How to Research an Old License or Callsign
With the recent change of rules by the FCC, many amateurs are wondering, "How can I prove that I held a Technician or greater license before 1987?".
QRZ has recently made available its oldest USA Callsign database from the March 1993 QRZ Ham Radio CDROM. This collection contains the issue dates of many callsigns that go back into the mid 1980's and may be use to those who are searching. Whether this will eventually be accepted as proof by the FCC or the VEC's remains to be seen.
We wish that the answer was a simple one. If only there was a database of really old callsign information it could be so easy. It would certainly be nice to be able to look up the old callsigns and/or names and find out all all about the history of a given callsign.
Sadly, this isn't going to be possible any time soon. Here's why:
Back in the early days of the FCC, from the beginning of radio and up until the 1980's, the Commission kept all of its records on paper. Computers did emerge at the FCC at some point during the 1980's however to the best of our knowledge, little of none of the previous information dating back to 1940's and 1950's was ever transcribed into computer readable format.
For perhaps ten years or so after the FCC started using computers the information that they had on their systems was not routinely released to the public. Finally, in the early 1990's, they started distributing their data on mainframe-style magnetic tape through an organization which was to emerge as the National Technical Information Service (now FedWorld.gov).
In 1992 one could purchase a copy of this mainframe tape containing all of the current US callsign information for about $1000. Needless to say, not many copies were sold. QRZ started business around that time and was one of the precious few that actually purchased the government tapes. Our first version of the QRZ Ham Radio database was made on 1/4 inch magnetic tape (not CDROM) and sent out to about 100 people. Sadly, we no longer have a copy of the original 1992 data. QRZ's original goal was always to provide current and timely callsign information for USA amateurs and because of this we were never compelled to keep track of the changes from one year to the next. Our current database does not for example, contain the 1993 information - it contains the latest data instead.
Since 1993, the FCC has changed their entire data distribution system at least twice and as a result it has never been easy to keep track of the current information, let alone the old data.
In order to research callsigns which date back several years, the only record which exists are the old callbooks. Most unfortunately, these were not sorted by name but only by callsign. Therefore, if you're trying to find out what callsign a person held in say, 1950, you're practically out of luck.
The W5YI-VEC will perform exhaustive hand lookups into their collection of old FCC database information for a $12 fee. Contact them at 1-800-669-9594.
To summarize, your best bet at finding old callsign information is to first remember the old callsign and then try and find a callbook dating to the period of interest. We hope that someday technology will permit us to somehow scan these large documents and convert them to computer readable ASCII data but until them, QRZ wishes you good luck in your search.