD CQD DE MGY MGY MGY MGY MGY MGY position 41.44N 50.24W would be answered by a station aboard the Carpathia (call sign MPA). Later that same year, an international conference standardised radio call signs so that the first two letters would uniquely identify a transmitter's country of origin.
Merchant and naval vessels are assigned call signs by their national licensing authorities. In the case of states such as Liberia or Panama, which are flags of convenience for ship registration, call signs for larger vessels consist of the national prefix plus three letters (for example, 3LXY, and sometimes followed by a number, i.e. 3Lxy2). United States merchant vessels are given call signs beginning with the letters "W" or "K" while US naval ships are assigned callsigns beginning with "N". Originally both ships and broadcast stations were given call signs in this series consisting of three or four letters, but as demand for both marine radio and broadcast call signs grew, gradually American-flagged vessels were given longer call signs with mixed letters and numbers.
As broadcast stations became commonplace in the 1920s, some original three and four-letter call signs were reassigned as the corresponding ships were removed from U.S. registry. The WSB call sign had been held by two ships (the S.S. Francis H. Leggett, shipwrecked off Oregon's coast on September 18, 1914, and later the Firwood, a ship destroyed by fire near Peru on December 18, 1919) before being assigned to the Atlanta Journal for use by its presumably unsinkable Atlanta, Georgia broadcast radio station in 1922. Similarly WEZU, the international radio call sign of the ship SS Lash Atlantico, was assigned in 1997 to a broadcast station. Additional call signs would be reassigned to coastal stations or moved from marine radio to terrestrial broadcast radio when ships were sold for registration to foreign nations, as the new owners would obtain new, local call signs for any existing shipboard radio stations.
Leisure craft with VHF radios may not be assigned call signs, in which case the name of the vessel is used instead. Ships in the US wishing to have a radio licence anyway are under F.C.C. class SA: "Ship recreational or voluntarily equipped." Those calls follow the land mobile format of the initial letter K or W followed by 1 or 2 letters followed by 3 or 4 numbers (such as KX0983 or WXX0029).
U.S. Coast Guard small boats have a number that is shown on both bows (i.e. port and starboard) in which the first two digits indicate the nominal length of the boat in feet. For example, Coast Guard 47021 refers to the 21st in the series of 47 foot motor lifeboats. The call sign might be abbreviated to the final two or three numbers during operations, for example: Coast Guard zero two one.
Call signs in aviation are derived from several different policies, depending upon the type of flight operation and whether or not the caller is in an aircraft or at a ground facility. In most countries, unscheduled general aviation flights identify themselves using the call sign corresponding to the aircraft's registration number (also called N-number in the U.S., or tail number). In this case, the call sign is spoken using the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) phonetic alphabet. Aircraft registration numbers internationally follow the pattern of a country prefix, followed by a unique identifier made up of letters and numbers. For example, an aircraft registered as N978CP conducting a general aviation flight would use the call sign November-niner-seven-eight-Charlie-Papa. However, in the United States a pilot of an aircraft would normally omit saying November, and instead use the name of the aircraft manufacturer or the specific model. At times, general aviation pilots might omit additional preceding numbers and use only the last three numbers and letters. This is especially true at uncontrolled fields (those without control towers) when reporting traffic pattern positions, or at towered airports after establishing two-way communication with the tower controller. For example, Skyhawk eight-Charlie-Papa, left base (see below).
In most countries, the aircraft call sign or "tail number"/"tail letters" (also known as registration marks) are linked to the international radio call sign allocation table and follow a convention that aircraft radio stations (and, by extension, the aircraft itself) receive call signs consisting of five letters. For example, all British civil aircraft have a five-letter call sign beginning with the letter G. Canadian aircraft have a call sign beginning with C–F or C–G, such as C–FABC. Wing In Ground-effect vehicles (hovercraft) in Canada are eligible to receive C–Hxxx call signs, and ultralight aircraft receive C-Ixxx call signs. In days gone by, even American aircraft used five letter call signs, such as KH–ABC, but they were replaced prior to World War II by the current American system of civilian aircraft call signs (see below).
The dash ("-") in the registration is only included on the fuselage of the airplane for readability. In air traffic management systems (ATC radar screen, flow management systems, etc.) and on flight plan forms, the dash is not used (e.g. PHVHA, FABCD, CFABC).
After an aircraft has made contact with an air traffic control facility, the call sign may be abbreviated. Sometimes the aircraft make or model is used in front of the full or abbreviated call sign, for instance, the American aircraft mentioned above might then use Cessna Eight-Charlie-Papa. Alternatively, the initial letter of the call sign can be concatenated with the final two or three characters, for instance a British aircraft registered G–BFRM may identify as Golf–Romeo–Mike while the American aircraft might use November–Eight-Charlie-Papa. The use of abbreviated call signs has its dangers, in the case when aircraft with similar call signs are in the same vicinity. Therefore abbreviated signs are used only so long as it is unambiguous.
