Saturday, May 26, 2012

Reader comments: Memories of collecting QSL cards

When this week's series on QSL cards began on Monday, reader Jim Fahringer was nice enough to leave a long, three-part response with his memories of collecting QSLs. Here is what Fahringer wrote, with some patriotic QSLs interspersed for Memorial Day weekend:
I really like collecting QSL cards. There is another type of QSL card which I happen to collect. These QSL cards are issued by international shortwave radio stations from around the world. You don't have to be a ham radio operator or CB radio operator to enjoy them. You simply have to be a shortwave radio listener.

When radio first came out for the general public in the 1920s and 1930s there were very few AM stations up and running on the AM dial, so radio manufacturers produced radios with shortwave bands. These additional radio bands allowed the early radio listeners to have more of a variety of stations to listen to. My first experience with shortwave radio was at my grandmother's house in the late 1950s. She had an old Silvertone floor model shortwave radio. This radio had a cathode ray tube which stuck out from the radio dial. When the radio warmed up, the cathode ray tube would glow green. The tube contained two black lines at the top and bottom of the tube. When you were tuning in your station the closer the black lines became the better the reception of the station. When the two black lines became one line or became as close as you could make them -- it meant that you had the station fine tuned for best quality possible. Back then, as well as today, most developed countries of the world have an external shortwave radio service directed to other parts of the world including North America. The broadcasts directed to North America are in the English language.

Jack "Red Raider" Gienty's KOB0440 QSL card from Bristol, Connecticut.

Any listener can earn a QSL card by filling out a reception report and submitting it to the station. The reception report should contain the following info in order to qualify for a QSL card (although today the requirements are less stringent than they were years ago):
  • 1. You must listen to the transmission for a period of at least 15 minutes
  • 2. Write the date you heard the transmission
  • 3. Write the time that you heard the transmission in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which used to be called Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
  • 4. Write down the name of the station
  • 5. Write down the name of the program
  • 6. Write down the frequency on which you heard the program (It is much easier with today's digital read-out radio dials than it was on older radios. On older radios you would have to guess the frequency and then listen closely to the announcer as he announced the frequency numbers at the end of the program to accurately tell what frequency you were listening to.)
  • 7. Take notes and submit at least three details that you heard on the program
  • 8. Include a SIO or SINPO report (S = Signal Strength, I = Intereference, O = Overall Reception, N = Noise, P = Propogation). You write down a number from 1 to 5 indicating the quality of each item. 1 is the lowest or poorest, while 5 is the best. (These reports are not as useful as they once were, because many shortwave broadcasters have access to electronic monitoring equipment in other countries.)
  • 9. Stations used to like to hear about what model and type of shortwave radio and antenna that were using.
  • 10. After writing down these details, you would send them to the station and anxiously await your QSL in the mail. Today many stations allow you to fill out reception reports online.
In addition to receiving a QSL card, you could often receive a station pennant, giveaways, memorabilia, decals and program guides. Shortwave radio listening and collecting international shortwave radio QSL cards was and is a wonderful way to learn about the culture, government and customs of foreign countries. It is also an interesting and creative way to learn about world geography.

Bob Malboeuf's KMA-6566 QSL card from Worcester, Massachusetts.

Personally, I am amazed at this scientific phenomena of radio waves, which can travel thousands of miles around the globe and penetrate the bricks and mortar of our homes or apartments and be received on radio equipment to produce the spoken word and music.

While most countries of the world continue to broadcast to North America in the evenings in English, a number have stopped issuing QSL cards or require several international reply coupons or dollars to cover postage. In the early days of radio, many AM stations that were far away would also issue QSL cards or letters of verification. These early verification letters/cards and QSL cards from AM stations are quite collectable.

