What Are QSL Cards?

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A QSL card as it applies to HAM radio operations, is a written confirmation of a one-way signal being received over AM, FM, television, or shortwave radio.

So what does this denote? Why would you want one? Read on and all will be explained!

A Bit of Background

If you are not familiar with the world of two-way radio, then you may wonder precisely what all of this is about!

What you need to know, is that ham radio operators are amateur radio operators who enjoy tinkering with radio technology in order to experiment sending and receiving messages across large distances. Often this will involve such activities as attempting to contact stations that are located great distances away, despite the limitations of shortwave radio. In doing so, they can demonstrate their expertise, as well as getting the thrill of reaching someone located hundreds of miles away.

Any handheld two-way radio will work by causing fluctuations to the electromagnetic field that exists all around us. These fluctuations take the form of waves, which then ripple indefinitely until they are disrupted one way or another. They are caused by small electrical pulses that travel up antenna and then propagate into the ionosphere around them.

Depending on the wavelength and many other factors, these signals can travel deep into space, or might only have a range of a few meters. If the signal is not strong enough, if it encounters interference from topography, or from other signals, or if it travels into space over the horizon (because it doesn’t follow the topography of the earth), then it will be lost.

Therefore, great skill and patience is involved with sending and receiving signals over a huge distance.

And if you should successful manage to send a signal a long way… then how do you know that you’ve been successful? That’s where the QSL card comes from – providing a written confirmation that the message has been received.

What a QSL Card Looks Like

The term QSL comes from Q code – which is a type of code used by radio operators. Here, QSL is a question meaning ‘do you confirm receipt of my transmission’. If you send the same statement, leaving the question mark off, then it is instead an assertion that you did receive the message from someone else.

These cards are typically sent via snail mail and will usually be around the size of a postcard. They are also typically made from a similar card material. They may include a stamp, and may have information about the station – possibly a photo of the operator.

These cards can be sent directly to an individual’s address, or to the amateur radio association of the region. They can also be used to confirm winners of contests and may even become collectible at times.

For rare countries – those where there are very few amateur radio operators and with no postal systems – a volunteer QSL manager may handle the mailing. Of course, these are even more exciting for those that manage to obtain them however!