The United States does not follow the five-letter call sign convention, and in that country the registration number begins with the letter N followed by up to five digits and/or letters in one of these schemes: one to five numbers (N12345), one to four numbers and one suffix letter (N1234Z), or one to three numbers and two suffix letters (N123AZ). The numeric part of the registration never starts with zero.
Commercial operators, including scheduled airline, air cargo and air taxi operators, will usually use an ICAO or FAA-registered call sign for their company. By ICAO Annex 10 Chapter 126.96.36.199.2.1 - Full call signs type C, a call sign consists out of the telephony designator of the aircraft operating agency, followed by the flight identification. The flight identification is very often the same as the flight number, but could be different due to call sign confusion, if two or more flights close to each other have similar flight numbers (i.e. KLM649 and KLM645 or BAW466 and BAW646). For example, British Airways flight 75 would use the call sign Speedbird Seven–Five, since Speedbird is the telephony designator for British Airways and 75 would be the flight identification. (The telephony designator is not the same as the call sign, although the two are sometimes conflated). Pan Am had the telephony designator of Clipper. (see list)
For these call signs, proper usage varies by country. In some countries, such as the United States, numbers are spoken normally (for the example above, Speedbird Seventy-five) instead of being spelled out digit by digit, leading to the possibility of confusion. In most other countries, including the United Kingdom, they are spelled out. Air taxi operators in the United States sometimes do not have a registered call sign, in which case the prefix T is used, followed by the aircraft registration number (e.g. Tango- November-Niner-Seven-Eight-Charlie-Papa).
Some variations of call signs exist to express safety concerns to all operators and controllers monitoring the transmissions. Aircraft call signs will use the suffix "heavy" for heavy aircraft, to indicate an aircraft that is going to cause significant wake turbulence, e.g. United Two-Five Heavy; All aircraft capable of operating with a gross take-off weight of more than 300,000 lbs. must use this suffix whether or not they are operating at this weight during a particular phase of flight. These are typically Boeing 747, some models of the 757, 777, or 767, Airbus A340, A330 and A300, McDonnell Douglas DC-10 or MD-11, or Lockheed L-1011 aircraft. The suffix "super" is used for the Airbus A380. For air ambulance services or other flights involving the safety of life (such as aircraft carrying a person who has suffered a heart attack), "lifeguard" is added to the call sign. For flights in which life is not in direct danger (such as transporting organs for transplant), the call sign prefix "Pan-Pan-Medical" is used before the normal call sign, e.g. Pan-Pan-Medical Three-Three-Alpha, Pan-Pan-Medical Northwest Four-Five-Eight, or Pan-Pan-Medical Singapore Niner-Two-Three. Pan Pan (pronounced "pahn-pahn") is the voice radio signal for "urgent", while Mayday is the voice radio signal for "distress". The word may be omitted for air ambulance services with assigned call signs, especially when they have notified air traffic control operators that they are on an air ambulance mission at the beginning of their flight and do not change from one controller to another. The Life Flight air ambulance service, for example, might simply identify as Life-Flight Three. An aircraft that has declared an in-flight emergency will sometimes prefix the word Mayday to its call sign.
Formerly one of the rarest call signs, "Concorde", was once used to identify British Airways Concorde aircraft. The intent of this call sign was to raise the air traffic control operators' awareness of the unique performance of the aircraft and the special attention it required. The call sign was appended to British Airways' normal radio call sign, e.g. "Speedbird-Concorde One". In normal service, Air France did not use it at all; its Concorde flights simply used the standard Airfrans call sign.
Glider pilots often can use any of three different call signs. Since most (not all) gliders now show standard CAA general aviation registrations e.g. G-xxxx they can call using the same call sign and abbreviation rules as other light aircraft. This has long been in the case in the United States. Before these registrations came in (between 2004 and 2008) they used to use and normally still do use either a three letter code issued to all gliders by the British Gliding Association known as the aircraft's Trigraph e.g. XYZ normally calling ATC as "Glider X-ray, Yankee, Zulu" or if they paid extra could get from the BGA a numeric or mixed numeric and letter code known as a competition number for marking their aircraft and as a call sign. For Example R4 "Romeo Four", or 26 "Two Six" or F1 "Foxtrot One". Optionally gliders will normally tag on the "Glider" in front of their call sign when calling ATC units so that the controller knows for example that the glider will be unable to maintain a particular height as Gliders are normally either descending in a straight glide or circling to climb. Some gliders are still not required to carry a CAA General Aviation type registration as they are older designs or prototypes and can therefore only continue to just use their Trigraph or Competition number as a call sign. These are known as Annex II aircraft as they are listed in EASA Annex II.
