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QSL is one of the Q code
Q code
The Q code is a standardized collection of three-letter message encodings, also known as a brevity code, all of which start with the letter "Q", initially developed for commercial radiotelegraph communication, and later adopted by other radio services, especially amateur radio...

s used in radiocommunication and radio broadcasting
Broadcasting is the distribution of audio and video content to a dispersed audience via any audio visual medium. Receiving parties may include the general public or a relatively large subset of thereof...

. A Q code message can stand for a statement or a question (when the code is followed by a question mark). In this case, QSL? means "do you confirm receipt of my transmission?" while QSL means "I confirm receipt of your transmission". Some also take it to mean "Query Station Location". A QSL card is a written confirmation.

QSL cards confirm either a two-way
Two-way communication
Two-way communication - uses communication to negotiate with the public, resolve conflict, and promote mutual understanding and respect between the organization and its public. Two-Way Communication in Public Relations...

 radiocommunication between two amateur radio station
Amateur radio station
An amateur radio station is an installation designed to provide radiocommunications in the amateur radio service for an amateur radio operator. Radio amateurs build and operate several types of amateur radio stations, including fixed ground stations, mobile stations, space stations, and temporary...

s or a one-way reception of a signal from an AM radio, FM radio, television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

 or shortwave
Shortwave radio refers to the upper MF and all of the HF portion of the radio spectrum, between 1,800–30,000 kHz. Shortwave radio received its name because the wavelengths in this band are shorter than 200 m which marked the original upper limit of the medium frequency band first used...

 broadcasting station. They can also confirm the reception of a two-way radiocommunication by a third party listener. A typical QSL card is the same size and made from the same material as a typical postcard
A postcard or post card is a rectangular piece of thick paper or thin cardboard intended for writing and mailing without an envelope....

, and most are sent through the mail as such.

History of QSL cards

The concept of sending a post card to verify reception of a station (and later two-way contact between them) may have been independently invented several times. The earliest reference seems to be a card sent in 1916 from 8VX in Buffalo, New York
Buffalo, New York
Buffalo is the second most populous city in the state of New York, after New York City. Located in Western New York on the eastern shores of Lake Erie and at the head of the Niagara River across from Fort Erie, Ontario, Buffalo is the seat of Erie County and the principal city of the...

 to 3TQ in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Philadelphia County, with which it is coterminous. The city is located in the Northeastern United States along the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. It is the fifth-most-populous city in the United States,...

 (in those days ITU prefix
ITU prefix
The International Telecommunication Union allocates call sign prefixes for radio and television stations of all types. They also form the basis for, but do not exactly match, aircraft registration identifiers. These prefixes are agreed upon internationally, and are a form of country code...

es were not used). The standardized card with callsign, frequency, date, etc. may have been developed in 1919 by C.D. Hoffman, 8UX, in Akron, Ohio
Akron, Ohio
Akron , is the fifth largest city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Summit County. It is located in the Great Lakes region approximately south of Lake Erie along the Little Cuyahoga River. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 199,110. The Akron Metropolitan...

. In Europe, W.E.F. "Bill" Corsham, 2UV, first used a QSL when operating from Harlesden
Harlesden is an area in the London Borough of Brent, northwest London, UK. Its main focal point is the Jubilee Clock which commemorates Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee....

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 in 1922.

QSL cards in amateur radio

Amateur radio operators exchange QSL cards to confirm two-way radio contact between stations. Each card contains details about one or more contacts, the station and its operator. At a minimum, this includes the call sign
Call sign
In broadcasting and radio communications, a call sign is a unique designation for a transmitting station. In North America they are used as names for broadcasting stations...

 of both stations participating in the contact, the time and date when it occurred (usually specified in UTC
Coordinated Universal Time
Coordinated Universal Time is the primary time standard by which the world regulates clocks and time. It is one of several closely related successors to Greenwich Mean Time. Computer servers, online services and other entities that rely on having a universally accepted time use UTC for that purpose...

), the radio frequency
Radio frequency
Radio frequency is a rate of oscillation in the range of about 3 kHz to 300 GHz, which corresponds to the frequency of radio waves, and the alternating currents which carry radio signals...

 or Band
Amateur radio frequency allocations
Amateur radio frequency allocation is done by national telecommunications authorities. Globally, the International Telecommunication Union oversees how much radio spectrum is set aside for amateur radio transmissions...

 used, the mode of transmission used, and a signal report
RST code
The RST code is used by amateur radio operators, shortwave listeners, and other radio hobbyists to exchange information about the quality of a radio signal being received. The code is a three digit number, with one digit each for conveying an assessment of the signal's readability, strength, and...

. One national association of amateur radio operators, the IARU Region #2, recommends a size of 3½ by 5½ inches (89 mm by 140 mm).

QSL cards are a ham
Etymology of ham radio
Ham is an informal term for an amateur radio operator, and, by extension, "ham radio" refers to amateur radio in general. This use of the word first appeared in the United States during the opening decade of the 20th century—for example, in 1909 Robert A...

 radio operator's calling card and are frequently an expression of individual creativity — from a photo of the operator at his station to original artwork, images of the operator's home town or surrounding countryside, etc. They are frequently created with a good dose of individual pride. Consequently, the collecting of QSL cards of especially interesting designs has become an add-on hobby to the simple gathering of printed documentation of a ham's communications over the course of his or her radio career.
Normally sent using ordinary, international postal systems, QSL cards can be sent either direct to an individual’s address, or via a country's centralized amateur radio association QSL bureau, which collects and distributes cards for that country. This saves postage fees for the sender by sending several cards destined for a single country in one envelope, or large numbers of cards using parcel services. The price for lower postage, however, is a delay in reaching its destination because of the extra handling time involved.

