Saturday, October 3, 2015

Research an Old License or Callsign

Recently my local ham club celebrated its 75th anniversary.  I took up a small project of trying to trace some of the clubs history.  A large portion of that entailed looking up old callsigns, to help piece things together.

QRZ's notes give the history of FCC records and the dilemma.  Basically they didn't start to use computers for keeping records till the 1980's.  Prior everything was kept on paper.  The only publicly searchable database is the 1993 one that QRZ has. has obviously been transcribing old flying horse callbooks. They have a reasonably priced subscription service that will give you electronic access to an archive of of old callsign data; 1921, 1954, 1957, 1960, 1969, 1977, 1983, and 1995 to present.

If you are looking for some really old data for free, there is a pretty good guide at  These are Google Book and Hathi Trust scans of government publications mostly prior to the creation of the FCC in 1934.  They can be downloaded in whole if you have a University login (Net ID).   Please contact me if you can help with this.

When researching a call its good to know, how long there were issued for:
In the 1920's - 2 year terms
In the 1930's - 3 year term for all classes.
In 1945, all except the novice (1 yr) are now 5 years
In 1967, the novice is now good for 2 years, all others 3 years.
In 1976, all license classes went to a 5 year term, including novice
In 1984, all license classes became ten years, as they are now.

At some point, apparently in the 1930's, the U.S. Government stopped publishing call books. Instead, this task was taken up by private publishers.

For many-many years the resource to have was a printed callbook.

The Citizen's Radio Service Bureau (508 South Dearborn St., Chicago IL) published the first issue of Citizen's Radio Call Book 1921 to 1932.

Then in about 1926; The "Radio Amateur Call Book Magazine" were published by Radio Amateur Call Book, Inc., Chicago, IL.  These are commonly referred to as the "Flying Horse Call Books"  because of the distinctive artwork always appearing on the cover.

Anyway I decided to scan the ones I had access to when I was researching my clubs history.   You can view them on the internet archive here:

I scanned them the best I could, in case someone really wants a project, of trying to convert it all to text and possibly put the info into a database.  Because printed call books were only organized by callsign, not by name.

One of the problems with converting to text (besides possible OCR errors is that the data was on multiple lines.  So you have to script something to look for a possible callsign match to indicate the start of a new record.

Anyway if anyone has any scans or of old printed books they would like to get to me, I'll see to it they get posted for all.

If anyone wants to try converting these to a CSV text file, go for it.

Thanks to the out pouring of hams donating scans and old call books.  There are about 60 now loaded on from 1909-1997.