QSL is a Ham Radio Morse Code shortcut, or shorthand, way of saying "I am acknowledging receipt."

If a question mark is appended to the end, it changes it into a question, as in "Can you acknowledge?"

It is customary to send QSL Cards to acknowledge the contact. Sometimes QSL is used in voice communications to indicate "OK" or "Roger".

I'd like to elaborate on the term QSL as used in the ham radio and shortwave radio hobbies. Although the definition of QSL above holds only in the most traditional sense, the term has taken on greater meaning throughout the history of radio. Here I discuss QSL? as procedural signal and the art of radio verification.

The Procedural Use of QSL

The meaning of Q Codes has held constant on CW, or morse code, over the decades. QSL, as mentioned above, signals the exchange of a radio verification. Not all ham contacts merit a QSL. Many times hams will sked, that is, schedule at time to chat without pressing need to share QSL cards. QSLs are ardently desired when a ham snags a rare country and wants to add the country to his or her award tally (WAS,DXCC, and other awards.) QSL? will not be sent when it is assumed a contact will provide a QSL card. Most times stations will know when to ask for a QSL and when one will be sent regardless.

For example, North Korea (P5) is the most sought after country for ham radio awards. Any operator who legitimately operates P5 will certainly have thousands of eager hams on his or her tail. Often, rare station contacts are completed in 15 seconds. Arguably, the only time QSL? is heard is in the context of an international ragchew, rare indeed in this age of awards chasing. Most other times, verification operates pro forma.

The use of QSL? over voice has evolved far from the Q Code shorthand. Some stations use QSL? as an equivalent to "okay" or "roger". Many hams frown on the use of QSL? as an affirmation, preferring stations to speak clearly without jargon. Hams especially frown on the use of QSL? on repeater systems, as there is no need for abbreviation on interference free FM systems. Nevertheless the use of QSL? on voice will stay so long as people enjoy "hamradiospeak."

Ham Radio QSL Cards

Ham radio QSL cards, 3 by 5 inches, conveniently fall within postcard rates. Most are printed on one side only, containing one's own callsign, the callsign of the station received, date, UTC, frequency, RST or signal report, and the mode (CW,SSB,RTTY etc ...) Hams exercise creativity as far as the card's limits -- photos of tropical beaches, ink drawings, even blank index cards rubber stamped with station information grace my walls.

Although ham radio QSLs fit postcard size cards are more often sent by the bureau, or by its CW abbreviation, buro. A buro, in the United States run by the ARRL and abroad by equivalent national societies, sorts and sends mail in bulk to other buros for a flat fee ($3/pound recently.) In turn, the other operator's domestic buro receives and mails foreign cards. When that operator sends his or her own card, the other operator's national buro processes cards and divests them into local clubs. Each local club, one for each callsign district, sorts and mails the returned cards to hams based on their postage credits with the local buro. In other words, I pay the outgoing buro when sending cards; I pay the incoming buro an annual check to cover postage and the cost of envelopes.

Many hams chafe at using the buro, since turnaround time can exceed two years! Many DX will ask to QSL direct. Returns may be quicker, but the costs of mailing individual cards will be appreciably higher. Hams will stop at nothing to get that Bikini Atoll QSL.

Shortwave Radio QSLs

Shortwave listeners, unlicensed and non-transmitting, hold no callsigns. Instead of ham-style QSLs many stations will type up reception reports. These reports describe the quality of received signal, including strength, interference, and quality. SW listeners take pains to accurately date and time transmissions, describing the programming produced as confirmation of actually having heard the broadcast. Reception reporting allows for creative description -- but only to those stations accepting listener input.

Giant international shortwave broadcasters, such as the BBC and VOA, do not QSL. Given the massive crush of mail QSLing would produce, these stations offer promotions, magazine subscriptions, and educational materials. These items can be got over the Internet or through mail, but rarely will these stations answer signal reception reports.

Smaller international SW broadcasters will often accept reception reports. Listeners will often provide reception reports for languages not their own. An offering of a few IRCs or notes produces pendants, banners, program guides, and cultural information. Many listeners relish Cold War-era gifts, especially red items. If the station does not confirm a listener's report with a written "thank you", the gifts suffice as proof of having caught that particular broadcast.

Domestic, clandestine, and pirate QSLing presume patience and a reliable P.O. Box. Although pirate stations enthusiastically announce QSL information within broadcasts, radio for local audiences and rebels don't want or need attention. Most listeners content themselves with mere reception of clandestines. The wait for domestic SW QSLs, especially those from the Americas, yields dividends of banners, demo tapes, even local crafts. What a shame that I can't sample a meal or two while I'm at it.

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