One of the more unusual international QSL cards in my collection is one from "Radio Americus." It seem that "Radio Americus" was a clandestine radio station operated by the CIA on Swan Island in the Caribbean. Its purpose was to destabilize the communist government in Cuba. The station has long since been out of commission. Another interesting QSL card in my collection is one from the U.S. Army Strategic Communication Command in Washington, D.C. The call letters of this station are W.A.R. Some other interesting QSL cards are from cable and wireless international stations in Jamaica and a number from the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy.

I forgot to mention that, in addition to getting QSL cards from international shortwave stations, you could also get QSL cards from private as well as government utility stations like Armed Services and international time stations. Of course, I have QSLs from BBC-London, Radio Canada International, Radio Canada Northern Service, Radio Madrid-Spain, Radio France International, Radio Berlin International, The Voice Germany-Cologne-West Germany, Radio Budapest, Radio Sofia, Radio Moscow, Radio Kiev, The Voice of the West-Lisbon-Portugal, Radio Netherlands, Radio Switzerland, Radio France International, Radio Sweden, Radio Accra-Ghana, Radio Cairo, ELWA-Monrovia-Liberia, Radio South Africa, Radio Australia, Radio New Zealand, Radio Havana, Radio Mexico, Trans World Radio-Bonaire-Netherlands Antilles, 4VEH-Cape Haitian-Haiti, HCJB-Quito-Ecuador, Radio Brazil and Radio Argentina, among others.

Some of the more interesting programs that I heard include: the last transmission before Russian troops invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, the playing of martial music over Radio Moscow in honor of President John F. Kennedy on the day of his assassination and throughout the weekend, and the quoting and reading of an editorial of J.W. Gitt, former owner and editor of The Gazette and Daily newspaper of York, Pennsylvania, over Radio Havana, Cuba.

Another interesting feature of shortwave radio programming was the wide spread use of "Mailbag Programs." Listeners would write letters to these programs with questions about the country and its customs. The letters would be read and the questions answered over the air. It used to be such a thrill to have your letter read and your questions answered for all the world to hear. I had questions answered on Radio Canada, Radio Havana Cuba, HCJB-Quito-Ecuador, Radio Moscow, The Voice of America, Radio Cairo, and Trans World Radio-Bonaire-Netherlands Antilles.

Shortwave radio listening is a wonderful educational experience and collecting QSL cards from international stations is a wonderful hobby.
Thanks again for sharing all of this, Jim!

Friday, May 25, 2012

International QSLs: Germany, Sweden, Argentina and Guernsey

To finish off this week's series on QSL cards, here are five from outside the United States.

Above: This DF 7ID card features an image of the Big Blue Marble. The call sign belonged to Walter Kantwerg of Karlsruhe, West Germany.1 According to the back of the card, Walter confirmed reception of a signal on October 26, 1981.

Above: This is the SM6LWH QSL card for Hans Palmqvist of Varberg, Sweden.2 Varberg's most famous attraction is Varberg Fortress, which dates to about 1300 and might or might not have a small monster in its moat. Anyway, Hans filled out this card on September 24, 1981, and added this note: "TNX BILL FOR NICE QSO."

Above: This is the LU4FDM card for Manuel E. De Vita of Rosario, Argentina.3 The back of this card, which -- like the previous card -- is addressed to "Bill," was filled out on November 9, 1981. It also features a stamp for Radio Club Rosario.

Above: Here's another one from Germany. This DJ9EA card is for W. Steinbacher of Aschaffenburg. The building shown in the illustration is Schloss Johannisburg, a castle that dates to the early 1600s. The back of this card is dated February 1968.

