QSLing For Maximum Returns

This began as an answer to a question raised at a local club meeting where I was giving a talk on QSLing successes and pitfalls. This was my answer to Peter.

Ah yes… the most frustrating endeavor in ham radio except listening to your local repeater!
Peter there are some do’s and don’ts to weight things in your favour. Let’s start with the basics of QSLing.

Date and time
The DATE and TIME are ALWAYS written in Universal Coordinated Time. Be sure you enter the date correctly. There are many valid date formats: October 9 1996 , Oct.9.1996, 9-10-1996, 09-10-96, 09/10/96 but for QSLing purposes the time, like the date, is ALWAYS written in UTC time, and starts at the same time as the new UTC day and is expressed as 0000z. NEVER enter your local time. To do so is courting a no reply, and a waste of time and effort. The BAND can be entered as meter band (20m), as frequency band (14 MHz), or as your transmit frequency (14.195).

The Posting Process:
The size of the envelope is important because of what will be placed inside it. DO NOT use the small airmail envelopes available in many supermarkets as you could well find the returned card has been folded over in order to fit inside. Besides your QSL card, you may wish to include a postcard of your area to show where you reside. I suggest you use a size C6 which is 115x162mm. A packet of 100 is reasonably priced and is available from supermarkets, stationers, and Post offices. Airmail stickers are freely available and should you use an airmail rubber stamp only use a blue ink pad. The mail sorter is glancing for a blue mark, not a red one and instinctively places the blue marked one in the airmail direction. There are two stickers available in the NZ Post Office. Use the Green ones as they are economy, get there almost as fast by air mail and cost $1.50 to send anywhere in the world.

The Package you send
PRINT the address neatly on the envelope. NEVER, NEVER put a call sign on the envelope ANYWHERE. Should you not know the name of the operator, write ‘The Manager’, Box xyz etc. Next, on another envelope neatly print your own address, being sure to include New Zealand at the end. Fold this envelope neatly in half and insert into the one addressed to the DX /manager being sure to place the folded section in first, so that, when it is opened at the other end with a knife or similar tool, the enclosed envelope is also not slit in half. It is essential that you enclose in your letter a form of finance to enable the DX station/manager to purchase a local postage stamp to return your confirmation QSL card. This can take the form of an International Reply Coupon, available from NZ Post and is the equivalent to the minimum airmail letter rate. One IRC is sufficient for letters from North America and Japan but from Europe two or three will be required.

A second alternative is to purchase US$1.00 notes from your local bank. Two US$ are the norm for most of the world and two or three US$ are required for some European counties. For Japan one IRC will cover the return postage. A third method is to put the correct value of mint postage stamps of that country on the envelope, if your local stamp dealer has some among his stock. If you are sending your letter to a developed country, a normal rate postage stamp is ok. However if it is going say, to a third world area you can ask the post office for a printed label stamp for the value required. This is less attractive than a conventional postage stamp and will reduce the likelihood of your letter going astray. The attaching of one of the small green customs declaration stickers filled in as ‘used card’ and ‘ncv’ (no commercial value) will add an air of security to your letter, reducing the risk of it disappearing.

So now you have done everything correctly and you expect to get one by return right? Wrong! It never happens 100% of the time. My estimated percentages over the years and about 15,000 outgoing cards are as follows:

1) QSL Buro – You will be lucky if you get 30% return. Less if they are contest QSOs

2)QSL Manager – Very good returns if the guy is well known as his ham “reputation” depends upon it! I get about 80% returns across a wide range of managers.

3)Direct – This is where it gets a bit tricky but generally I get above 50% returns. If it’s a well known Dxer you will almost always get great returns as his “reputation” is important. If he is an unknown the returns are usually lower.

4)Green stamps or IRCs – Be careful. Some countries won’t allow green stamps. Some country’s Post office employees will steal them. With the advent of PayPal and OQRS, IRCs will be phased out. Some countries will end issuing IRCs at the end of 2013. Some countries are not signatories to the International Postal Union and don’t know what IRC’s are. Some countries will look at your stamp if it’s a nice one and your envelope will disappear!

