Last updated June 7, 2021

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 QSL Cards and Letters: an introduction

Here is a blast from the past, for all you radio nostalgia folks. Back in the day it was common for radio-listening hobbyists to send reception reports off to broadcast stations to let them know how they were being received. There was no internet, and no "on-line" so therefore any radio station you heard you were hearing direct "over the air" from its transmitter. Reception reports could be of real value to the stations, to know how well they were actually doing in their service area, and as well would tell them of any long-distance or unusual propagation of the signal. This would be very common in the world of short-wave broadcasting throughout the era from the 1920’s right through to the internet era. It was perhaps just as common with AM broadcast band listening throughout the same period.

In return for the reports the typical station would send out a verification of reception by way of a letter or a special post-card. If it was a letter it would be a thank you and a statement such as “Verifying your reception of XYZA on (date and time)” and signed by an official such as the station engineer. There would also be some information about the station, including such things as the transmitter power and antenna location. The other way to verify would be by way of a prepared reply post-card that would have much of the same information as a letter, but would be "fill in the blanks" for date and time.  These are called QSL cards, and are similar to ones still today being exchanged between amateur radio operators to confirm that they actually contacted each other.  "QSL" is a sort of radio code for "confirmed", and is one of many Q codes established in the early days of radio, and formerly used extensively in radio-telegraphy as a type of shorthand taking the place of phrases.  A very few are still in use today, QSL being one of them.

It was stated that broadcasting stations would most likely have letters or cards prepared and ready to send out to listeners who submitted reports.   But what about listeners who tuned in to other kinds of radio stations, such as coast stations, point-to-point relays, military, ships and aircraft?   In some cases these "utility" stations might also have prepared response materials, especially if they were operated by interested personnel, but in most cases they would not.   In cases such as this, a listener could prepare their own reply cards, and include one with the reception report, and hope that the station would fill it in and send it back.   Stamps or international reply coupons might be included with the report, to help elicit a response.

In my era of sending reports and waiting for QSL's, I received them from a variety of stations, including AM broadcasters, Shortwave broadcasters, ships, military stations, marine coast stations, morse code stations, television stations, and even a hovercraft!

Elsewhere I have described the evolution of my radio interest, but a summary might be relevant here.  I began to listen to radio for other than its content when I was in my mid-teens.   I started with the AM broadcast band, and from my location in BC did hear stations from across the continent.  I was never one of those "pro's" who had wonderful antenna farms and receivers.  I just had a regular home radio and a wire antenna strung from the house to the garage.   My first reception reports were sent in late 1963.   Later on I dabbled in shortwave listening, which means to listen to broadcasters on the high frequency bands.  Back then it was common to hear Australia, the USSR, both the China's, Ecuador and many other countries, and I did send a few reports to such stations, and have the QSL's to show for it.  I moved on to utility monitoring and sent reports in to stations that existed to communicate with ships at sea or airplanes between continents, or to send press reports around the world.  I also reported to ships, especially along the BC coast.  My specialty eventually became to listen for (and report to) US Coast Guard stations.   It was common to hear their major communications stations along all their coasts, and as well their local coast guard stations along the west coast.  Later when I lived in Quebec I continued that specialty and picked up many CG local stations along the Atlantic coast and on the Great Lakes.  I have many QSL's from them, as you will see here. 

My listening began in my hometown of Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.  I did a little as well when I was in French Language School in Quebec in 197I, and again when I had moved to Nova Scotia in the late 1970's.  I essentially stopped listening to this sort of radio by the beginning of the 80's, as I was very busy with my teaching career and with family.   By that time the marine radio environment had begun in earnest to switch to VHF communications, with only local coverage.  In fact the marine radio band I concentrated on, from 1600 to 3000 kHz is almost non-existent today.  Similarly, entertainment radio broadcasting has moved very much away from the AM band to FM.  We had five or six AM stations in Halifax in the mid-70's along with 3 or 4  FM.   Now there are no AM at all, and something like a dozen FM stations.  The AM band still has stations on it, especially in the USA, but it is a real mess for the most part.  I often tell myself I will get back into AM radio DX'ing but it has not yet happened.  Most of my QSL's reflect a bygone era.

Today the whole concept of QSL'ing has been pretty much negated by the fact that a person can listen to many radio stations on-line and therefore writing a reception report claiming to have heard the station over the air is no proof that it actually happened.  They are still a valid concept for stations that do not have an on-line version.  Many of the utility stations formerly operating in the long-distance HF bands are gone, replaced by other communication methods.

I began in 1963 sending reception reports to AM broadcasting stations.   Though I personally was thrilled by the reception of these stations, I think now that most of my reports were of little use to the stations involved, as they would have received literally thousands of them, with few being out of the ordinary.  Their replies were mostly I think an exercise in good customer relations.    Today with the decline in profits in broadcasting I doubt many would want to go to the expense of sending out responses to almost useless reports, and of course, as stated above, most broadcasters are on-line as well, so reports could well be fraudulent.  

I was not a fanatic and cannot say that my QSL's are anything particularly special, but I do have quite a few. My intent is to eventually include my complete collection here.   This is a project commencing in June 2021 getting close to 60 years after I received my first QSL.

Due to the large number of QSL's I am dividing this on-line display into categories as shown.

Note that in the following table, the links are active but most pages do not yet have any content.  As of June 7, 2021, the USCG page is essentially complete, and the Shortwave Broadcast page has some QSL's included. 

Shortwave Broadcasters AM Broadcast Band Stations
US Coast Guard Stations Canadian Coast Stations
Ships Miscellaneous Utility Stations
Miscellaneous Other Stations


Prior to all of my specialized QSL pages being completed I am showing a varied mix of QSLs below

The yacht was in British Columbia waters during a visit by the Queen. This was
a lucky catch, as it was just a couple of days before I reported for
basic training and left my radio listening behind for many months.

This was a French morse code station in Tahiti.

An AM broadcaster in Honolulu

This hovercraft was the first one operated by the Canadian Coast Guard and
was based in the Vancouver area

This was a coast station (for ship to shore communications)

This was a shortwave broadcaster in Taiwan

Back in the cold war, the US government operated a network of Voice of America
stations around the world.   Here are QSL's from three of their home-based
transmitters, with Greenville being the most important one.   There was in this era
another transmitter within the USA at Dixon, California, but I for some reason
did not send a report to that one.

Back in the day, AM stations often went off the air at midnight or thereabouts.
My favourite local station back then was CFUN 1410 in Vancouver and it was one of them.  I endeavoured
to stay up late and see what I could hear on that same frequency when CFUN went
off the air.  WING was one of the stations I could occasionally hear.