NU1AW: IARU's Club Station
Excerpted from The ARRL Letter, Vol 15, No. 11, November 8, 1996 NU1AW was issued to IARU as a US "vanity" club call on November 4, 1996. Trustee and ARRL Executive Vice President David Sumner, K1ZZ, relates the story behind this call sign:
Last year, when the FCC resumed issuing club call signs, IARU Secretary Larry Price, W4RA, and I thought it was time for the IARU to have one of its own. I applied for and received a "plain vanilla" KB1 call for the IARU. When Gate 2 opened, I submitted an application for a vanity call to replace the original call, paying the fee out of my own pocket. Why NU1AW? Glad you asked. When transoceanic amateur communication became commonplace by 1924, a problem immediately became apparent: typical call signs consisted of one numeral and two or three letters and no built-in means of determining who was where. At first, hams used an informal system of prefixes (called "intermediates" at the time), where "A" stood for Australia, "B" for Belgium, "C" for Canada, "F" for France, "G" for Great Britain, "J" for Japan, "U" for United States, "Z" for New Zealand, and so on. The single-letter system worked fine until it became apparent that Amateur Radio was spreading to too many countries for this system to accommodate. The January 1927 QST unveiled a new intermediate list--the work of the Executive Committee of the International Amateur Radio Union. It was a two-letter system with the first letter indicating the continent ("E" for Europe, "A" for Asia, "N" for North America, "F" for Africa, etc.) and the second letter indicating the country (mostly following the old system). Thus, stations in the 48 United States used the intermediate "NU." The new system was soon overtaken by events. Regulations adopted by the Washington International Radiotelegraph Conference later that same year included the allocation of a series of "call signals" such as K, N, and W for the United States, and mandated that stations have a call signal from the series. August 1928 QST noted that Canadian amateur calls had changed to VE in April, and September 1928 QST announced the effective date of October 1, 1928, in the US for the W prefix (K outside the 48 states). Thus, United States amateurs sported voluntary NU prefixes for just 20 months before they became Ws. The founding president of the International Amateur Radio Union was, of course, Hiram Percy Maxim, 1AW, who remained in that office until his death in 1936. The call sign NU1AW commemorates HPM and the IARU's creative--if short-lived--solution to the problem of international identification of stations.
Sumner said that he intends NU1AW to be a "permanent special-event station," operating in connection with World Telecommunication Day, significant IARU anniversaries, the IARU HF World Championship, and other events that will call attention to the contributions of the IARU to organized Amateur Radio.