In addition to such incoming bureaus, there are also outgoing bureaus in some countries. These bureaus offer a further postage savings by accepting cards destined for many different countries and repackaging them together into bundles that are sent to specific incoming bureaus in other countries.

For rare countries, that is ones where there are very few amateur radio operators, places with no reliable (or even existing) postal systems, including expeditions to remote areas, a volunteer QSL manager may handle the mailing of cards. For expeditions this may amount to thousands of cards, and payment for at least postage is appreciated, and is required for a direct reply (as opposed to a return via a bureau).

Recently, the Internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

 has enabled electronic transmission as an alternative to the need for mailing a physical card. These systems use computer databases to store all the same information normally verified by QSL cards in an electronic format. Some sponsors of amateur radio operating award
Amateur radio operating award
An amateur radio operating award is earned by an amateur radio operator for establishing two-way communication with other amateur radio stations. Awards are sponsored by national amateur radio societies, radio enthusiast magazines, or amateur radio clubs, and aim to promote activity on the amateur...

s, which normally accept QSL cards for proof of contacts, may also recognize a specific electronic QSL system in verifying award applications.

One such system, eQSL enables electronic exchange of QSLs as jpeg
In computing, JPEG . The degree of compression can be adjusted, allowing a selectable tradeoff between storage size and image quality. JPEG typically achieves 10:1 compression with little perceptible loss in image quality....

 or gif
The Graphics Interchange Format is a bitmap image format that was introduced by CompuServe in 1987 and has since come into widespread usage on the World Wide Web due to its wide support and portability....

 images which can then be printed as cards on the recipient's local inkjet or laser printer, or displayed on the computer monitor. Many logging programs now have direct electronic interfaces to transmit QSO details in real-time into the eQSL.cc database. CQ magazine began accepting electronic QSLs from eQSL.cc for its four award programs in January 2009. 10-10 has been accepting eQSLs since 2002. Another, the ARRL’s Logbook of The World
Logbook of The World
Logbook of the World is a web-accessed database provided by the American Radio Relay League to implement a contact verification service among amateur radio operators. Using LoTW, radio amateurs can claim and verify contacts made with other amateurs, generally for claiming credit for operating...

 (LoTW), allows confirmations to be submitted electronically for that organization’s DX Century Club
DX Century Club
The DX Century Club, or DXCC, is an amateur radio operating award earned by making contact with 100 or more geographic entities around the world....

 and Worked All States
Worked All States
Worked All States, or WAS, is an amateur radio operating award given to those amateur radio operators who successfully complete two-way amateur radio communications with other amateur radio stations located in each of the 50 United States of America . The award is sponsored by the American Radio...


Even in the presence of electronic QSLs, physical QSL cards are often fine historical or sentimental keepsakes of a memorable location heard or worked, or a pleasant contact with a new radio friend, and serious hams may have thousands of them. Some cards are plain, while others are multicolored and may be oversized or double paged.

An illustrated history of one amateur radio operator's life and QSL collection was published in 2003.

QSL cards in shortwave listening

Shortwave listeners also collect QSL cards. Sometimes referred to as SWL cards, they can confirm reception of two-way amateur radio communications or commercial radio operators using HF
High frequency
High frequency radio frequencies are between 3 and 30 MHz. Also known as the decameter band or decameter wave as the wavelengths range from one to ten decameters . Frequencies immediately below HF are denoted Medium-frequency , and the next higher frequencies are known as Very high frequency...

 frequencies. A more common form of QSL card for shortwave listeners to collect verifies the reception of signals from international broadcasting
International broadcasting
International broadcasting is broadcasting that is deliberately aimed at a foreign, rather than a domestic, audience. It usually is broadcast by means of longwave, mediumwave, or shortwave radio, but in recent years has also used direct satellite broadcasting and the Internet as means of reaching...

 or utility stations.

For many international broadcasters, QSL cards serve as publicity tools rather than for gathering data on receptions. Often the cards include information about their stations or countries. Also, announcers may read on the air comments that listeners have put on their own QSL cards.

Other commercial and government television and radio stations have occasionally used QSL card requests as a means of judging the size of their audiences and distances that they can be received. Some of the very early television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

 stations in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 asked for listener reports, and HAARP program
High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program
The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program is an ionospheric research program jointly funded by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the University of Alaska, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency ....

 has occasionally requested reception information on its shortwave experiments, in return for which it sent back QSL cards. Time and frequency stations, such as WWV, will also send QSL cards in response to listeners reports. Other shortwave utility station
Utility station
The term utility station is used to describe fixed radio broadcasters disseminating signals that are not intended for reception by the general public...

s, such as marine and aircraft weather broadcasters, may QSL, as do some Pirate radio
Pirate radio
Pirate radio is illegal or unregulated radio transmission. The term is most commonly used to describe illegal broadcasting for entertainment or political purposes, but is also sometimes used for illegal two-way radio operation...

 stations, usually through mail drop boxes.

QSL cards in TV-FM and AM DXing

QSL cards are also collected by radio enthusiasts who listen for distant FM radio or TV stations. However, with digital broadcasting
Digital broadcasting
Digital broadcasting is the practice of using digital data rather than analogue waveforms to carry broadcasts over television channels or assigned radio frequency bands...

TV stations are now less commonly heard on the air. AM radio stations may also reply to listeners, particularly if they report receiving them at a significant distance.

External links