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What is a ham radio call sign?

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Quick Answer

A ham radio call sign is a combination of letters and numbers that identifies licensed radio amateurs and their license locations. Call signs consist of a prefix that identifies the location and a suffix that is unique to the individual.

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Full Answer

Ham radio call sign prefixes usually consist of one or two letters and a number, which identifies the country, and state or province of a given licensee. In North America, the number in the prefix of a call sign refers to a specific area, such as a state or province. For example, in the United States the prefix W2 refers to the states of New Jersey and New York, and the prefix W8 refers to Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia. VO1 stands for Newfoundland, Canada, and VO2 stands for Labrador, Canada. The prefix number can represent more than one state in the United States, but numbers represent only one area in Canada, with the exception of Maritime areas.

Ham radio call sign suffixes usually consist of two or three letters but occasionally contain only one letter. Radio amateurs that have moved can keep the same call sign, so calls may not originate in the actual area that the call sign indicates. For example, W2ABC may not actually be operating from California. Ham radio amateurs can apply for calls that have special meaning to them. For example, an individual named Joe S. can apply for W2JOE.

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