QSL'ing for some is lots of fun. Others find it a royal pain and some just don't and won't do it. For those that get LOTS of QSL requests, a QSL Manager is the way to go. With today's internet, QSL information is easily obtained and often updated. There are many websites dedicated to storing the latest QSL information on stations all over the world. There is even stand alone programs that you can put on your computer like the GOLIST software that you can update almost weekly.
When I first got into Ham Radio, you would have to purchase a callbook named the "Radio Amateur Callbook". These books (one for DX and one for North America if memory serves me right) were the size of a Chicago phonebook. I purchased these each time a new one was published and that was how you obtained the address of the station you wanted to QSL. You would look them up in this very large book just as you would look up someone's phone number in a phone book. If you wanted to attract attention to your callsign, you could even pay to have it bold faced so it was easy to find!
The same applied to QSL managers. I would use the paper copy of the Golist, another subscription service, to look up callsigns of DX stations that I wanted to QSL. I also paid close attention to BARF-80 BBS information or back then, packet bulletins that you would read on many of the local BBS systems (Bulletin Boards) by checking the listings using your TNC for AX25 packet. Many times you would sit on a frequency until the DX station sent their QSL information. QSL'ing was not as easy back then as you really had to sometimes dig to find the QSL manager or simply the QSL instructions.
Today, this process has been simplified by modern technology but there is still an art to getting a QSL card. I was always a sender for many years when I lived back in Ohio. It was not often that someone really needed my QSL card. I used the shotgun approach back then, after every contest, I would print labels out for each QSO and stick them on a QSL card and fire them all off to the bureau in hopes that I would someday (often years) get a response back. I used direct when possible but that was and still is, very costly. Anything new to me for my award chasing, I would hold out on and look for a direct address or QSL manager. There were times I just never found a good route so I had to wait for someone from that same country to be active again. And at times, this was not only a DX issue, but a stateside issue. People often do not keep their address current with the FCC, which they are required to do. I have sent many direct requests to addresses listed on QRZ.com or the Hamcall website with the envelope being returned.
As always, you need to worry about postal theft. Yep, it does happen and more often than you realize. The slickest job I had seen was in one of my envelopes that I sent to a station in South America. It was apparent that someone carefully peeked into the envelope by slightly opening the back of the envelope at the bottom corner. Most envelopes are glued together and if you look at the rear bottom corners, you can see a small gap where the front and back come together. The skillful person carefully slit the bottom corner open and carefully continued up half of the envelope. They retrieved the one dollar I had in the envelope (it only took one buck back then to get a card from most places) and then glued the envelope back together. It was then stamped, "addressee unknown" and sent back to me unopened, or so I thought. Careful inspection identified the means of obtaining my green stamp. I did send a message to the DX station and he told me that it has been a very big problem for him and I was not the only victim to this type of theft when sending for his QSL card. Now I tape my envelope corners to make it harder to just peek.
Just some basics when wanting a QSL card from me anyway and these basics may work for getting QSL cards from others. My very first advice to anyone is check QRZ.com and do a Google search on QSL Manager information and check the various websites for information. Another great resource is checking the New DX Summit site. You can do a search for a certain callsign under the search menu at the top. Once you enter the stations callsign, you can see the last 25, 100, or even 1000 spots that were sent. Often times this is a good way to find the QSL route that someone may have posted in the comments but this is not always 100 percent accurate. If many stations are posting the same route, there is a good chance you will be safe following those directions. Assuming the operation was not a SLIM (fraud).
My information is posted on QRZ.com which I think is a great practice. If people don't want QSL cards, they should have the common smarts to put a note on QRZ.com and Hamcall. Most hams probably get postal addresses from these websites. Once you check, if there are directions, follow them as asked.
Send your QSL request with an enclosed SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) enclosed. I enjoy getting QSL cards from around the world and over the years, I have obtained a very nice stamp collection (if you are into that kinda thing). I read all of my QSL cards and I respond to them by handwriting mine out for the return. Yes, putting a sticker on a QSL card, stuffing it into an envelope accomplishes the same thing but I like to make mine more personable. I hand write them out and sign them, sometimes with a comment, or sometimes not.
Anyhow, I normally open up my mail with a knife so putting your SASE in the envelope in such a fashion that would help me from slitting it in two would be nice. Have your self addressed envelope properly stamped and your return address legible is a big plus. Also, a time saver is putting either your address on the SASE on the front top left, or mine. This saves me a return address lable when I send my card back to you in your SASE. I also really like to get self sticking envelopes (peel and stick). I have not licked a stamp in years and I would prefer not to lick an envelope if I could. But, I gladly have and will continue to do so but sometimes if I get several, I will just tape the envelope shut which takes a bit more time.