Military flights often use more than one call sign during a flight. Administrative call signs are used with air traffic control facilities similar to those of commercial operators. e.g. Navy Alpha-Golf-Two-One, Reach-Three-One-Seven-Niner Two.
Tactical call signs are used during tactical portions of a flight, and they often indicate the mission of the flight and/or an aircraft's position in a formation.
For example, Canadian Air Force 442 Rescue Squadron, based at Comox, British Columbia uses the call sign "Snake 90x" depending on the tail number of the helicopter: 901, 902, etc. When tasked on a search and rescue (SAR) mission, however, the aircraft call sign becomes "Rescue 90x".
Ground facilities identify themselves by the name and function of the facility: e.g. Seattle Tower for the tower air traffic control operators' position, SoCal Approach for a TRACON, or Boston Center for an Area Control Center. All other ICAO countries around the world, for example the European Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA), use Control or Radar instead of Center in their airspace. (Langen Radar, Brussels Control, Paris Control, ...). London Centre (center) is the emergency frequency call sign for London Terminal Control TC.
FAA aircraft identification regulations
The Federal Aviation Administration regulates call sign standards within United States airspace. These conventions are generally used world wide.
|President of the United States||Air Force One||any US Air Force aircraft when the President is aboard, typically VC-25A aircraft, Air Force One Foxtrot when only the family of the President is aboard.|
|President of the United States||Marine One||any US Marine Corps aircraft when the President is aboard, typically VH-60N or VH-3D Sea King helicopters, Marine One Foxtrot when only the family of the President is aboard.|
|President of the United States||Navy One||any US Navy aircraft when the President is aboard; to date, this call sign has been used only once|
|President of the United States||Executive One||any civilian aircraft when the President is aboard, Executive One Foxtrot when only the family of the President is aboard.|
|Vice President of the United States||Air Force Two||any US Air Force aircraft when the Vice President is aboard|
|Vice President of the United States||Marine Two||any US Marine Corps aircraft when the Vice President is aboard|
|Vice President of the United States||Coast Guard Two||any US Coast Guard aircraft when the Vice President is aboard; to date, this call sign has been used only once.|
|United States Secretary of Transportation||Transport One||any aircraft when the secretary is aboard, Transport Two when the Deputy Secretary of Transportation is aboard|
|Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration||Safe Air One||any aircraft when the Administrator is aboard, Safe Air Two when the Deputy Administrator|
|United States Department of Energy||RAC followed by tail number||any Department of Energy Flight|
|FLIGHT CHECK followed by tail number||any FAA flight testing navigational aids|
|SAMP followed by tail number||any United States Air Force aircraft conducting air sampling|
Radio call signs used for communication in manned spaceflight is not formalized or regulated to the same degree as for aircraft. The three nations currently launching manned space missions use different methods to identify the ground and space radio stations; the United States uses either the names given to the space vehicles, or else the project name and mission number. Russia traditionally assigns code names as call signs to individual cosmonauts, more in the manner of aviator call signs, rather than to the spacecraft.
In America's first manned space program Project Mercury, the astronauts named their individual spacecraft. These names each consisted of a significant word followed by the number 7 (representing the seven original astronauts), and were used as the call signs by the capsule communicators (CAPCOMs).
In Project Gemini, the astronauts were not officially permitted to name their two-man spacecraft, which was identified by "Gemini" followed by the mission number (3 through 12). A notable exception was that Gus Grissom named his Gemini 3 spacecraft Molly Brown after the Titanic survivor, as a joke based on his experience with his Liberty Bell 7 capsule sinking. This name was used as a call sign by CAPCOM L. Gordon Cooper, without NASA's approval.
Starting with the second flight Gemini 4, NASA used the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center to house the flight control center, and its call sign was Houston, chosen for its location. This practice continues to this day.
The practice of using the mission number continued through the first two flights of the Project Apollo manned lunar landing program, Apollo 7 and Apollo 8. But all remaining Apollo missions included two manned spacecraft (Command/Service Module (CSM) and Lunar Module (LM)) on each flight, which required the use of separate call signs for each vehicle when they flew independently of each other. For this reason, NASA permitted the three-man crews to name both craft for each of their missions, and these names were used as the call signs. A temporary exception to this was on the first Moon landing, Apollo 11: since the first Moon landing site was in the Sea of Tranquillity, the call sign Tranquillity Base was used while the LM was on the lunar surface. Before and after independent flight of the LM, the mission number was used as the call sign. The Apollo call signs were:
|Flight||Command Module||Lunar Module|
|Apollo 10||Charlie Brown||Snoopy|
|Apollo 12||Yankee Clipper||Intrepid|
|Apollo 14||Kitty Hawk||Antares|
For project Skylab, the practice returned to using the mission name as the spacecraft call sign, since the Skylab station was always unmanned while the shuttle vehicle (an Apollo CSM) carried a crew to it or back to Earth.