Rogue DXers
Ham radio is filled with a cross section of DXers and DX stations. Some if extremely rare will actually ignore your first QSL direct and wait for you to send another one (with more green stamps of course) Some will ignore you completely! I can recall working a rare middle east station about 10 years ago and could not get him to QSL. One day I actually heard him in QSO with another very prominent middle east station and I waited till they were finished and called him. I had worked him a few times before and asked him if he could ask his mate to have a look for my QSL!! Yes, I know, cheeky as hell but anything is fair when you want a QSL. The guy said he would and I had my QSL in about 3 weeks after waiting over 4 years.

Sometimes rogue DXers will take your money and return your QSL via the buro. I used to go berserk when I got one and then I thought… calm down….. I have the card and it counts so what’s your problem. And then there are the DXers that sit there night after night making the QSO numbers and then wait for the cash to arrive. And it does! They have a moral dilemma whether to order their new BMW or fork out for return cards and postage.

And there are the funny ones. A close mate worked a well known Middle East station a few years ago a few times on different bands. He particularly wanted the 80M confirmation and it never came after several tries. I worked the same station on several bands and have QSLs from the same guy no problem. How do you figure that one? So every time I mention that particular station in my mate’s presence I get an earful.

With QSLing Peter there is no definitive answer. You just do what you have to do and follow the guidelines above. And don’t take a non-return for an answer. Many years ago I worked 6Y5WJ on CW. After sending him a card via buro and green stamp version direct nothing eventuated. I have never worked another 6Y5 on CW. A few months ago I saw him spotted on the DX cluster. Ah Ha!!!! I then went to QRZ.com and got his email address and sent him the usual groveling note. Surprisingly he wrote straight back and said he had moved back and forth from 6Y5 to G land and the mail never got to him and if I sent him a card.. he would QSL. And sure enough he did and it gave me #305 on CW.

So… never give up and you will get there. Just don’t expect others on the other side of the world to have the same morality as you do!

73, Lee ZL2AL

(See what happens when you ask a question?

Design & Print Your Own QSLs

Love the DXing. Hate the QSLing! 

Most of us treat QSLing as a necessary evil when looking for awards. Even casual operating will result in a flood of QSLs arriving at the bureau. The problem is that QSLing becomes very expensive if you do a lot of operating. It’s not just the horrendous cost of postage, but the cost of having them professionally printed has risen considerably over the past few years. The ARRL’s “Logbook of the World” (LoW) becoming active has reduced costs enormously. The Internet e-QSL system works well but is not acceptable for most of the top awards. Writing individual QSLs by hand is time consuming and laborious in the extreme. There is a better way!

Electronic Log books such as DXLog, WriteLog, DX4Win and others have the facility to print labels. The programs can be adjusted to print any number of labels per page or one label per page and in fact print directly onto the QSL card. Most inkjet printers and laserjet printers will accept and print 90mm x 140mm cards fed into the printer end on as long as the card used is not too thick. Standard QSL stock is 225 grams. Small printers will have a problem with the 225 gram thickness but will process the thinner 140 gram stock quite nicely.

Ten years ago graphics programs were the domain of the professional printing houses. Now you can buy Corel Draw 7.0 or Microsoft Publisher 2000 and other graphics programs relatively cheaply to design your own QSL cards. In fact you can now have complete control over the design, manufacture and processing of your own cards. The ZL2AS QSL card below is a simple one I designed for handwritten information.ZL2AS LH

There are specific QSL design programs available. They did not suit what I wanted to do as most of them had quite a few formats but wouldn’t allow me to have the “blank space” where I wanted it. Their designs where based on filling out a QSL with pen and ink. I don’t do pen and ink these days! Have a look at these websites below.

http://hamradiosoftware.com/HAM/qsldes.html or
http://www.rsars.org.uk/QSLDIY.HTM or
http://www.df3cb.com/bv/bvfeatures.html or
http://www.sm7tog.com/download.html (for icons)

I use Microsoft Publisher working with Windows XP to design the QSL. You could also use MS Word although the Microsoft way of doing graphics in Word is a bit unusual and unwieldy. You don’t have to be a graphics designer because QSL cards are not difficult to lay out and you may have thousands of examples in your collection that you can mine for ideas. If you don’t feel confident in designing it yourself, there are lots people around who dabble in Photoshop and other graphics programs and can do it easily. It is a simple matter to pirate the best of the designs and adapt them your needs. The text boxes and various elements of your design are easily moved around the screen.

