“KN” Callsign Curiosity

This past January 21st, three Hendry County Emergency Management Reservists passed the technician test and joined amateur radio as KN4AFU, KN4AFV, and KN4AFW.

With the advent of vanity calls, just about any unused combination is available, so prefixes (the part before the District number) don’t hold the identity they once had.

But, long timers raised an eyebrow this time, since “KN” (and “WN”) calls were what specifically identified a novice licensee in years past.

Licensed for 35 years, Pete “The Greek” Varounis NL7XM, is amateur radio’s callsign historian. He maintains editions of the telephone-directory sized Radio Amateurs Callbook for researching callsign origins and histories for amateurs the world over. Pete played a part in the development of the amateur radio backstory in the ABC-TV sitcom Last Man Standing, by creating authentic callsigns for off-screen radio ham characters in the amateur radio heavy episode, The Fight.

Tim Allen KK6OTD (left), Pete Varounis NL7XM (right) – Photo courtesy NL7XM

So, Pete was clearly the guy to ask about the “KN” curiosity.

He wrote:

The history of US Amateur callsigns series is an enormous topic, complex and full of contradictions.

The new KN4xxx's will likely temporarily be viewed as a moderate curiosity, but real old timers know the FCC has always recycled callsigns and groups. The vanity system is a perfect example of this practice.

There are only a handful of W#xx (a.k.a. "1x2s") alive today who are original holders of those calls. Most have had 4, 5, or more previous holders over the last 60 to nearly 90 years!

The intent of the Novice Class License (introduced in July 1951) was to inspire enthusiasm for the art and science. A one year mandatory expiration provided the catalyst to prompt one to upgrade to Technician or General Class, or start all over again.

Until the late 1970s, these Novices were issued distinctive callsign's with the letter "N" (or later, "V" in some crowded Districts) in the 2nd place of the prefix, right after the "W" or "K" and before the District number. They all had 3-letter suffixes. If you successfully upgraded in time, that "N" was dropped, so KN6ABC became K6ABC, or later in the 70's, maybe even WA6ABC.

The upgrade rate was around 50-60%. Many of those Novice callsigns were recycled only a few years later during the era of the Novice Class campaign.

Although there are still almost 12,000 grandfathered Novice ticket holders today, the "N" designator no longer carries the distinction it once did. It was only a matter of time before the 4th District would get sequentially issued KN4xxx calls after consuming the KM4xxx series.

The unusual (and cool) thing now however, is this hasn't happened on a grand scale for decades!

For example KN4AFW was first issued to 15-year old Novice Chase Hearn around November 1954. Chase is alive and well, still using the upgraded callsign, K4AFW!

Vy 73, PeteTheGreek / NL7XM

Hams wanting to know who had their call before them accounts for 90% of Pete’s research efforts. He’s likely to be very busy for the next few years as the “KN” series works through the alphabet.