QSLing 101 - by Herb Blair, K5AT


What does CBA mean?   Should I send a SASE?  Whatís a green stamp? Why do I have such a poor QSL return rate?   These are questions that I hear quite a bit on the air and via email.  To a DXer, getting a good return on the QSLís is something that we all want, but rarely achieve.  Why?  If you are a beginning DXer, this article will teach you some of the basics in QSLing, and provide some clues as how to improve your QSL return rate.


Make it EASY!

There is one simple thing to keep in mind about QSLing; Make it as easy as possible for the other station to return a QSL card to you!   DX stations receive thousands of QSL cards and the easier it is, the faster you will get a card in return mail.


Your Log

The place where good QSLing practice begins is in your log.  You need to make sure it is accurate as possible.  Take pride in your log.  If you do paper logs, write as legible as possible, as this will become important when you go back later to fill out your QSL cards.   Make sure you use UTC time, and itís also a good idea to use the date format Day, Month/Year. (This is pretty well standard in Europe .) 

If you are using computer logging, make sure your clock is correct, also make sure the date stamp on the logged record is being done properly.   Iíve had QSL cards returned with ďNot in LOGĒ stamped on them, because my computer clock wasn't logging the right time into the log. (Daylight savings virus Standard time always bites some logging programs.) 


Your QSL card.

QSL cards are an art form, and everyone has their opinion and personal tastes.  Whether your card is a fancy full color photo of you standing beside your Rolls Royce, or a pain computer generated 3 x 5 card, there is one basic thing that you need to know here; all of your information needs to be on the same side of the card.  Your CALL, the QSO info, etc.  Donít make the DX station search for your call on the card.  It should standout as a promanate feature of the QSL card.

The information recorded on the card should be easy to read and in a format such as

RADIO (thatís the other stations call), DATE, TIME (UTC), BAND, RST, MODE.

I also think if you want a QSL card from this station you should have a check box, or state on the card PSE QSL.   If you are replying to a QSL, it should be TNX QSL.

Other items such as your equipment, dogs name, awards received, religious preference, etc. are all non-essential data that can be put on the other side of the card, left off entirely.

Itís a good idea to print with block letters.  Legibility is crucial here.  If the other operator canít read your scribble, how do you expect him to confirm the information?


Example of a simple (and properly filled out) QSL card


QSL Routes

Finding the proper (or best) way to get a QSL card to the other station is sometimes a challenge in itís self.  In casual contacts, ask the other operator what his QSL route is, but when working busy DX stations, especially DXpeditions, LISTEN, as they will tell you sooner or later what the QSL route or manager is.  There are several other methods of finding QSL routes.  The Internet has several databases for QSL managers, or QSL addresses.  Check www.eham.net and www.dxer.org for some of these databases.

Another good way is to use your local DX cluster.  DX clusters are beyond the scope of this article, but needless to say it is an invaluable tool for any DXer.   When logged on with you local cluster type ďsh/qsl DXCALLSIGNĒ to show the route or manager for the DX station.  This database varies from cluster to cluster, but most use this method.


The QSL Bureau.

Sending and receiving QSL cards via the Bureau is the most economical of all the methods.  Most of the time the other operator will say, ďOK via bureauĒ.  In this case heís indicating that if youíre not in a hurry for his card, he will both receive your card and send you a card via the bureau system.  For more information on this system go to www.arrl.org/.   Keep in mind that not all DX countries have Bureau systems, so check before bundling the cards for shipment to the outgoing bureau. Expect long delay in getting your card by this method.   One to two years is common, and Iíve received card back for QSOís that were over 10 years ago.  If you are going to used the Bureau system (or even if youíre just a causal Dxer, you should have envelopes on file at you incoming bureau.  For more inform on incoming bureaus go to www.arrl.org/.


QSLVia my Manager

This is the next most economical of the methods.  The DX station has selected someone to manage his QSLing activities.  Most of the time the manager will be a stateside ham that has volunteered his services, but not always.  Sometimes the manager may be in another country, but usually where the postal system is fairly reliable.  To QSL to a manager, again, keep in mind you must make it as easy for him as possible.  If the manager is stateside (in the United States or its territories), it is best to send a stamped, self-addressed envelope of a size that most QSL cards will fit into.  Iíve found that the common 3 Ĺ x 5 envelopes are adequate for this purpose.  Make sure you name, address, city and state are legible.  Include in the outside envelope your QSL and any ďdonationĒ that might be appropriate.