The six Space Shuttle orbiters were given individual names (they also had letter-and-number callsigns) by NASA, which were used as the call signs: Enterprise (OV-101, which was not fitted for spaceflight), Columbia (OV-102), Challenger (OV-099), Discovery (OV-103), Atlantis (OV-104), and Endeavour (OV-105). Of these, Columbia, Challenger, and Endeavour had previously served as call-signs of Apollo spacecraft.
Russia (including former Soviet Union)
The first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, was given the call sign Kedr ("cedar" in Russian) aboard Vostok 1, and the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, was Chaika ("Seagull") on Vostok 6. Flight control used the call sign Zarya, meaning "dawn".
When the Voskhod multi-pilot spacecraft flew, the call sign was assigned to the command pilot, and this was suffixed with the number 2 or 3 to designate subordinate crew members by rank. On Voskhod 1, command pilot Vladimir Komarov was Ruby 1, flight engineer Konstantin Feoktistov was Ruby 2, and medical doctor Boris Yegorov was Ruby 3. On Voskhod 2, command pilot Pavel Belyayev was Diamond 1, and Alexey Leonov, the first man to walk in space, was Diamond 2.
International Space Station
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The call sign of the International Space Station was Alpha, now Station.
Amateur radio call signs are in the international series and normally consist of a one or two character prefix, a digit (which may be used to denote a geographical area, class of license, or identify a licensee as a visitor or temporary resident), and a 1, 2, or 3 letter suffix. In Australia call signs are structured with a two letter prefix, a digit (which identifies geographical area), and a 2, 3 or 4 letter suffix. This suffix may be followed by a further suffix, or personal identifier, such as /P (portable), /M (mobile), /AM (aeronautical mobile) or /MM (maritime mobile). The number following the prefix is normally a single number (0 to 9). Some prefixes, such as Djibouti's (J2), consist of a letter followed by a number. Hence, in the hypothetical Djibouti call sign, J29DBA, the prefix is J2, the number is 9, and the suffix is DBA. Others may start with a number followed by a letter, for example, Jamaican call signs begin with 6Y. When operating with reciprocal agreements under the jurisdiction of a foreign government, an identifying station pre-pends the call sign with the country prefix and number of the country/territory from which the operation is occurring. For example, W4/G3ABC would denote a licensed amateur from the United Kingdom who is operating in the fourth district of the United States. There are exceptions; in the case of U.S./Canadian reciprocal operations, the country/territory identifier is, instead, appended to the call sign; e.g., W1AW/VE4, or VE3XYZ/W1.
Occasionally, special call signs are issued in the amateur radio service either for special purposes, VIPs, or for temporary use to commemorate special events. Examples include VO1S (VO1 as a Dominion of Newfoundland call sign prefix, S to commemorate Marconi's first trans-Atlantic message, a single-character Morse code S sent from Cornwall, England to Signal Hill, St. John's in 1901) and GB90MGY (GB as a Great Britain call sign prefix, 90 and MGY to commemorate the 90th anniversary of historic 1912 radio distress calls from MGY, the Marconi station aboard the famed White Star luxury liner RMS Titanic).
When identifying a station by voice, the call sign may be given by simply stating the letters and numbers, or using a phonetic alphabet. Some countries mandate the use of the phonetic alphabet for identification.
Broadcast call signs
While broadcast radio stations will often brand themselves with plain-text names, identities such as "cool FM", "rock 105" or "the ABC network" are not globally unique. Another station in another city or country may (and often will) have a similar brand; the name of a broadcast station for legal purposes is therefore normally its ITU call sign.
Broadcast stations in North America generally use call signs in the international series. There are some common conventions followed in each country. In the United States, the first letter generally is K for stations west of the Mississippi River and W for those east of the Mississippi; all new call signs have been 4-character for some decades, though there are historical 3-character call letters still in use today, such as WSB in Atlanta, KSL in Salt Lake City, Utah, WHA in Madison, Wisconsin, WGN AM and WGN in Chicago, Illinois and WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio, the only AM station to have broadcast at 500,000 watts.
There are a number of exceptions to the east/west rule, such as KDKA in Pittsburgh and WFAA in Dallas-Fort Worth, but these are historical artifacts from a rule change in the 1920s, and most of the exceptions are located in the states immediately to either side of the river, in the state of Louisiana in the metropolitan areas of Baton Rouge and Greater New Orleans, and markets north of the river's source such as Fargo–Moorhead and Duluth–Superior. The westernmost station in the continental United States beginning with W is WOAI in San Antonio. WVUV-LP in Pago Pago, American Samoa, was the westernmost station with a W call sign until 2008. KYW in Philadelphia (which originated in Chicago in 1921, moved to Philadelphia in 1934, and existed in Cleveland in the late 1950s/early 1960s) is now the easternmost station with a K call sign.
