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Loud and clear: ham radio’s calling cards

Rummaging around collections of old photographs and postcards I have often wondered about these peculiar cards, emblazoned with strange letters and numbers, that sometimes turn up, usually in groups of several.

I could guess they were connected with amateur, or “ham” radio operators, but their purpose remained a mystery until recently, after I found a few more, when I decided to find out about them. It didn’t take long to discover that they are known as “QSL” cards and that radio operators use them to let one another know when they have received each other’s signals. It is, apparently, a point of pride to know that one’s broadcasts are heard in far off parts of the globe. These cards may be sent through the mail in the manner of more familiar postcards, or they may be distributed in various countries and states by bureaus set up for the purpose by ham radio associations themselves.

Each operator has a unique alpha-numeric code, and many of them like to create artistic QSL cards. Recipients of the cards often like to display them on noticeboards, in albums or – these days – in online galleries where their artistry can be appreciated.

By chance I found an old 1940s newspaper clipping in my files about a Maitland (NSW) ham operator, Keith Rudkin, who was said to be the first Australian amateur to have communicated with hams in more than 100 other countries, winning him the coveted American Radio Relay League’s DXCC award. He also received the league’s WAS (Worked All Stations) award for communicating with amateur operators in every US state. An engineer at radio station 2HR, Keith Rudkin used the call sign VK2DG and took his hobby very seriously. He described the effort involved in winning the Sir John Dunningham Memorial Contest, in which operators had to send messages to as many stations as possible within a month. He managed to contact 734 stations in 62 countries, staying up until 3am each morning and living on cups of coffee supplied by his indulgent wife. With 45,000 points he was 17,000 points ahead of the runner-up, but had to stay off air for a month with ringing in his ears and hearing morse in his sleep.

Keith Rudkin’s QSL card

Below are some cards that I have collected in my travels.

This operator has gone to some trouble with their design.
This card is literally hand-coloured – a painstaking process indeed.
Echoes from 1933 Japan
From the lost nation of Yugoslavia

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