What is a QSL?
It comes from the international Q codes, a type of radio shorthand based on similar codes developed by telegraph operators. Most radio amateurs want proof of their contact with other amateurs. This proof is the QSL card which is simply a postcard verifying contact between the two stations, or a reception report from an SWL (Short Wave Listener). A good guide to QSL’ing can be found on Charles Wilmotts’ (M0OXO) website.
Here you can see various QSL designs I have used over the years.
These are sent through the mail, normally in bulk via local radio organisations, often referred to as “the bureau” – the RSGB acts as the UK bureau. The typical journey of each card can be simplified as follows. The radio amateur mails his/her outbound cards in a single package to the local bureau, often very roughly sorted into callsign regions. When the package arrive at the bureau, the cards are then sorted into countries, and where necessary, sub divided into regions or areas.
When enough cards are gathered at the bureau for each destination, this could be many hundreds or even thousands, the cards are fowarded as a single bulk package to the receiving amateurs country/area bureau.
Once at the receiving countries bureau the same process in reverse happens. This is where the cards are sorted into the individual recipient callsigns.
In the case of the UK bureau, a regional QSL manager is used. A QSL manager is simply someone who distributes, or “manages” the inbound QSL cards for a range of callsigns. For example, my QSL manager handles all the inbound cards for callsigns that start with G7.
The manager operates as a smaller version of the bureau in that he receives a large number of cards in bulk and sorts them into the individual callsigns. Finally, once a batch has been compiled the QSL cards are forwarded onto the recipient.
A second method of exchanging paper QSL cards is the “Direct” method. As the name implies, QSL cards are sent directly from one amateur to another.
Amateurs that use the direct method tend to fall into one of three groups. Firstly, those who aren’t a member of a bureau, or where there is none available within their area. Secondly, those in areas of the world that have poor postal systems. Finally, those who have little or no interest in QSL cards or only send very few.
Amateurs using the direct method sending larger numbers of cards quite frequently request that you send a small “donation” to help cover the expense. It is commonly recognised that enclosing 1 or 2 US dollars is an accepted donation.
With the widespread use of the internet the electronic version of the QSL card (eQSL) was born. Following a similar format to the traditional paper based cards, radio amateurs can now send QSL cards to each other instantly via various web services, the most common of which is eQSL.cc While these services are very popular, and reduce the use of paper, there are still plenty of amateurs, myself included, who take delight in receiving a paper QSL.