As you do the design on your card the Microsoft Publisher program will set up four identical QSLs on an A4 page. Other graphics programs will handle it in a different way. You will notice in the ZM4T QSL below that the centre area is left clear for the program to print the QSO information from the logging program. The key is deciding where to put your reference point on the card. My reference point all my designs is 3mm to the right of the G in the word “Confirming” and level with the word. (See the ZM4T) QSL below. Once you have that point then you can set the label parameters in DX4Win Print|Edit window. The cards go into the tray end on side to print UP and the Logo/Name on the right side of the card first.ZM4T_QSL_764When your design is completed it is a simple matter to print off a few A4 pages, cut them into QSLs with scissors and check the Logging Program registration of the printing of the QSO information on your printer. Because I do a lot of QSLing, I have invested in a good quality guillotine and it’s now very easy to chop up a few hundred QSLs from the A4 pages by setting the dimensions to standard QSL size of  90mm x 140mm.

See the ZL2AJ design below. When the four QSL template page is finalized, go into any good stationery supplier and ask for Kaskad A4, 140 gram paper in packs of 250 with your choice of colour. 140Gm is perfect as it will go through most inkjet and laserjet printers if you want to print them yourself. All colours of the rainbow are available. Or you can head off to your local photocopy house to have them photocopied and cut exactly to size. 250 sheets will make 1000 QSL cards.ZL2AJ QSL4

The cost varies from 4 to 8 cents per sheet for first class laser copying. I am sure that a better price could be found by shopping around. The cost of cutting to size is about $5.00 per pack of 250 sheets. The cost of the Kaskad sheets is around $25.00 per 250 sheets. The total cost works out to around $40 – $75 per 1000 QSLs depending on how much of the process you do yourself. You could even print your QSLs on plain A4 white paper. The cost would be around $7.00 for 2000 QSLs. They would be thin but would satisfy the requirements for a QSL.

I have used DX4Win Logging program since the early 1990s and am up to version 8.05 It gives me full control of where the information prints on the card and mine is set up to print up to 5 QSOs per card

The finished ZM4T QSL with the QSO information is shown above. I use white card and print it on my cheap Brother printer. You will note that the DX4WIN logging program fills in the QSO information in the correct place on the card. This card shows four QSOs for XR0X and the logging program also inserts a few lines at the bottom with the equipment info, the operator’s name and PSE or TNX QSL determined by the program. All the information is on one side of the card which makes life easier for QSL managers.

The ZL2AL QSL design below shows the front side graphics and the second is the back of the QSL. It was been printed commercially by UX5UO Print with a cartoon on the front ready for printing QSO information on the back. That same reference point is used for print registration. The cost saving of not having to purchase about 20,000 labels was considerable. I started out using a cheap Inkjet printer but soon found that a cheap Canon black and white only laser printer with a toner cartridge was much more economical to run as the printing on the back of the card was minimal.

The front side of the UX5UO printed card. The cartoon graphic was created by a company in the USA to add a little humour to sometimes humourless QSLs.

The front side of the UX5UO printed card. The cartoon graphic was created by a company in the USA to add a little humour to sometimes humourless QSLs.

Latest ZL2AL design using a very old MS Publisher graphics program. This is the back of the card. Front is not shown.

Latest ZL2AL design using a very old MS Publisher graphics program. This is the back of the card. Front is  shown above.

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The ZL7T Design is shown below. We made about 3,000 of them.

The ZL7T design works very well and is printed with an Inkjet and QSL info with the Canon Laserjet.

The ZL7T design works very well and is printed with an Inkjet and QSL info with the Canon Laserjet.

