Let's start with the nostalgia. When I was a kid, you knew darn good and well that somebody who held a one by two call with a "W" in front was a venerable old-timer. You knew that he was an Extra class ham who had earned that license level by achieving a high level of Morse code proficiency (20 words per minute) and had mastered some pretty intense technical material in order to be able to take the FCC's highest level exam. You also knew that he had been in the hobby a pretty long time, because the FCC was only giving out 1x2 calls to hams who had been Extras for at least 25 years and they ran out of the one by two W calls well before I got into the hobby. They were, in a word, venerable.
Nowadays, with the new vanity system, a guy could very easily get an Extra class license after only a very short time as a ham, apply for a W#xy call, and look veritably ancient. I've been in the hobby quite a while (albeit with a pretty long hiatus in between periods of activity), but I really don't feel worthy of such a call. So there's a part of me that wants to keep those "golden oldie" call signs out of circulation, because of what they represent.
But then kicks in the pragmatic part of me. These are good call signs; what's wrong with keeping them in use? Indeed, although its parameters are much broader now than they used to be, the history of "vanity" call signs isn't quite as straightforward and restrictive as one might think:
As older hams became Silent Keys and the number of available 1x2 calls increased, the FCC instituted a program effective in 1968 whereby those licensed for 25 years and currently holding an Extra license would be eligible for a non-specific (sequential) 1x2 callsign. The length of time one needed to be an Extra was gradually reduced, until July 1977, when any Extra Class could apply for a 1x2 . . .
Effective July 1, 1976, any Extra class licensee who had been a licensed Amateur for 25 years or more could select one specific 1x2 call sign. This added the ability to pick a specific call, but did not change eligibility. . . .
Effective July 1, 1977, any Amateur Extra class licensee could select one specific 1x2 call sign. Effective March 30, 1978 this was all replaced by the strict "sequential" system until the advent of "vanity" call sign selection in March 24, 1995 (Amateur Radio History).
So it wasn't like these call signs remained ever out of circulation once the original holder died. They were recirculating them at least forty years ago. It's just that the rules are quite a bit looser now.
So where does that leave me in the end? In the end, I decided to upgrade from Advanced to Extra when my son took his Technician test, even though I'm not thrilled with the loosening of the requirements to do so. And although I was happy with my original call of N0CVR, I live in "9" land now so changing my call sign to a "9" designator made sense. When I looked into what was available on the FCC database in terms of vanity call signs, I saw that W9HQ was coming up very soon. The way the system is set up, that call sign isn't going to be set aside for posterity—somebody's going to get it. So nostalgia gives way to pragmatism and that somebody might as well be me.
But pragmatism has its limits and becomes truly noxious if it ends up rendering us oblivious and careless about the past. There are things that the holder of such a venerable call sign as mine can do to perpetuate its legacy and honor its original holder(s). And that is the subject of a soon-coming posting.
73 DE W9HQ