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Of QSL Cards, Wallpaper & Other Trivia

Updated 25 July 2004

In the long-back days of early radio experimentation -- and well before the advent of email -- people who talked with people on the air would send each other post cards noting the event. The idea makes perfect sense from a scientific perspective: you need documentation of your experiments to prove that you did them. And you need proof of your success in those experimental moments so other's will be less likely to question your suggestability. The post cards came to be known as QSL cards, after the Morse abbreviation QSL, meaning "I acknowledge the receipt of your message."
  So over the years, radio crazies have collected, catalogued and displayed their QSL cards. Early cards were hand written and later were printed by local printers. Some print shops specialized in QSLs; many specialty printers still do.
  I didn't have to worry too much about that. My father had a printshop in the basement. He'd printed up my "SWL" cards for me when I was a kid listening to Radio Moscow and Radio Habana. Some of the cards here are from Dad's press. Then the rest are mine.

QSLs That I've Known
and some that I've printed myself (from the beginning to now)

My very first QSL card
Dad printed one up on his hand-fed, cast-iron C&P 12x18 press with type set by hand. I remember sending him a letter with my own design. Ah, if I only knew then what I think I know now.
My WP4DKA/8 QSL card
When I left Puerto Rico for the Saratoga, Dad printed this one for me. Note the quote at the bottom.

A QSL card is considered "the ultimate courtesy of the QSO."
     If you've ever sat for a ham radio exam -- back in the good old days when it took about eight weeks between exam & the receipt of your license -- you know that you found out that you'd passed the exam by the sudden appearance of QSL card printers' samples in your mailbox.
     QSL cards are expensive. And the folks who sent me word of my having passed the exam all those years ago understood when I said "No thanks. My father's got a shop." One printer even sent me a note of thanks about it.
    I don't know what Dad spent on printing them. Shortwave listeners used to collect them by sending in "reception reports." Each letter costs postage & time and each card, eventually received, is sent by the station at some not too small cost. I'm sure that it's factored into the station budget.

This card came from a very interesting part of my life. After I got out of the USN in 1972, I lived for a while with a bunch of folks from before my Navy time. Dad was tolerant about my asking him to print the card shown here. I wish I could have thanked him properly.

This travesty is another story altogether. I cobbled it together while working at a weekly newspaper around 1974. Cindy & I were married by then &  we'd already decided we were the patrónes of The Grinnin' Turkey Ranch. The card itself was printed by a friend on an office copy-duplicator. It's probably my worst case scenario QSL.
One of the marvels of having access to printing equipment is how easy it becomes. Today's office machines are lightyears ahead of the stuff that I could get to in 1972. Back then it was thermography: heat transfer of dark & light blotches onto a skene of paper negative. They called it offset , a stretch of the term that is only apparent in retrospect.
     By 1978, Cindy & I and our only son at the time had set up digs in the Park Layne. I was working then at the Kettering Oakwood TIMES newspaper plant. On my own time I designed a QSL that superceded the yellow turkey on the left -- at least from a serious point of view. That card is the one below. You'll note that it is only a different version of the Grinnin' Turkey Ranch -- and a somewhat less cluttered graphic design.
     After that, I was working at the RL Drake plant. Cindy was working at a one-man mom-and-pop job printer in downtown New Carlisle. Her boss said he could fix me up with QSLs if I wanted. So I set to making some designs. Very few of those particular travesties exist today.
     Since I'd just discovered my Scandinavian roots, the motif at the time was Nordic. I was getting older & so was my view of what ham radio was all about. I must have sent out at least two thousand of those cards.

By the time I'd figured out how to do it right, I came up with this card. It was printed on the last of a batch of bristol card stock that I found in a clean-out of another local letterpress shop. That's the shiny card stock that everyone pays big time fore from the regular letterpress QSL shops.
     By the time the new millenium had hit, my call-sign had changed by one letter & I couldn't use the over 500 cards that I'd printed. It had never dawned on me that I'd run out of space for date years beginning in 19---.
     And in reality, the cards that I printed, like the one depicted below, were not printed on bristol stock. Instead I printed this one on some heavy business card stock that I got at an auction. Came out pretty nicely too.