QSL services.

DX operators generally wonít tell you QSL via a service, but if youíre not willing to wait years for your QSL card to arrive, this is the next best thing to QSLing Direct to the DX station. QSL services can provide an easy way to get your cards on the way to the DX station.   The QSL service finds the best route to a particular DX station and bundles several cards together to save on costs.   Cards generally come back thru the incoming QSL bureau, but a lot quicker.   Iíve gotten returns on cards within two months.  One such service is K3FN Custom QSL Service (formerly owned by WF5E).


Direct QSLing


Many DX stations QSL direct only.  Usually they will give their QSL address on the air, or will say CBA, this means, ďCALL BOOK addressĒ.  In other words, his address has been published in a commonly available CALLBOOK, and you should send directed via this address.  Or, the operator may say "QRZ," which means the station's address or QSL route is listed on the station's page at QRZ.com. There are several pointers here, as you need to keep in mind to make it as easy for the DX station as possible.  Your card is only one of many thousand that he may get over a year.   Send a SELF-Addressed envelope.  You can again use the common airmail envelope for this, or buy metric envelopes from vendors such as JAMES E. MACKEY, K3FN at http://airmailpostage.com/. The use of metric envelopes provide a slightly smaller return envelope that fits into your slightly larger outgoing envelope.

Theft of the mails is common in many countries of the world, especially South America and Russia. Mail is routinely opened for valuables such as US dollars. To try to prevent this from happening, is to disguise the envelope. Don't put call signs on the outside, make it look as if it were a piece of business or junk mail coming from the US. I have found that a #10 Business Size Envelope works best. Print both the return address and the recipient's address on your printer. Disguise it a best you can.

I also put a preprinted address peel-off adhesive label, just in case he doesn't want to use my return envelope.  These are easy to make on a computer printer, and I usually make several pages of them, then cut them up to make individual peel-off adhesive labels.

In the past Iíve also put brochures from my home state of Texas in the envelope.  Itís interesting for me when a DX station sends me something from his home country. (Even though I canít read it sometimes, I can look at the pictures!) Donít put this stuff into QSL envelopes for DXpeditions, as it will just get thrown away, as will your card in most cases.  But be careful about putting extra things in envelopes, as it adds weight and $$$ to the cost of mailing.

You can also put stamps from the DX country on the envelope if youíre sure about the amounts, etc.  Iíve never done this.  The method that I prefer is to put two, $1 bills (called green stamps) into the envelope for AIR MAIL postage back.  Up until a few years ago, one green stamp was sufficient for most counties, but now itís more like two.  Also IRCís (international reply coupons) have been in use for several years.  You can buy them at you local post office, or sometimes through DX managers, etc that received them in great numbers.  One IRC is supposed to be good for 1st Class postage back, but not always.  Sometimes it takes more that one.  A lot of the time the DX operator will say how many IRCís to send, or whether or not he accepts them.   Some operators donít want to receive anything but dollar bills, while other operators only want IRCís, and then there are still a few that donít want either.


There is an art to QSLing direct, to help insure your envelope will get through the foreign mail system without being pilfered, or misdirected.  It is a good idea to use a #10 Airmail business enveloped with a typed, printed or labeled address.  The idea here is to make it look like ordinary business mail and not a QSL with green stamps in it.  Donít put calls on the envelope, including your return address.   This is a tip off to thieves who plunder the mails in some countries.


QSLing and the future

A major change in the DXCC awards program is the ďLogbook of the WorldĒ, this program will eliminate the need to send, receive, and submit QSL cards for checking with the ARRLís DXCC program.  This will electronically match logbook entries from logbooks and automatically provide DXCC credit for the entity worked.  This is great for folks that only want to chase the DXCC awards.   There is something special about the excitement that you get in receiving a QSL card from a foreign land.  I hope that this ham radio tradition will remain a part of the hobby.


Herb Blair, K5AT, has been licensed since 1969 and an active DXer since 1988 with 342 DXCC entities confirmed.


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