Above: Finally, to wrap up QSL week, here's the GU5DPR QSL card for Charles Thys, who lives in Jerbourg Point, Guernsey.4 The back of this card, pictured at right, has all kinds of neat stuff. The radio contact was made on December 27, 1981. The QSL card was sent by air mail to Illinois with a 20-pence Guernsey stamp. And someone (presumably Charles Thys) wrote this note:
"Dear Bill thanks nice QSO. Can you not send advertising (?) of SOLAR ENERGY PANELS?"
1. Fun fact: It is speculated that Karlsruhe was used as the model for the layout of Washington, D.C.
2. Fun fact: Varberg was famously described as the least appealing city in Sweden in 1826.
3. Fun fact: Rosario has an asteroid named after it.
4. Not entirely fun fact: The Bailiwick of Guernsey, a British Crown dependency, is in the grouping known as the Channel Islands. It is not a part of the United Kingdom or the European Union. Got all that? It's a bailiwick!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

QSLs: East Hartford, Montgomery, Portland (Texas), Lima, Allentown

Here's a colorful collection for Day 4 of the QSL cards.

Above: This red-and-white KBA 3665 card for Danny and Pat Lupacchino of East Hartford, Connecticut, contains the phrase "My Ol' Hag!" On the reverse side is a stamp indicating "QSL's By Don KBD1627".

Above: This simple green1 QSL card feature's Alex P. Ansley Jr.'s 6Q5743 call sign. It's from Montgomery, Alabama, and it features two logos. One is for Texaco. And the one on the right is the old United States civil defense logo.2 This card was produced by the Dixie Binding Co. in Anniston, Alabama.

Above: This is the KKT-4019 card for Tom Arnold of Portland, Texas. There is a stamp on the back for the "Browning Eagle Scanner Beam" of The Texas Eagles in Portland.

Above: Here's a red card with two call signs -- 19Q-8445 and KHH-3908 -- belonging to Walt "Big Iron" Schulz, his wife Irene and (presumably) their children John and Danny. The Schulz family hails from Lima, Ohio, home of the Lima Army Tank Plant.

Above: Finally, this is the KKG-4032 QSL card for Sophia Mitch, a member of the Pennridge Radio Club of Allentown, Pennsylvania. There's a drawing of a nurse and the caption "A Friend in Need." This card, like some of the others that have been featured this week, was produced by the CBC club of Lexington, North Carolina.

For tomorrow's final day of QSL cards, I have some groovy international QSLs to showcase.

1. My not-ready-for-primetime Canon scanner has problems with certain bright blues and greens. I can assure you that the Montgomery, Alabama, card is actually apple-green (chartreuse).
2. The United States civil defense logo is also used as part of the CONELRAD (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation) logo. And, speaking of CONELRAD, I recently stumbled upon the fabulous CONELRAD history website, which is devoted to atomic culture, past and present. It also has a side blog titled CONELRAD ADJACENT, with posts on topics such as Mount Weather, civil-defense films and doomsday scripts.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

QSL cards: Cats, monkeys and Hartford, Connecticut

Day 3 of the QSL cards takes us into the animal kingdom.

Above: This cute KCG-2891 card shows a cat holding a mirror that presumably features Edith Becker of Alexandria, Virginia. It was printed by the CBC club of Lexington, North Carolina.

Above: There's an umbrella-carrying kitty cat on this XM632979 card for Murray and Juanita Longmire of Annapolis County, Nova Scotia. The QSL card, which is dated 1968 on the back, indicates that "Wanda & Donna" provide the background music. I wonder if Wanda and Donna were their cats.

Above: This nifty QSL card was drawn and colored by hand. It is the KJY2218 card for Carrie and Jessie Hayes of Cut Off, Louisiana. There is a cat or baby tiger labeled "Pappy Hayes" and a fairy labeled "Mammy Hayes." On the back of the card is a red stamp for the Oregon Trail QSL Swap Club.

Above: On to the monkeys, which are featured on this KNH-9121 card for Robert and Catherine Payne of Joplin, Missouri. There's a monkey sitting by the radio and the slogan: "Don't [Monkey] Around, Give Us A Call." Also noted are the "Little Paynes" -- Jacque, Joyce and Jim. This card was printed by Mosbaugh Printing of Joplin.

