When I first got on the radio, picking up call signs was a bit frustrating. It felt like call signs were flying by like race cars on a track. If I picked up one or two letters from a call sign each time, in a couple passes I could usually piece the entire call sign together. I’d write down the letters on a piece of scratch paper I kept next to the radio.
Over the course of a few weeks, it started to become easier, even as folks used different phonetics for the various letters. As an example Kilo 2 Delta Sierra Lima, Kilowatt 2 Denmark Sugar London all started to meld into K2DSL with less and less thought as I spent more time on the air. As I started to get comfortable catching them as they were called, it was still challenging to quickly repeat them back as part of the QSO. But over a few weeks, that two became easier and easier.
I remember Gordon (W2TTT) an outgoing member of the local Bergen Amateur Radio Association (BARA) club that I belong to telling me it will get easier. He was right. Like anything, the more practice you have at pulling out call signs from listening, the better you will get. It happens quick enough if you can spend time on the air. I remember at this past field day I was sitting with a newer ham and I could pick the call signs up as she was saying “what? what?”. I felt like a pro, if for just a moment.
I’ll reach master level when I can pick up call signs out of a huge pileup as Steve (W2ML) can with what seems like hundreds of people calling all at once. To me it sounded like nothing but noise. To Steve, it was no different then if it was just 1 person calling him. It was something spectacular to watch/listen to.
Besides call signs on the radio, I’m starting to associate individuals (specifically club members) with their call signs. I use to remember them by first name but now I refer to them by their call signs. Even hearing their voices on the local repeater is enough for me to think of their call. On HF there are voices I now recognize and think of as their call signs as well.
If you’re new, it won’t take long and it will be something you soon don’t think about.