This one is more about printing than any of 'em so far. It's interesting, I guess, for those who fancy such trivia.

After my father died in 1982, it fell to me to try and resurrect -- at least in my thinking -- some part of the art and kindness that Dad had shown me in my life. One way was by absorbing as much of those moments when he was most relaxed: the letterpress printery. Over the course of the intervening years (1982-1987), I collected and recollected all the things that I could of that part of my father's past.
  You'll notice on the card below that I claim to be living in Montgomery County. Only one problem: New Carlisle is in Clark County. And it's not that Clark County is that rare, mind you. It's just that I have this thing about dislocating myself. 
     I showed this card to Cindy after I'd printed up maybe 200 of them & left the room. From inside the house a few moments later came Cindy's call: "Hey, Bozo! You don't live in Montgomery County." 
     It took me a few moments to understand what the comotion was about. But I still kept the cards 'cause I thought they looked nice.
     The next card I printed, however, was correct At least for a while.
    Along the way, I've printed a few dozen other designs, some of which are shown here below. Note the call to madness in the Hams for "Bob" and the printshop trivia on the card with the press on it.
And if you have to ask about Hams for "Bob," you'll probably never understand, although I can can make a suggestion . . ..

Diplomas & Other Paperwork of Radio Prowess
I've been playing radio for over 40 years, if you count what I did as a kid in Ohio. I've been playing ham radio since 1969, which makes me a non-credited member of the Quarter Century Wireless Association. We used to call it the "Quarter Century Toggle-less Association when the OVTN was rampant & weird. Now most of those who hung out with the OVTN gang are de-facto, non-credited of the same age-group.
  At any rate, over the past however many years of radio playing, I've collected a piece of paper here or there that says I've done something in torturing electrons or absorbing heat from tubes and transistors. Here are a few of the more notable pieces of paper:

The Unofficial
FCC Amateur Extra Class License
Used to be that you got a fancy, official-looking sheet of paper when you passed the once intense Extra Class license exam. Well, budget cut-backs & war-time economies, you know, crimp official style. So when my generic-looking version of my Extra Class ticket arrived, I got out my father's Goes Lithography Co. catalog & made my own fancy-pants diplom. It only took me about three hours, with the help of a scanner & PhotoShop. Neat, eh? Now if only I'd signed it before I put the frame around it.

The Rag-Chewers-Club Diploma
Officially handed out to hams who have made long-winded contacts with people around the globe for whatever reason. If you can gibber & make sense on the air for thirty minutes or so, you can get one of these. The other guy, presuming he is already a member of the RCC, is the one to hand you the admission form. And we won't go into the Freudian thing about chewing on rags.

Burnt Ham Award
If you have to ask, you'll never understand. I picked this up at one of the early Hamvention madhouse parties thrown many years back and out the window from an OVTN bash. Like I said, if you have to ask . . .

PACC Dutch Amateur Radio Union Award
Seventh Place, Single Operator
Look, I'm not a contest head. I don't do the big-time DX contests, especially the CW ones, and I don't generally worry about awards and scores and all that. But there are some contests that I think are fun. Usually slow speed, low-brow, not-so-hoitsy-toitsy, see? Like the Dutch Contest or the Scandinavian Activity Contest. Or the Romanian Contest. You get the picture. I got this award.

Ordination Certificate in the Universal Life Church
If you check out the date on the official seal, you'll see that I got this one back in the days of hippies and hedonism, mostly because I'd heard how easy it was to do. It's an irony of a checkered past. Praise the Holy Mother Conqueress!

The Bull Award
I found this one in the Swedish Amateur Radio Clubs official diplombok and found out that I was elegible. So I sent in the paperwork and here it is, hanging on my wall below a picture of a deer and my membership certificate to the G-QRP Club.

Honorable Discharge from the United States Navy
If you've been in the suit, then you know what one of these looks like. For all those who haven't served but who like to talk grand schemes about being in the military service, I can only invite you to put your body where your mouth is and sign up. Recruiters love to fill their quotas & I like to see big-talkers get off their high-minded, self-righteous candy asses and do what they've been talking about. That's why there ain't no picture of the paperwork here. You need to earn that one, Bub!

© Copyright 2004 Nils R. Bull Young