[CQ-Contest] Call sign history

donovanf at starpower.net donovanf at starpower.net
Mon Jan 9 13:36:56 EST 2017

This disruptive event in 1977 resulted in the termination of all 
informal FCC processes for issuing callsigns. The new rules 
implemented in 1978 required than all amateur callsigns must 
be issued only by the "systematic" processes specified in the rules. 


Thursday, Oct. 6, 1977 
FCC probes illegal award of ham radio call letters 
New York Times News Service 

The Federal Communications Commission is starting an investigation 
into how some amateur radio operators including possibly one of the 
FCC's own high-ranking officials may have improperly acquired special 
call letters for their ham radio stations. The commission official 
Charles A. Higginbotham, chief of the FCC's Safety and Special Radio 
Services Bureau which has jurisdiction over amateur licensing 
conceded this week that he had sought and been issued a call sign 
bearing his initials, a privilege never accorded to individual amateur 
licensees. Most call signs are in the order in which applications are 
received. The investigation which will include the Higgin-botham matter 
results from the conviction last summer of Richard Ziegler, a long-time 
commission employee who was in charge of issuing amateur licenses 
at the commission's facility in Gettysburg, Pa. Ziegler was convicted of 
accepting bribes of $100 apiece for issuing special call signs to two 
amateurs although he was charged with accepting four such payments. 

Special call signs are issued only to amateurs who have attained the 
highest grade of license the extra class which requires the applicant 
to pass a high-speed international Morse code test and an examination 
in electronics said to be as difficult as tests for operators of commercial 
broadcast stations. At least one of the four and perhaps others were 
actually entitled to the special call signs. One amateur, reached in 
Columbus, Ohio, said that after he took his examination for the Extra 
Class, it took about four months just to receive a license. To reserve a 
set of call letters, he sent $100 and a choice of five calls signs to Ziegler 
and received what turned out to be his fifth choice. He and two of the 
other amateurs involved have since turned in their special call signs 
and have received their older less-desirable call signs. 

The call letters involved are much like low-number license plates and 
have little more than prestige value, although some call signs are 
easier to send in Morse code than others and may be distinctive 
enough to be easily remembered. In the early years of ham radio, 
amateurs were given call signs comprising the U.S. prefix (a W or 
a K) followed by a number to designate the geographical area in 
which they live (D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware are 
the third call area) followed by two letters supposed to be chosen at 
random (such as W4AB, for an amateur in Virginia). As the number 
of amateurs increased, the call letters comprised the W or K, the 
number and three letters. When those were exhausted, the FCC 
began issuing WA, WB and on down the alphabet, so a new amateur 
might receive a call sign such as WB4ABC. It is considered more 
prestigious to have a call sign such as W4AB or W4ABC. 

According to FCC and court records, Ziegler was convicted on two counts. 
The two amateurs involved were John C. Gallucci of Columbus, Ohio, 
who received the call letters K8MM (instead of an earlier-issued WB8AKU) 
and Richard T. Bennett of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, who received K8KF, and 
had initially held K8EHI. Ziegler had been indicted on two other counts 
as well. One involved Dr. John R. Shelter of Groveport, Ohio, who was 
assigned K8RZ (rather than his original call of WA8ZDF) and Terry L. 
Dillahunty, Columbus, Ohio, K8RS, which was issued to substitute for his 
earlier WB8RWU. 

David Queen, assistant U.S. Attorney in Harrisburg, Pa. who prosecuted 
the case, said Ziegler had been sentenced to two years. He said that, 
although the amateurs may have been entitled to the call signs, it is still 
unlawful for Ziegler to have accepted payment for any public duty. The 
investigation that led to Ziegler's conviction was begun after complaints 
by some amateurs that some hams were being issued licenses without 
taking the required examinations. So far the FCC has found no evidence 
of this. 

FCC records show Higginbotham received a license in 1975 with his 
initials as call letters, W3CAH. A "W" call sign would not normally be 
issued to a new amateur, who more likely would receive a less desirable 
WB or WC. Further, since Higginbotham held only an advanced class 
license he was not entitled to a choice of call letters. The records also 
show that last December Higginbotham gave up his initial call sign and 
accepted a more pedestrian, WB3DLT. Higginbotham told a reporter 
Tuesday that his old initial call sign had "turned out to be one of those 
things that was, I guess, not too wise. The call sign, I thought, was 
going to give me some visibility with the amateur community, and I 
had a couple of complaints about it so I changed it." Higginbotham 
who was not involved in payoffs to Ziegler said that because he has 
authority to issue amateur licenses himself, he simply called somebody 
in Gettysburg, where licenses are issued, and ordered up the set of 
call letters. The complaints against Higginbotham using his influence 
to obtain a special call sign apparently first surfaced shortly after he 
received his license, when he appeared at an amateur radio convention 
in Reston, Va., in 1975. 

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