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Reporting and QSLs


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"QSL" is the radiotelegraph code meaning "I confirm." In shortwave listening, a "QSL" is a card or letter from a radio station confirming that the recipient indeed heard the station.

In the early days of radio, stations were eager to know how well they were being heard. To encourage listeners to write in and report their reception, stations offered to send listeners souvenir cards and letters Soon SWLs began to collect these QSLs from stations as avidly as many people collect sports cards today.

Most international broadcast stations today use regular monitors to assess how well they are being heard and no longer rely upon listener letters. However, most broadcasters still respond to listener reception reports with QSL cards or letters. Many SWLs have amassed impressive, colorful collections of these souvenirs of their listening experiences.

QSL certificate from KUSA-1660
A rare QSL! This is from KUSA, an experimental digital AM station that operated on 1660 kHz for a few days during the 1995 National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. This was the first use of digital modulation on the AM broadcasting band---a bit of history preserved in this QSL card!

To receive a QSL from a station, you need to send a "reception report" to the station giving information about what you heard, the reception conditions, and what you liked (or didn’t like) about their programming. A good reception report should include the following:

  • the date and time (in UTC) you heard the station
  • the frequency on which you heard the station
  • details about what you heard sufficient to establish that you indeed heard the station; these are things like names of announcers and programs, titles of musical selections, station slogans, etc. (be sure to include the times you hear the various items)
  • an evaluation of the signal quality, including strength, degree of fading, and any interference you were experiencing (include the names and frequencies of interfering stations)
  • the make and model of radio you are using, along with any external antenna you use
  • comments and suggestions about the station’s programming

That last element is very important, since most international broadcasters today rely upon reception reports more for listener input about programming than they do for information on how well they are being heard. Don’t be afraid to candidly state what you really liked or disliked about their programming, and feel free to make suggestions about what you would really like to hear. Some major changes have been made as a result of these suggestions. For example, at the height of the Cold War in the late 1960s, the USSR’s Radio Moscow referred to American men who had no formal government title, such as "Governor Smith," simply by their last names, as in "Smith" and "Jones." A letter from an American listener pointed out that this sounded rude and uncultured, and that letter was read on Radio Moscow’s "Moscow Mailbag" program. The hosts said they were unaware of how this was perceived and no offense had been intended, and from that day forward Radio Moscow used the title "Mister" when referring to American men in its newscasts and commentaries!

Some stations like to receive signal information in the "SINPO" code. SINPO stands for signal strength, interference, atmospheric noise, propagation, and overall reception quality. Each factor is rated on a 1 (worst) to 5 (best) scale, with a report like SINPO 55555 indicating the reception quality you get from a local AM or FM broadcaster. However, I prefer to describe reception quality in words, since I can give more useful information to the station that way.

To encourage frequent reception reports, many international broadcasters change designs of their QSL cards frequently and offer special series of cards that require you to send reports at regular intervals. In the late 1980s, for example, Radio Denmark offered a set of QSL cards that formed a painting when all cards were collected. Other stations send out stickers, decals, and pennants made of paper, plastic, or cloth to regular reporters. And a reception report to a station will typically get you on their mailing list for program schedules for years to come.

So you think you have a tough job? How would you have liked to have been one of the staffers at Radio RSA, the Voice of South Africa, and have a job that forced you to justify apartheid to a skeptical world? At least Radio RSA sent out attractive cloth pennants like this. After the end of apartheid, the South African government focused its energies on broadcasting to Africa through its Channel Africa, and air time on the former Radio RSA transmitters is now rented to other broadcasters.
Pennant from Radio RSA, South Africa

Not all shortwave broadcasters actively seek reception reports, especially stations in smaller nations that are privately owned and operated (as is often the case in Latin America). Here you must get creative in order to get the station to reply. While English can be used when reporting to major international broadcasters, you should always report in a major language used in that nation when reporting reception of smaller shortwave stations. (Reporting guides for such languages as Spanish, French, and Indonesian are available from shortwave equipment dealers.) You should also include some souvenirs of your area, such as picture postcards, commemorative stamps, etc. It also helps to prepay the postage for a reply. The easiest way to do this is with mint stamps of the country; these can be obtained from stamp dealers or from individuals who sell these to the SWLing and ham communities. Sending along $1.00 in U.S. currency to pay for postage is becoming increasing popular. Finally, you could send along two or three international reply coupons (IRCs), which are available at larger post offices.

To find the correct address to send your reception report to, consult a publication such as Passport to World Band Radio or the World Radio TV Handbook. These publications will also include information as to what languages you can send reports in, whether return postage should be sent, and which station personnel should receive your letter. Always send your reports via air mail; the extra cost over surface mail is a small price to pay for the extra speed and reliability of air mail service.

Some non-broadcast stations—especially time signal stations, maritime stations, and hams—will also reply to listener reports, especially if the listener prepares a QSL card and sends it along with their report. However, many non-broadcast stations will simply ignore reception reports since they couldn’t care less how well they are being received by the general public.

A lot of people enjoy shortwave listening without bothering to send reception reports and collecting QSLs, and indeed there are several listeners (and stations) that consider the entire practice to be a waste of time and energy. However, I enjoy these tangible memories from my listening "career." Today, I especially treasure my QSLs from stations in countries like the USSR, Czechoslovkia, East Germany, and other countries that no longer exist. These are pieces of history I’m glad I decided to obtain!

QSL from Radio Moscow How's this for a bit of history! This QSL is for Radio Moscow's broadcast announcing the failure of the 1991 coup attempt and Boris Yeltsin's intention to dissolve the USSR at year's end. Thanks to shortwave, I got to hear the moment when the "evil empire" collapsed!


For further information on shortwave broadcast stations, including addresses, we recommend . . .

Passport

    Passport To World Band Radio

    2004 Edition

    By Larry Magne.
    A must have book for every worldband listener. Provides complete visual data on all shortwave broadcast stations from 2.3 to 26 MHz. See at a glance: station name, location, frequency, time, language and power. Up-to-date station addresses too. Plus candid hard-hitting reviews on the latest shortwave radios and antennas. The world's #1 selling shortwave guide. Indispensable! I.B.S. 528 pages.
    Only $22.95

    Available from Universal Radio and other select radio and book dealers.

    Click here to visit Universal Radio's online catalog.

WRTH

    World Radio TV Handbook

    2003 Edition

    By D. Bobbett.
    Considered the SWL's Bible with schedules, frequencies and addresses of shortwave broadcast stations. Organized primarily by country. Also includes a by-frequency listing of shortwave broadcast stations plus receiver reviews A publication for every shortwave listener. WRTH Publications. 2003 Edition 640 pages.
    Only $24.95

    Available from Universal Radio and other select radio and book dealers.

    Click here to visit Universal Radio's online catalog.


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