You could even print directly from your printer and cut the QSLs yourself if you only want small runs and want to reduce the cost even further. The cost of a printer ink cartridge must be taken into consideration. Cartridges are expensive buying from your local NZ supplier. I used an old Brother 130C multi function printer for a few years but it was expensive to run. I discovered that I can order 4 sets of cartridges (made in China and I will happily void warranty!!!) for $70 NZD delivered purchased on eBay.

I have a specifically dedicated Canon BP3120 Laser B/W only printer that I use for feeding the 90 x 140mm cards end ways from the bottom tray to print the black ink QSO information on. I can print thousands of QSL cards with one cartridge. A new printer is cheap at around $70 or so. I also use a QSL Manager program called Hamcall by Buckmaster which can be set up to print directly onto C6 size envelopes. The Hamcall CD is a database of 1.3 million names and callsigns. Addresses and call letters are updated monthly from their website. After I have printed ten or fifteen “QSL Direct” cards, I can call up the names and addresses from the Hamcall CD and print the envelopes. I also use Hamcall to print my own “return” C6 envelopes with my name on them. No labels are involved – Ever!

I also have a small sheet of paper about the size of the QSL card to enclose with the QSL which tells the other recipient a little about myself, my family and the area I live in. I am quite amazed at the number of letters I get in response to the info sheet telling me about their history and their families. It’s much more interesting when you know a little more about who you were talking to other than just name, rank and serial number! Typically I can receive 50 cards or more from the QSL bureau and process them in 15 or 20 minutes. And yes, there is a place on the card where I sign each one individually.

The system works very well for me and saves a lot of time, effort and money in the process of producing QSL cards. Please contact me at leezl2al@gmail.com if you don’t feel comfortable with designing a card. I would be happy to help set up a template for you and then you can simply have it copied for inexpensive QSLing.

73 de Lee ZL2AL

QSLing by VK4MZ

Hints Tips and Suggestions Kerry Viney VK4MZ

The increasing cost of postage and International Reply Coupons or the purchase of $US 1.00 currency notes, commonly referred to as ‘Green Stamp,’ has prompted many amateurs to re-evaluate their own QSLing practices. The following information is provided to ensure that the confirmation of that rare DX country QSL card is among the pride of your collection.

Comments and suggestions are welcome at e-mail kerrym2@tpgi.com.au

The Contact: When switching the radio on be sure to always have your log book or note book handy, together with a pen or pencil, or your computer terminal up and running with your favourite logging program on the screen. Do not use individual sheets of scrap paper as they tend to disappear amongst the other items in the shack. When on the frequency listen, listen, and listen before announcing your own call sign. This will often reward you with, not only the call sign of the station, but also the name of the operator, his location and the QSL route and at the same time write down the signal report that you are going to give when he acknowledges your call sign, the band, and if you wish, the frequency to which you are currently tuned to. Making this part of your operating policy, ensures that vital information is not lost during the QSO and the after excitement of having secured that rare contact. Be sure that the station has your call sign correct ALWAYS acknowledge the signal report and, during contests, the serial number. ie ‘I QSL 59 and number 143 thank you 73’

As the minimum requirement check that you have written down the following:

Call sign
Date
Time
Band
RST sent
RST received
Contest exchange number
QSL route

If you are not sure you have the call sign correct, continue to listen on the frequency as a station with a strong signal to your location, will possibly say the call sign in his QSO.

Should you feel the DX station did not log your call sign correctly, that is, he called you VK4MS when it should be VK4MZ, I suggest that you put a ‘sticky note’ on your QSL card alerting the QSL manager to that fact. In many such cases the manager will wait a few weeks, and then confirm your contact.

The DATE is ALWAYS written in Universal Coordinated Time. In Australia, the new day commences at 12 o’clock midnight, BUT in UTC time the new day does not start until 10:00 o’clock in our morning. Be sure you enter the date correctly.