Above: Finally, here's a QSL card that my scanner doesn't do justice to, in terms of its true color. The actual card is bright green. It's the KBA7589 card for Charles H. Veysey of Hartford, Connecticut. This one, which was originally mailed in 1962, is neat because the front side has all of the information that is typically noted by the sender on the reverse side, including:
Come back for more QSLs tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

QSLs: Stoneham, New Brunswick, Attleboro, Lexington, Bridgewater

It's Day 2 of this week's showcase of QSL cards from the 1960s.

Above: This is the KDY 8070 card for Lee and Russ Amari of Stoneham, Massachusetts. The artwork was done by Dick Morehouse, and Striper, Robin and Mittens would seem to refer to the fish, bird and cat pictured here. The card was printed by Littlefield Press of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Perhaps an amateur radio enthusiast out there could tell us what "Mon. 16" and "All 23" on this QSL card refer to.

Above: This is the XM65218 QSL card for Bob and Phyllis Glenn. They are from Chipman, a small village in New Brunswick, Canada. On the back of the card is this message, written in cursive:
Hi Jimmy,
Received your card via KOA8006 Jim & Arlene Smith, East Freetown, Mass. Thanks for card.
Bob & Phyllis

Above: This is the KIO8660 card for "Bigmouth" and "Oldlady" of Attleboro, Massachusetts. It features Andy and Flo of the Andy Capp comic strip.1

There's another "All 23" reference. My best guess is that it refers to the standard number of channels on a CB radio at the time.

Above: This is the KOK-3443 card for Brenda Bailey of Lexington, North Carolina. The cartoon card was printed by CBC club of that same city.

Above: Finally, this is the KGO-2658 card for "The Cowboy" of Bridgewater, Massachusetts. The card contains logos for:
  • Miracle QSL Swap Club of Michigan
  • Space Chasers of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
  • PISS (which, according to the back of the card, is "Prairie International Skip Shooters")2
1. Andy Capp has changed quite a bit since his 1957 debut. For example, he no longer smokes or beats his wife.
2. The creature in the PISS logo looks like it was inspired by Maurice Sendak.

Monday, May 21, 2012

QSL cards: Sheboygan, Ravenna and Hudson Falls

Good morning! Today is the seventh anniversary of Joan and I tying the knot. We'll be taking some time off together this week to do the usual exciting anniversary things.1

So, this week's posts have all been done in advance. And all of them will feature a new category for Papergreat -- QSL cards.2

QSL cards -- typically the same size as postcards -- are written confirmation of the receipt of a radio transmission. The cards are used regularly by amateur radio operators to confirm two-way radio contact between stations. They include the call sign of both stations, the time and date the contact occurred and other details.

The cards share some other common features. Many will include 73 or 73's (which means "best regards") and 88 or 88's ("love (or hugs) and kisses").

I recently acquired a shoebox full of QSL cards, and those are the ones I'll be posting throughout the week. Most of them are from the 1960s and 1970s.

The QSL card at the top of today's post is for KAEN-8510 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.3 Under the cat, the small circle logo states: "C.B.ers for Charity, East Central Wisconsin, Unit No. 469."

Here are a couple more QSL cards for today...

Above: This is Ruby Caccia's blue card for KLO 1440 in Ravenna, Ohio.

Above: This is George L. Gould's card for KID 5293 in Hudson Falls, New York. Besides the eagle, it features, in red, Olive Oyl and a guy who looks like Sherlock Holmes.

Come back tomorrow for more groovy QSL cards!

1. Possibly involving some combination of Centralia, English Center, Shartlesville, Montoursville, Frick's Lock, places where cows wander free on the road and gambling.
2. If QSL cards are not your cup of tea, perhaps you'd be interested in delving in some of the most interesting Papergreat posts from 2011. This page can get you started on your ephemera journey.
3. It's just fun to say "Sheboygan." Sheboygan. Sheboygan. Sheboygan.