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QSL is a "Q-code" used in radio communications as a shorthand for "I acknowledge your transmission" or, when used as a question, "Do you acknowledge my transmission?". A "QSL" can also refer to a card or other document sent by a radio station to a listener acknowledging a reception report of that station's signal. In the pirate radio world it generally means the latter, and, when used as a verb, it indicates the act of sending the QSL (via post or email).

Listeners send a reception report, with enough information about a broadcast to prove that it was heard, to the station, via a maildrop, or posted on a website such as the HFU, or to an email address. Information about the show should, at a minimum, include date, time in UTC, station ID, frequency, mode of operation, SIO or SINPO numbers, the listener's location, address that the QSL should be sent to, and a few details of the show, such as program content, when IDs were heard, et al. Most stations would like to hear listeners' opinions of the program, as well. The station may then return a QSL to the listener, usually via either the maildrop, or to the listener's email address. When a maildrop is used, it is customary to include either a couple of dollars, or three first-class stamps, to cover the cost of postage. Some stations have also asked for a monetary contribution, as well, although this practice has acquired a distasteful reputation, due to a few stations keeping the money and not sending the QSL.


Pirate radio QSLs

Pirate radio QSLs are notable in their variety; they range from simple postcards confirming that the listener did indeed hear the station, to elaborate artwork rivaling professional productions, to packages of program and promotional material, including CDs of current and past shows. Items such as clocks, rubber chickens, sailor's hats, and even packets of human hair have been received, although these are somewhat unusual.

It's important to realize that pirate stations may take a considerable amount of time to reply to a QSL request. Some stations may reply in short order, within hours via email, or within a week via maildrop. Others, though, may take weeks, months, or even years to reply, and a delay of a few months is probably the norm. Generally speaking, if a station does announce a maildrop or email address, it will QSL; however, there have been a few stations that have not, for unknown reasons. The listener should not be discouraged by a long, delay, though, as the odds are that they will receive a QSL eventually.

Many older pirate shows are relayed, and the maildrop or email address announced on the show may no longer be active. It may also prove that the station itself is no longer active, even if the drop still is. When in doubt, it's best to consult someone in the #pirateradio IRC channels, or to post a question on the Shortwave section of the HFU.

Utility station QSLs

QSL card from US Naval station NPN in Guam.

A few utility stations (commercial and military) do acknowledge correct reception reports with QSL cards. Standard frequency and time signals are known to send QSL cards for decades, as did a few marine, fixed and aero stations.

For the rest, the vast majority of utility stations which have no QSL cards, the DXer must prepare a QSL card which is sent to the station. The station manager signs and stamps the card and returns it to the DXer.

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Amateur radio QSLs

A ham radio QSL card from Tibet, a formerly independent country, currently occupied by Communist China

QSLing is an old tradition in amateur radio. Both sides of a radio contact (QSO) send their QSL cards to each other, either directly using the postal service or via a QSL bureau. It is often said that The QSL is the last courtesy of the QSO.

Each QSL card contains details about one or more contacts, the station and its operator. At a minimum, this includes the callsign of both stations participating in the contact, the time and date when it occurred (usually specified in GMT/UTC), the frequency or Band used, the transmission mode used, and a RST signal report. The American Radio Relay League (ARRL), recommends a size of 3½ by 5½ inches (89 mm by 140 mm).

A QSL card also serves as a radio operator's calling card, so they 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.

QSL bureaus

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. (1)

In addition to such incoming bureaus, there are also outgoing bureaus in most 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.(2)

Usually the national radio society for each country operates the official QSL bureau listed by IARU. With the exception of the USA, the IARU bureaus accept both incoming and outgoing cards. In the USA the American Radio Relay League operates only the outgoing bureau, incoming QSLs being handled by 20 separate bureaus. For example, the Yankee Clipper Contest Club in Milford, MA, handles incoming QSL cards for the W1 call area.

QSL Managers

QSL from 1X5AA in Grozny, Chechnya, issued by QSL manager W3HNK

For rare or DX 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).

Electronic QSLs

Recently, the Internet has enabled electronic transmission as an alternative to the need for mailing a physical card. These systems use computer databases to store electronic records corresponding to verified contacts (QSOs) and containing the same information as printed QSL cards. Some sponsors of amateur radio operating awards, 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.cc enables electronic exchange of QSLs as JPEG or GIF images which can then be printed as cards on the recipient's local printer, or displayed on the computer screen. 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. eQSL.CC cards are also acceptable by DARC and ISWL for their awards programs.

Another electronic QSL system, the ARRL’s Logbook of The World (LoTW), allows confirmations to be submitted electronically for that organization’s DX Century Club (DXCC) and Worked All States (WAS) awards.

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.(3)

CB radio QSLs

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QSL Gallery


  1. "The Radio Amateur's Handbook 1978", American Radio Relay League, Newington, CT, 1977, pp. 653
  2. IARU QSL Bureaus
  3. Danny Gregory and Paul Sahre: "Hello World A Life in Ham Radio", Princeton Architectural Press, New York, ISBN 1-56898-281-X, 2003.

See Also

External links

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