Another exception to this is that all time-broadcasting stations have a three or four letter call sign beginning with WWV. The three current government-operated time stations, WWV (and longwave sister station WWVB), and WWVH, are located in Fort Collins, Colorado and Kekaha, Hawaii, respectively, both of which would normally use call signs beginning with "K".
The US government-operated international broadcaster the Voice of America no longer has call signs assigned to it; however Radio Canada International's transmitter in Sackville, NB is still assigned CKCX. Privately operated shortwave stations, like WWCR and CFRX, also have call signs.
In Canada, the publicly owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation uses CBC Radio; privately owned commercial broadcast stations use primarily CF and CH through CK prefixes; and four stations licensed to St. John's by the Dominion of Newfoundland government retain their original VO calls.
In Mexico, AM radio stations use XE call signs (such as XEW-AM), while the majority of FM radio and television stations use XH. Broadcast call signs are normally four or five alpha characters in length, plus the -FM or -TV suffix where applicable.
Callsigns are allocated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority and are unique for each broadcast station. The use of callsigns on-air in both radio and television in Australia is optional, so many stations used other on-air identifications. Australian broadcast stations officially have the prefix VL- and originally all callsigns used that format, but since Australia has no nearby neighbors, this prefix is no longer used except in an international context.
All radio call signs begin with a single-digit number indicating the state or territory, followed by two or three letters. In most cases, two letters are used for AM stations and three for FM, but there are some exceptions, such as 5UV in Adelaide, which broadcasts on an FM frequency, and 3RPH in Melbourne, which broadcasts on an AM frequency. While some AM stations retained their old call signs when moving to FM, most add an extra letter to the call sign. For instance, when 7HO Hobart became an FM station, it adopted the callsign 7HHO. Certain ABC radio stations, particularly outside of metropolitan areas, may use five-letter call signs for FM stations: xABCFM for ABC Classic FM, xABCRN for Radio National, and xABCRR for ABC Local Radio - the x being the state number. Also, SBS FM radio stations use a five-letter call sign, xSBSFM. (Sydney and Melbourne's AM stations use 2EA and 3EA, meaning Ethnic Australia.)
There are a number of exceptions:
- For some time, two radio stations used the callsign 4CCC - a commercial station in Charleville and a community station in Warwick, both in Queensland. The Warwick station's call sign was later changed to 4SDB. In addition, a temporary community broadcaster, 4CCC Coral Coast Country Community Radio Inc, uses the name 4CCC, though it does not have a callsign.
- Rebel FM, The Breeze, and Flow FM, which have many transmitters in Regional and Remote Central and Eastern Australia, use the callsigns 4RBL, 4BRZ and 8SAT respectively, regardless of which state their transmitters are located in.
- Radio Station 1RPH Canberra, Australian Capital Territory has relay transmitters in New South Wales
- The following Victorian stations also have relay transmitters in New south Wales: 3HOT and 3RUM.
- The following New South Wales stations also have relay transmitters in Victoria: 2AAY, 2BDR and 2MOR.
- The following New South Wales stations also have relay transmitters in Queensland: 2MW and 2TEN.
- 8KIN Alice Springs, Northern Territory has a relay transmitter in Pasminco Century Mine, Queensland, and several in South Australia.
- 3MBR Murrayville, Victoria has a relay transmitter in Lameroo, South Australia.
- The Nhulumbuy, Northern Territory transmitter for triple J has the callsign 6JJJ.
- Open narrowcast radio stations have no official call sign, though some stations use one (e.g. 3XY Radio Hellas in Melbourne).
Television station call signs begin with two letters usually denoting the station itself, followed by a third letter denoting the state. For example, NBN's call sign stands for Newcastle Broadcasting, New South Wales. There are some exceptions:
- Many ABC television stations outside of state capitals add a fourth letter (and in rare cases a fifth) between AB and the state. This is used to denote the area, e.g. the Newcastle station is known as ABHN, standing for Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Hunter Valley, New South Wales. Some state capital stations follow the same rule as commercial stations, also using AB as the first two letters; for example, ABV is Melbourne's ABC television station.
- Many ABC television stations now have the call sign ABC, regardless of which state or territory they are in.
- SBS television stations all use SBS in their call signs, regardless of the state.
- Commercial station Imparja Television uses IMP, even though they are based in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.
- CTC's stations in southern New south Wales also use CTC as their call sign.
- CBN and WIN also use CBN and WIN as their respective call signs for stations in the Australian Capital Territory.