Valid date formats are: October 9 1996 , Oct.9.1996, 9-10-1996, 09-10-96, 09/10/96, and, if in North America, the month is written first..10-09-1996, 10/9/96. The time, like the date, is ALWAYS written in UTC time, and starts at the same time as the new UTC day and is expressed as 0000z. There are no spacers between the hour and minute numbers and it is a good practice to always have four digits. When the time is , say 245 it is written with a 0 preceding the figures, eg. 0245z. The small ‘z’ at the end indicates that it is definitely Universal Coordinated Time. NEVER enter your local time. To do so is courting a no reply, and a waste of time and effort. The BAND can be entered as meter band (20m), as frequency band (14 MHz), or as your transmit frequency (14.195).

THE REPORT: Traditionally, the readability and signal strength figures that were exchanged, were reasonably accurate. However, the improvement in the technology of transceivers and the advent of computers with their ability to run sophisticated contesting programs, has seen the universal acceptance of the 59 report. It is easy to repeat hour after hour during a contest. It is easy to hear through QRM and computer programs accept it as both the default receive and sent report.

Should you be given a report during a contest that is different than the standard 59, immediately note it together with the call sign on the log pad. Receiving a non standard report could well indicate to you that the operator is new to contesting and, if it is a new DXCC/band contact and you will need a confirming QSL card, it is advisable to put the non standard report on your QSL card. Be sure to note the contest serial number sent to you, for later insertion on your QSL card. The QSL manager is more easily able to find your contact amongst the many hundreds made over the contest period.

During a contest it is not always convenient to ask the QSL route, particularly if the station is making rapid contacts. It is a more prudent policy to obtain the information from other sources, which are dealt with in detail in a latter section.
The QSL Card: The size of your QSL card should be 140-145mm long by 90mm wide. This will fit into a standard size, in terms of Australia Post size and weight category for minimum airmail rate to all parts of the globe. The paper should be of card thickness and of good quality.

Some QSL cards are one sided only, showing all relevant information, others are double sided with a feature such as the QTH or a local scene and may be a single colour on a plain background such as white, or a multi-coloured. Whatever your choice, your call sign in thick bold lettering together with your name and location, zone, Maidenhead locator and previous callsigns, if any. A single sided card will also have a ‘QSO’ block printed ready for you to enter the relevant QSO details. The front of a double sided card will have the same information with the exception of the QSO ‘block’. The reverse of your card should also have your call sign in large lettering .

Your complete postal address should also appear on it together with the QSO ‘block’. The current tendency is to have the information across the card rather than along it. Most computer printers will handle single cards feed in this direction. Your card needs to have a place near the top right corner for the ‘Via____________’ which needs to be readily seen by the outwards QSL Buro manager. Other details can be seen on the samples.

ALWAYS print the DX stations call sign on the QSL card and enter the other relevant details clearly. In this regard, consider that for many overseas amateurs, English is a second language, and while they communicate on the radio, their reading and writing skills may be limited, and so filling your QSL card details in neatly is important to secure a valid QSL card.

The QSL Route: There are two directions available to send your QSL card.
Firstly, ‘via Buro’. All states in Australia have both inwards and outwards QSL Bureau. While, for members of the Wireless Institute of Australia, Buro QSL service is free, some charge a small fee for outgoing cards. Non members of the WIA in many States are able to use the services of the QSL Buro, but pay an appropriate fee for both their inwards and outwards QSL cards. Because both Australian and Overseas burro’s forward cards by surface mail postage, it can take up to one year to reach their destination, and a further year for you to receive your QSL confirmation.

Should your card be going to another station or to another country for confirmation, be sure to fill in the ‘Via_________’ section of your card so that the outwards QSL Buro manager knows which group to put your card with.
Secondly, ‘via Direct’. This is where you will send your QSL card by airmail postage direct to the station operator or direct to his nominated QSL manager. The QSL manager is a volunteer who is putting a service into the radio hobby with very little financial gain, if any, but receiving the satisfaction of being able to confirm a new DXCC country for many amateurs, and collecting the postage stamps if philately is an additional hobby.

