In this post I try to explain another aspect of Amateur Radio for my non-ham readers. One interesting part of Amateur Radio is the practice of exchanging QSL cards to verify an over the air communication. QSL cards are postcards containing the details of the contact such as date, time (UTC), signal strength (RST) and call letters. Some cards are extremely ornate while other hams (like me) opt for plainer and less expensive cards. Here is what my personal card looks like.
One of the reasons the practice of sending QSL cards thrives is that many radio awards require proof that the applicant has actually contacted the station they claim to have communicated with. There are numerous ways to exchange QSL cards. The most common ways are by direct mail to the address of the station worked or to a QSL manager for that station. Clearly this could get rather expensive in terms of outgoing and return postage. To help with this cost there are QSL Bureaus where a ham can send cards in bulk to a central outgoing bureau in their home country. That bureau then collects and sends them on to the corresponding incoming bureau in the destination country. There they are then distributed to the individual ham operators. This process can save considerably on postage costs but the downside is that the whole process can take a year or more before receiving the desired card back.
Here is an example of some of the QSL cards I have received from various places. (Click on the thumbnail to see a larger version). Over the years I have collected thousands of cards from all over the world. In fact filing and storage gets to be a bit of a problem. I often enter radio contests and I can get a large number of incoming cards a few months after the contest.