- GLV/BCV, AMV and VTV use GLV, BCV, AMV and VTV as call signsin for their respective stations in border areas of southern New South Wales (e.g. Balranald, Deniliquin, Albury North).
- NBN, NEN and NRN stations that serve Murwillumbah, New South Wales, use the call signs NBN, NEN and NRN respectively, even though their transmitters are located in Springbrook, Queensland.
- NBN, NEN and NRN stations in south-east Queensland also use these call signs (e.g. the Gold Coast).
- Central Digital Television stations have the call sign CDT despite only a small fraction of its license area covering parts of Tasmania.
- Southern Cross Central stations in regional and remote central and eastern Australia use QQQ even for stations outside Queensland.
- Various indigenous community television stations in regional and remote Australia have the call sign ACT (for Aboriginal Community Television) even though they're not in Tasmania.
- Open narrowcast television stations have no official call sign.
Amateur radio in Australia has its own set of call signs, managed by the Wireless Institute of Australia, starting with the prefix VK, the state identifier, and then 2,3, or 4 letters. Foundation licence holders have the letter F after the state identifier e.g.: VK3FGCP indicates a Foundation Licence holder in the State of Victoria.
Letters and numbers used by Australian stations:
|Australian Capital Territory||1*||C (after Canberra)|
|New South Wales||2*||N|
|Northern Territory||8||D (after Darwin)|
|Papua New Guinea||9||P (Prior to independence in 1975), e.g.: 9PM Port Moresby|
|Territorial Islands Lord Howe, Norfolk, Christmas, etc.||2 or 6**||W**|
* Originally, radio callsigns in the ACT had the format 2xx(x), like those in New South Wales. However, newer stations in the territory have been allocated callsigns with the format 1xxx. See List of radio station callsigns in the Australian Capital Territory for more information.
** Formerly 9. Radio stations in Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island now use the same call sign format as New South Wales. Radio and television stations in Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island now use the same call sign format as Western Australia.
The use of broadcast call signs in New Zealand historically consisted of a digit, and two letters for AM or three for FM. The usage was:
- First letter
Initial government television call signs had the format of a two letter region code, followed by two letters of "TV" with a single digit referring to the VHF channel assignment.
- Two letters
- AK - Auckland
- WN - Wellington
- CH - Christchurch
- DN - Dunedin
- Two letters - TV
- Single digit - VHF band I channel
For example – 1ZB was a Radio NZ commercial station in Auckland; 4XF was Foveaux Radio in Invercargill (now More FM); 4YC was the Concert Programme in Dunedin.
FM stations appeared to have no standard format for the letters, just picking three that 'fit' the station. To make matters more confusing, some stations such as 4ZA-FM (now Classic Hits Southland 98.8FM) and 4XO Gold (now More FM Dunedin) retained their AM call signs.
Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin as major centres for the four regions had specific Radio NZ call signs used:
- xYA - National Programme
- xYC - Concert Programme
- xZB - Community Network commercial
- xZM - Music commercial (except Dunedin)
During the early 1990s the use of call signs became less common, to the point that most broadcasters do not use them at all. Some are retained in some form for branding - for example, 4XO Dunedin (until it was rebranded More FM Dunedin in 2004), Newstalk ZB (using the old 1ZB, 2ZB, 3ZB, 4ZB and various other Radio NZ commercial frequencies) and ZM (originally ZMFM, replacing the old 1ZM, 2ZM and 3ZM, now nationwide). Stations licensed since 1990 have not had call signs allocated.
With consolidation in the commercial radio market, the only stations now using a call sign in New Zealand are the long-established 1XX in the Bay of Plenty, and the recently arrived (2005) LPFM Primetime 1ZZ  in the Bay of Islands, whose "call sign" is self-assigned.
|This section requires expansion. (June 2008)|
In Argentina, some radio and TV stations still broadcast their call signs a few times a day, but this practice is becoming very rare. Call signs consist of two (or, more recently, three) letters followed by multiple numbers. The second letter, as used in television call signs from the 1960s, traditionally indicated the region; LS call signs were given to stations in Buenos Aires, LT in the northeastern region, LU in the southern region, LV in the central region and LW in the northwestern region. (LR was used for some radio stations, especially in Buenos Aires; the earliest radio stations in the Argentine capital had call signs of LR plus one digit.) Most TV stations had call signs with higher two-digit numbers. The five main stations in the Buenos Aires area had call signs from LS 82 to LS 86, while stations in Rosario, Santa Fe had call signs LT 83 and LT 85.
Since 2000 or earlier, call signs beginning with LR and a third letter, as well as have been assigned,
- LRA exclusively assigned to Radio Nacional, regardless of its location, or mode of transmission.