Some of the other areas you may want to pay close attention to is:
- Make sure all areas of the QSL card have been completed. It drives me nuts when people don't fill in all the blocks of their QSL card. I may want to use your QSL for an award and if it appears to have been edited or manipulated, it may not be accepted. Take a few minutes to make sure that everything is completed. If you made a few mistakes, fill out a new card and make it look good.
- Make sure when you send it to me, you have MY callsign on the card. I have received several QSL cards for "some other station".
- The time on the QSL card is NOT your local time but UTC or GMT time. I think most everyone hates to go through their log by date and time looking for a contact if they can't find the callsign in the log.
- If you operate /QRP or /P or /something, make sure you note that on your QSL card. This includes the information from where you operated from. You may be activating a new county for me or even a new grid if on 6 meters in which I can use for an award. I may need your card just as bad as you may need mine!
- PLEASE always send your QSL card to me in an envelope when sending direct. For whatever reason, the postal service feels they need to test every stamp they own on post cards and this includes QSL cards. I have received some very nice QSL cards, ones in which it was obvious that someone spent some good money on having printed, get ruined by barcode labels and ink stamps which seem like they get a fresh stamp at each new postal stop. And besides, if it is not an SASE, you probably won't get my card back as I get hundreds of requests a year and I prefer NOT to use my postage stamps to send you one back.
- Make sure you have the proper postage on the return envelope. Alaska IS part of the 50 United States so a normal First Class stamp (USA only) will get your envelope back to you. This may sound funny to some, but I have received envelopes with airmail stamps on them. Save your postage stamps and if your envelope is an ounce or less, one First Class stamp will get it back to you.
- If you are sending from outside the 50 States, make sure you include one USD (U.S. Dollar) or a properly stamped IRC. Many foreign stations purchase US airmail stamps and will include their SASE using USA postage which works great, too. Just make sure that you put the proper amount on the return envelope. If our postal rates will be going up and it's getting close to the date, always put extra postage on to cover the price increase. I may be on vacation or not have a chance to get your card right back in the mail. I like to refer to this process as using "common cents".
- For me anyhow, I ONLY WANT ONE DOLLAR BILL. Often people send me two, one dollar bills. I know that some managers ask for this but for me, if you send me two bucks, you will get one back! One dollar is enough right now to get your QSL card back to you and as much as I appreciate the offer, I will not take the 2nd dollar bill.
- When sending a buck in the mail, don't make it obvious. I have always purchased new one dollar bills from the bank for QSL purposes. Why? They are much harder to detect by feel as they are fresh and thin. A used dollar has wrinkles and folds and it much harder to conceal in an envelope. It also helps by putting the dollar(s) inside your SAE or SASE as well. If you can hold up the envelope that you are sending me or any DX station under a light and see that there is a dollar in it, so can someone else. I also tear small pieces of thicker stock paper to put in the envelope to help conceal the buck.
- When addressing envelopes, DO NOT put callsigns in the address or return address. Thieves are smart and the callsign itself often times are what they are looking for. You might as well write on the envelope "cash money enclosed" if you put callsigns on it!
- Use security envelopes! These are harder to see through due to the way they are made. Yes, they are more expensive but have a few QSL requests at today's return postage rates (often times takes $3 bucks to get a QSL card back from a foreign country) stolen and you have paid for the difference. Cheap insurance in my humble opinion.
- I prefer to use European sized return envelopes that allow a bit more room for a larger QSL card. Or stateside, I prefer to use a #10 envelope for the very same reason. Have you ever received a QSL card from W6RO? You don't want a nice QSL card folded I'm sure. They send for the same amount of postage so why not go a bit bigger.
- And for me, I have a TON of airmail envelopes so foreign only (outside North America) stations need to only supply their address. This works best if they insert a return address label so I don't have to hand write their address on the return envelope. Again, this is for ME only, per my instructions on QRZ.com. A great reason to check instructions first before sending.
- If you are sending to a manager, just a simple note of thanks or maybe a bit extra in the envelope for them is not too much to ask. They are not paid to do this great service and if it were not for many of the QSL Managers today, lots of cards would probably go unanswered. Give them a pat on the back when you can.
- Last but not least, BE PATIENT!!!! People do have lives and it can take several weeks to get a confirmation back. Relax!!
Who would have thought just 15 years ago that a DXpedition would be activated from some rare island in the middle of some ocean and you could see your confirmation in the logbook within a few short hours of working them while they are STILL on the island?
The bureau is still in operation but many are feeling the effects of the global economy and some have closed down due to lack of funds. I like the bureau myself as it is a cheap way to get a QSL card but it can take a few years to get them. If you are a patient person, this is another inexpensive way to get a confirmation, assuming the other station particpates. It costs some hams in foreign countries a bit of money to participate so many choose not to.
I enjoy receiving and sending QSL cards and I still have each and every card I have ever received over the last 20+ years that I have been playing on the bands. Not every ham shares my enjoyment of QSL'ing but it has sure been an eye opener working from a location where many people want your QSL card.