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QSL Cards and eQSL Cards
- a summary or overview of QSL cards, including eQSL or electronic QSL cards, used in ham radio or amateur radio to confirm radio contacts.
QSL cards are widely exchanged between ham radio operators to confirm contacts between two radio stations or to acknowledge short wave listener reports. These cards are often said to be the final courtesy of a contact, and indeed many millions of QSL cards are exchanged each year.
The term QSL comes from the radio "Q" code meaning "I confirm reception", and purpose of a QSL card is to confirm a contact. The cards themselves are normally post card sized, many being colourful and very attractive. Quite a few have photographs of the ham radio station, the operator or the area in which he lives, and this makes them very interesting.
The idea for the QSL card dates back to the time when the first long distance amateur radio or ham radio contacts were being made on the short wave bands. Initially the ham radio stations exchanged letters to confirm a contact, but the idea for a pre-printed card soon arose. It is not certain which was the first QSL card, or the first station to use them, but the idea soon caught on.
Today ham radio operators send QSL cards for a variety of reasons. It is interesting to collect them. Having made contact with a particular ham radio station it is often nice to have a card from them to remember the contact. It may be a particularly interesting contact, or one with a rare country where few ham radio operators are active. It may even be with a famous personality as there are a number of famous people around the globe who hold amateur radio licenses. In addition to this the cards can displayed in the radio shack. Being colourful and interesting they can brighten up any ham radio shack.
Cards are also required when applying for some ham radio awards. One of the most famous awards is DXCC (DX Century Club). It is issued by the American Radio Relay League for submitting proof of making contacts with a hundred countries. Endorsements can be issued for making contacts with further countries. Naturally QSL cards are normally used as proof of making the contacts.
What are QSL cards?
A QSL card should contain sufficient information to confirm a ham radio contact. Normally the card is pre-printed with the call sign of the originating ham radio station placed prominently on it. Details of the operator's name and address should be included, and for those interested in VHF and UHF operation the QRA locator can be included as well. Details of the contact itself are naturally important and QSL cards have an area where these can be filled in. They should include the call sign of the station with whom contact was made, the time (usually in GMT), date and frequency (or band) and the mode of transmission. The signal report is another requirement, and it is also helpful to include a summary of the ham radio equipment being used. The transceiver or transmitter and receiver, and the antenna are of interest. Finally it is helpful to have space to say whether a card has been received, or whether one is wanted from the other station. Something like "PSE/TNX QSL" (please / thanks QSL) is often used.
An example of a typical QSL card
What are eQSL cards?
With the growth in electronic forms of communication via the Internet, electronic QSL cards, or eQSL cards are now being used by ham radio operators. These QSL cards can be sent via several organisations. The ARRL has its Logbook Of The World LOTW which can be reached via www.arrl.org/lotw/ and also another organisation is known as eQSL which can be reached at www.eqsl.cc.
Who sends QSL cards?
Many people send QSL cards. Many transmitting ham radio operators, particularly those using the HF bands send them regularly. The practise is less common for contacts above 30 MHz, although for DX contacts many stations still need to collect QSL cards for awards.
Listeners often send QSL cards as well. They may send a card to a transmitting station to give a listener report in the hope of receiving a card back. However many DX stations receive vast numbers of listener reports that are of little use. Many say little more than "I heard you please QSL". If a report is to stand a good chance of receiving a reply and a return QSL card then it should give some useful information. Band conditions, whether any other stations from the same area were heard, or any significant characteristics of the signal.
Occasionally other stations may send QSL cards. Often short wave broadcast stations may send them to listeners who send in good reports. To qualify for a QSL card, broadcast stations often require that the listener has listened to the station over a period of time. However as budgets for HF broadcast stations are being cut, QSL cards are becoming more difficult to obtain.
The most obvious way of sending QSL cards is through the mail. It is also customary to send the return postage to a DX station if a reply is expected. This is most easily done using an international reply coupon. However this soon becomes very expensive. To overcome this many ham radio national societies run what is called a QSL bureau. Using this system, cards can be sent in bulk. Ham radio stations send their cards to the national bureau, several at a time. The bureau sorts them along with cards from many other stations, sending them to other national societies in bulk. Finally the individual societies send them to their members only after several are ready for dispatch. Although this takes a lot longer than sending them by mail, it is very much cheaper. Most people use the bureau for most cards, only sending them direct for special contacts.
Many ham radio stations in rare locations are unable to deal with their cards themselves. They may not have the time, they may not be in that country for long, or the postal services may be very slow and unreliable. In instances like these, stations may appoint a QSL manager to look after sending and receiving their cards. The managers will be sent copies of the logs so they can send the QSL cards as required. When contacting DX stations listen out for any mention of a QSL manager. Alternatively look in the DX listings in the magazines or on pages on the net.
Collecting QSL Cards
Collecting QSL cards can be an interesting addition to the hobby of amateur radio. Cards from distant corners of the earth can be attractive and interesting. Not only do they brighten up the shack, but they can act as an encouragement to hear or contact some more interesting stations as well as being used to apply for operating awards.