- LRF - LRU In Tierra del Fuego, Chubut, Santa Cruz
- LRG - LRT In Neuquen, La Pampa, Rio Negro
- LRH - LRR In Chaco, Formosa, Corrientes, Misiones
- LRI - LRM - LRP - LRS In Santa Fe, Buenos Aires, Entre Ríos
- LRJ - LRN - LRT in Cordoba, Mendoza, San Luis, La Rioja, San Juan
- LRK - LRQ in Salta, Jujuy, San Juan, Catamarca, Santiago del Estero
- LRL - In Ciudad Autonoma de Buenos aires an his Metropolitan Area.
For instance, LRL 421 is Canal 21 in Buenos Aires. There are other Callsigns almost unused, I.E. AYP 75 FM 99.5 MHz. in Ciudad Autonoma de Buenos Aires, and LOL Observatorio Naval (National Observatory, a time signal station which operates in Shortwave.
In Brazil, some radio stations still broadcast their call signs a few times a day, but this practice is becoming very rare. For TV and radio stations the letters ZY are used, plus one letter (ZYA and ZYB for television stations, ZYI, ZYJ, ZYL and ZYK for AM stations, ZYG for shortwave stations, ZYC, ZYD, ZYM and ZYU for FM stations) and three numbers. For example, ZYB-883 (analog ch. 18) is TV Tribuna in Santos.
Europe and Asia
In Europe and much of Asia, call signs are normally not used for broadcast stations. Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan are exceptions to this general rule. Other countries have other formats for assigning call signs to domestic services. In Europe it is quite frequent that instead of regular call signs abbreviations of the stations' names are used (e.g. ARD, RTL in Germany, ORF in Austria, BBC, ITV or Sky in the United Kingdom, TF1 in France, TV3 in Spain, etc.). In most of Europe, TV and radio stations have unique names, such as ProSieben in Germany, France 2 in France, Nova Television in Bulgaria, Antena 3 in Spain, etc.
In Britain, there is no call sign in the American sense. Instead, a trade mark system is used. A broadcaster can call their station what they like, so long as it's not obscene, racist, sexist, homophobic/transphobic, libellous, infringes someone else's trade mark or leads to contempt of court. The rules set by Ofcom are very clear:
"Call-signs will not be permitted if they are likely to cause offence, or if they are likely to mislead listeners as to the nature of the service. They are agreed on the understanding that the applicant will have cleared all necessary right and trade-marking issues".
Also, a station name can be no more than six words. There are no prohibitions on calling a station The Future Sound of Hell, for instance, so long as it does not infringe these rules. As for any brand name, there can be copyright issues.
The Japanese station prefix for radio and television stations is JO followed by its own unique two letters; the last letter in the latter part of the callsign identifies the ownership of the station, for example the letter X indicates that it is a commercial TV station such as JOEX-TV for TV Asahi and JOCX-TV for Fuji TV while the letter R indicates that it is a commercial AM radio station such as JOKR for TBS Radio. FM radio and TV stations have the -FM (FM radio), -TV (analogue television), -DTV (digital television), -TAM (audio multiplex), -TCM (analogue TV teletext multiplex), -TDM (analogue TV data multiplex) and -FCM (FM radio data multiplex) suffixes after their callsigns, similar to the North American practice, except for AM radio stations.
Traditionally, broadcast stations are assigned one of three predominant prefixes depending on the location of their license:
- DZ & DW for Luzon, except DZ for Palawan
- DY for the Visayas, including Palawan and Masbate
- DX for Mindanao
DW is now also used for stations in Luzon. Out of circumstance, DZ is mostly AM band, while DW is FM band. Other call sign prefixes assigned to the Philippines are DU, and DV.
Call signs prefixes used in Indonesia:
- JZ for CB Radio
- PM for Radio Stations except public broadcaster RRI
- YB-YH for Amateur radio
- YB & YE for Extra Class
- YC & YF for Advanced Class
- YD & YG for General Class
- YH for Novice Class
Call signs suffixes used in Indonesia:
- AA - YZ
- AAA - PZZ
- RAA - YZZ
- AAAA - YZZZ
- AQA - AQZ (Special License/Foreigner Operator)
Special License Callsigns suffixes :
- A - Z
- ZA - ZZ Province Organization included Scout; Redcross; SAR
- ZAA - ZZZ Regency (Local)Organization included Club Station; Scout; Redcross; SAR
- ZAAA - ZZZZ
Military call signs
In wartime, monitoring an adversary's communications can be a valuable form of intelligence. Consistent call signs can aid in this monitoring, so in wartime, military units often employ tactical call signs and sometimes change them at regular intervals. In peacetime, some military stations will use fixed call signs in the international series.