The QSL manager is often appointed by the station operator because the DX station resides on a remote location such as the Antarctic or on an isolated island such as Crozet in the South Indian Ocean. The operator may reside in a country where the postal services are not as secure as those we enjoy here in Australia. It is prudent to note here, that mail from amateurs has money enclosed in the form of International Reply Coupons, purchased from the local post office, or American $1.00 notes, and a nice Australian postage stamp on the outside. The sale of any of these items by a postal worker can supply a healthy meal for his family in some parts of the world. Hence the roll of the QSL manager who handles many hundreds possibly thousands of cards for other amateurs.

The QSL Address: There are a number of sources at your disposal from which you can obtain the correct postal address. The Callbook is an annual publication and is available in two volumes, one for North American Listings and the other International Listings, and is available from amateur radio retailers and from the Wireless Institute of Australia bookshops. It is also available from the various Hamfests held throughout the year.

The Callbook is also now available on CD ROM disc from good amateur radio retailers, with both the North American and International Listings on the one disc. The callbooks contain a complete listing, as at publication time, of all of the licensed amateur radio stations throughout the world. Because of the huge volume of callsigns and cut off publication dates, the printed version will lack the more recent call sign allocations, and this gap is filled from other printed publications.

The weekly newsletters produced by various amateur groups both in North America and Europe contain an ever changing list of current QSL addresses and routes. These are obtained by an annual subscription and are airmailed on a weekly basis.

Monthly publications such as the Amateur Radio produced by the Wireless Institute of Australia and the commercial magazine obtained from newsagents, Radio and Communications contain QSL routes and addresses. A large listing of QSL routes and manager addresses is published annually in Germany and a small, but very useful listing, is published annually and inserted in the January issue of the Japanese 59Magazine.

For those with computers, Personal Data Applications in Georgia, USA, has a QSL manager list on 3 1/2 inch disk and is available on either a monthly or bi-annual subscription.

Several Australian packet systems have access to manager lists and a call to your friendly sysop will give you details on how to access it. The Internet has a number of QSL manager databases available.

The Posting Process: The size of the envelope is important, both from Australian Post
standard size envelope and what will be placed inside it. DO NOT use the small airmail envelopes available in many supermarkets as you could well find the returned card has been folded over in order to fit inside. Besides your QSL card, you may wish to include a postcard of your area to show where you reside. I suggest you use a size C6 which is 115x162mm. A packet of 100 is reasonably priced and is available from supermarkets, stationers, and Australia Post offices. Airmail stickers are freely available and should you use an airmail rubber stamp only use a blue ink pad. The mail sorter is glancing for a blue mark, not a red or green one and instinctively places the blue marked one in the airmail direction.

PRINT the address neatly on the envelope. NEVER, NEVER put a call sign on the envelope ANYWHERE. Should you not know the name of the operator, write ‘The Manager’, Box xyz etc. Next, on another envelope neatly print your own address, being sure to include Australia at the end. Fold this envelope neatly in half and insert into the one addressed to the DX /manager being sure to place the folded section in first, so that, when it is opened at the other end with a knife or similar tool, the enclosed envelope is also not slit in half. It is essential that you enclose in your letter a form of finance to enable the DX station/manager to purchase a local postage stamp to return your confirmation QSL card. This can take the form of an International Reply Coupon, available from Australia Post and is the equivalent to the minimum airmail letter rate. One IRC is sufficient for letters from North America and Japan but from Europe three will be required.

A second alternative is to purchase US$1.00 notes from your local bank. One US$1.00 is sufficient for mail from North America, but not from Japan, and three US$ are required for Europe. For Japan one IRC will cover the return postage. A third method is to put the correct value of mint postage stamps of that country on the envelope, if your local stamp dealer has some among his stock. If you are sending your letter to a developed country, a normal rate postage stamp is ok. However if it is going say, to a third world area you can ask the post office for a printed label stamp for the value required. This is less attractive than a conventional postage stamp and will reduce the likelihood of your letter going astray. The attaching of one of the small green customs declaration stickers filled in as ‘used card’ and ‘ncv’ (no commercial value) will add an air of security to your letter, reducing the risk of it disappearing.

Attention to the above details will ensure the maximum return of your QSL requests.

73 and good contesting, Kerry VK4MZ