Amateur Radio License Plates

Since the pandemic started up over a year ago, I haven’t done any air travel and have been driving to all business functions. Luckily all my work has been in The Northeast and within a reasonable driving distance of my home, though I often have six to eight hours of driving in a day. So, needless to say, I’ve had a lot of windshield time on interstates the last 12 months.

In this past year, I think I’ve counted perhaps three or four amateur radio license plates on vehicles, total. I’ve identified maybe three other vehicles that didn’t have amateur radio license plates, but looking at the antennas on the vehicles and deducing from bumper stickers and the driver, it was an amateur radio operator.

A decade or two ago I can remember seeing perhaps four or five amateur radio plates on a single eight hour trip alone. I know some people don’t get amateur radio license plates these days because of the relative ease of identifying the owner using a web search. I think you see this with the younger generation who is very Internet savvy and aware of the dangers of self-doxing by providing to much identifying information to the public. We still have a majority of older radio amateurs and with increasing numbers of licensees one would think we would see more amateur radio license plates on the road today.

Has anyone else noticed a decline in amateur radio plates in their neck of the woods?

This article was originally posted on Radio Artisan.

Anthony, K3NG, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com.

16 Responses to “Amateur Radio License Plates”

  • Nigel KG4ARS:

    Since my county decided
    to go from free to $50 a year I gave mine up!

  • Robert DeHaney DJ0RD:

    No call sign plates in Germany, but you can choose the middle letter and/or letters and the numbers. Mine is M-D5973. M is for Munich, D DeHaney and the rest you know.

    Vy 73 de Bob DJ0RD/WU5T

  • Richard KWØU:

    I think you are right. Going back some years I am sure that there were more plates, and I rarely see many now. Doing a statistical study would be difficult, but they definitely do not appear as often here in Minnesota.

  • N8QE:

    The State of Ohio charges $10 extra for ham radio license plates each year even though you don’t get new plates each year. You can’t renew for two years either like everyone else can in Ohio. What a government ripoff. It’s no wonder a lot of hams in Ohio have given up on them.

  • Howard AC4FS:

    My wife and I both have call sign license plates, but I’m not sure if it costs anything more. We do notice call sign plates when we see them, but don’t get out much anymore, so I don’t know if they’ve dropped off or not. Now that I’ve read this question, I will be on the lookout for more call sign plates in the future.

  • Logan KE7AZ:

    I stopped doing call letter plates when I moved to California because I thought they might make me a target for vehicle theft. Self-doxing is a recent concern.

  • Brian ab9zi:

    No way I’m going to advertise my call sign on my license plate. Way too easy to find my name and address simply by typing my call into Google.

  • bob.c K1QED:

    Here in MA the cost has gone up to $50 per year, not per two years. But the cost for all the other vanity plates (there are dozens o them!) are much more expensive and include donations to causes named on the plate. But Brian ab9zi is right, that Google search is unnerving…..

  • Derrick Young/W4DEY:

    The state of Georgia used to make the ham radio plates free. Back then most hams participated in ARES. The free plates was their way of saying “thank you”.

    Now a lot fewer take part in ARES, and Georgia charges $50 a year.

    Why have them with all the current issues around self identification and having to pay for them every year?

  • David Wilcox K8WPE:

    I see quite a few of ham plates these days. Even my wife brings them to my attention. I see more ham plates than ham antennas though. Used to always look and see a rig in the car, but no more. All hidden or not there. I’ve run into a few hams that keep their plates for nostalgia’s sake and aren’t active any more.

    Dave K8WPE

  • John McGrath - KF6EFG:

    As much as I would like to say that not having a Vanity plate with my callsign in it is protection, in reality it doesn’t matter with the number of people who have (SDR or internet) receivers and handhelds.

    If someone is motivated to find a ham in their local area, QRZ is just a few clicks away and its search features will allow you to search conveniently from a cell phone.

    With the amount of exposure of our personal identities through social media, I think the ‘self-doxxing’ theory is folly, because we do so every time we post somewhere.

  • Lenny Wintfeld W2BVH:

    I’ve had callsign plates here in NJ for around 10 years. No annual fee over the cost of renewing the registration. If I remember right there was no fee to make the plates either. Ham plates were (are?) in their own category; not considered vanity plates. It took some deep research, however, to find the right form to fill out. Seeing ham plates is rarer than it used to be, but still not an unusual sight.

  • N8BPI:

    When I was a kid my dad (also a Ham, now SK) would send a CQ on the car horn when he spotted a callsign license plate or an HF antenna on the car. He would have many an “eyeball” QSO that way when the other driver acknowledged and they could find a place to pull over and chat for a few minutes. I began doing that when I got my ticket back in the ’80’s, but now with the “no code” a lot of Hams probably wouldn’t know what “CQ” in Morse Code is.

  • K3JFV:

    In Pennsylvania, there is a one-time $11 application Fee for the creation of your Amateur Radio plate via a simple 1 page form (MV-904) to which you attache a “true” copy (not a Reference Copy) of your FCC license., issuance takes about 6 weeks, which then replaces your “standard” plate which you surrender to PENNDOT. The Annual Fee for renewal of your vehicle registration / license plate remains unchanged for your vehicle type. You may have up 2 Amateur Radio plates issued – your CALL and your CALL-1 as a plate for a second vehicle. The overall number of plates “seen” appears relatively unchanged in recent years.

    As for your personal information being at risk by someone searching your Call Sign based upon your license plate, depending upon the design of the plate and if your license plate frame / holder partially obscures “AMATEUR RADIO” or “AMATEUR OPERATOR” or similar language, it more likely is viewed by most as a “standard” plate, or as a Vanity plate. (most law enforcement are satisfied if your license plate is visible to the point of the State of issuance, all registration letters / numbers, and any annual State or County sticker all visible).

    TIP – for those for whom Privacy is a concern due to the ease of Call Sign Look Up on QRZ.com, RadioReference.com, Google, etc, you can have inexpensive protection of your Privacy, Home location and radio equipment, etc … by using a P.O. Box as your FCC License address.

  • Ian zl1ogx:

    I’ve had mine for about 14 years, and it’s been on 4 different cars, the XYL got it for my birthday gift.

    Several years ago I use to see some other callsign plates on the road, but not seen 1 for a long time now.

  • Robert KD7WNV:

    In Washington State, ham plates are one of many specialty or special interest plates available (separate from vanity plates) and have only an initial fee when first obtaining the plates–no effect on annual registration. The fee varies among the different types of specialty plates. I paid about $33 for my ham plates in 2014, and see now the fee has risen to about $42.

    I do see ham plates when driving around. Among active hams, I’d say that 50% or even more have ham plates, based on what I have seen at pre-COVID ham events (hamfests, conferences, club meetings, public service events).

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