Tactical call signs are often assigned to a company sized unit or higher. For example the collective "Checkmate" might be assigned to an entire company and thus "Checkmate 1 Actual" would be the first platoon leader, "Checkmate 2 Actual" to the second platoon leader, etc. "Checkmate Actual" is the Company Commander and "Checkmate" is the captain's radio-telephone operator (or other designee, such as the XO). This system can be extended to squad or fireteam level by adding another number, for example the squad leader of the second squad of the third platoon in Checkmate company would have the call sign "Checkmate 32", pronounced "tree-two". Additionally, only the squad leader proper will answer to the call sign "Checkmate 32 Actual", whereas the squad leader's radio-telephone operator (or other designee) will answer to the call sign "Checkmate 32" (without the "Actual") as a matter of routine. Also, companies often have the letter they are designated by ('A', 'B', 'C' or 'D') be the first letter of their call sign. This means a 'C' Company could potentially have 'Checkmate' as its call sign.
U.S. Air Force
Fixed call signs for the United States Air Force stations begin with A, such as AIR, used by USAF Headquarters. The USAF also uses semi-fixed identifiers consisting of a name followed by a two or three digit number. The name is assigned to a unit on a semi-permanent basis; they change only when the U.S. Department of Defense goes to DEFCON 3. For example, JAMBO 51 would be assigned to a particular B-52 aircrew of the 5th Bomb Wing, while NODAK 1 would be an F-16 fighter with the North Dakota Air National Guard.
The most recognizable call sign of this type is Air Force One, used when any Air Force aircraft is transporting the U.S. President. Similarly, when the President is flown in a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter, the call sign is Marine One. When then-president George W. Bush, a former Air National Guard fighter pilot, was flown to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in a Navy S-3B Viking, it was the first use of the "Navy One" call sign.
Individual military pilots or other flight officers usually adopt a personal aviator call sign.
The United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, and United States Coast Guard use a mixture of tactical call signs and international call signs beginning with the letter N. For example, the carrier USS John F. Kennedy has the call sign NJFK for unclassified and navigation communications with other vessels, but uses tactical call signs that vary with its mission. In tactical situations, the Marine Corps utilizes call signs naming conventions similar to the Army's.
Tactical voice communications ("combat net radio") use a system of call signs of the form letter-digit-digit. Within a standard infantry battalion these characters represent companies, platoons and sections respectively, so that 3 Section, 1 Platoon of B Company might be F13. In addition, a suffix following the initial call sign can denote a specific individual or grouping within the designated call sign, so F13C would be the Charlie fire team. Unused suffixes can be used for other call signs that do not fall into the standard call sign matrix, for example the unused 33A call sign is used to refer to the Company Sergeant Major.
Note that the letter part of the call sign is not the company's own letter (B vs F in the above example) - indeed, the letter designations are randomly assigned using BATCO sheets, and appear on CEIs (communication electronic instructions), and change along with the BATCO codes every 24 hours. This, together with frequency changes and voice procedure aimed at making every unit sound the same, introduces a degree of protection against simple traffic analysis and eavesdropping.
Not all radio users fit into the standard battalion model, but in order to continue the obfuscation they will be assigned a call sign that appears to be part of such a system. Presumably, the well-known B20 falls into this category.
Finally, the controller of each net has the call sign 0 ("zero"). There may also be a second controller - either a backup station or a commander who has delegated communication tasks to a signaller but may occasionally wish to speak in person - using the call sign 0A ("zero alpha").
Earlier systems used a series of appointment titles to identify users and individuals, "Sunray", for instance, referring to the appropriate leader. Titles such as "Sunray" and (Sunray) Minor are still used. There are several appointment titles, such as "Ironside" which are no longer used by the British Army. Several other armed forces still use appointment titles, including the Australian and Canadian army.
|1||Commander (Battalion, Company, Platoon)||SUNRAY|
Due to the predictable nature of some of these, such as "SHELLDRAKE", all but SUNRAY and MINOR were removed from use in the British Army.
Transmitters requiring no call signs
No call signs are issued to transmitters of long-range navigation systems (Decca, Alpha, Omega), or transmitters on frequencies below 10 kHz, because frequencies below 10 kHz are not subject to international regulations. In addition, in some countries lawful unlicensed low-power personal and broadcast radio signals (Citizen's Band, Part 15 or ISM bands) are permitted; an international call sign is not issued to such stations due to their unlicensed nature. Also, wireless network routers or mobile devices and computers using Wi-Fi are unlicensed and do not have call signs. On some personal radio services, such as Citizen's Band it is considered a matter of etiquette to create one's own call sign, which is called a handle (or trail name). Some wireless networking protocols also allow an SSID to be set as an identifier, but with no guarantee that this label will remain unique.
International regulations no longer require a call sign for broadcast stations; however, they are still required for broadcasters in many countries, including the United States. Mobile phone services do not use call signs on-air for obvious reasons ; however, the U.S. still assigns a call sign to each mobile-phone spectrum license.
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