Posted on March 16, 2016
QSL cards are a ham radio operator’s calling card and are frequently an expression of individual creativity. Sometimes that creativity is enhanced by a typewriter:
QSL stands for “I acknowledge receipt,” or “I hear you.” It comes from the Q codes, a set of radio shorthand developed by the British government around 1909, which were in turn based on similar codes developed by telegraph operators. When radio amateurs started communicating a few years later, they wanted to provide proof of their contact with other amateurs. This proof quickly became the QSL card: a postcard verifying contact between two stations. When broadcast radio stations sprang up, the hobby of long-distance radio listening, or DXing, began too, and these stations started issuing QSL cards as well.
“Tikkity-tac, Tikkity-tac …”
QSL cards fall into three general categories, and the easiest way to understand the differences is to divide the radio world this way: amateur radio operators, radio stations, and listeners.
Ham or amateur radio QSLs are for contact between two amateur radio operators. The cards are proof that the two operators have been in touch with each other. Hams will list the date, time, and frequency of the contact with each other, usually with information about their equipment. A ham card will always list its call sign.
Radio station QSLs are sent to listeners who have sent a report to the station requesting verification of reception. The cards are proof that the listener has heard the station.
CB (Citizen’s Band) QSLs were designed for the same use as amateur cards. Citizen’s Band is a set of frequencies designed for local use, with minimal requirements for getting on the air. SWL cards (for Short Wave Listener) were designed to be sent to amateurs by listeners. Most CB and SWL cards, however, were simply swapped as a hobby.
In the United States, CB cards can be identified by the call sign: Three letters followed by four numbers. In Canada, CB calls begin with “XM,” followed by five numbers. SWL cards usually use some form of “SWL” for the call, or a sign that looks like a ham sign, but has two or more numbers. These can be distinguished from ham cards by the fact that they indicate that the station was heard, not contacted.
SWL cards are mostly from the 1930s; CB cards are mostly from the 1960s and 70s. There is a less common type of swapping card from the early 1960s, the WPE card, using call signs beginning with “WPE,” issued by Popular Electronics Magazine to radio listeners.