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Awards and QSLing

QSL Cards

Part of the fun of amateur radio collecting QSL cards from other amateurs that you've talked to on the radio. Some people like to collect stamps form various parts of the world but hams collect QSLs. If you are also a stamp collector you will find that often a card comes from a distant country with an interesting stamp on the envelope.

Amateur radio operators exchange QSL cards to confirm two-way radio contact between stations. Each card contains details about one or more contacts, the station and its operator. At a minimum, this includes the call sign of both stations participating in the contact, the time and date when it occurred (usually specified in UTC), the radio frequency or Band used, the mode of transmission used, and a signal report. One national association of amateur radio operators, the ARRL, recommends a size of 3½ by 5½ inches (89 mm by 140 mm).

QSL cards are a ham radio operator's calling card and are frequently an expression of individual creativity — from a photo of the operator at his station to original artwork, images of the operator's home town or surrounding countryside, etc. They are frequently created with a good dose of individual pride. Consequently, the collecting of QSL cards of especially interesting designs has become an add-on hobby to the simple gathering of printed documentation of a ham's communications over the course of his or her radio career.

Normally sent using ordinary, international postal systems, QSL cards can be sent either direct to an individual’s address, or via a country's centralized amateur radio association QSL bureau, which collects and distributes cards for that country. This saves postage fees for the sender by sending several cards destined for a single country in one envelope, or large numbers of cards using parcel services. The price for lower postage, however, is a delay in reaching its destination because of the extra handling time involved. In addition to such incoming bureaus, there are also outgoing bureaus in some countries. These bureaus offer a further postage savings by accepting cards destined for many different countries and repackaging them together into bundles that are sent to specific incoming bureaus in other countries.

For rare countries, that is ones where there are very few amateur radio operators, places with no reliable (or even existing) postal systems, including expeditions to remote areas, a volunteer QSL manager may handle the mailing of cards. For expeditions this may amount to thousands of cards, and payment for at least postage is appreciated, and is required for a direct reply (as opposed to a return via a bureau).

Recently, the Internet has enabled electronic transmission as an alternative to the need for mailing a physical card. These systems use computer databases to store all the same information normally verified by QSL cards in an electronic format. Some sponsors of amateur radio operating awards, which normally accept QSL cards for proof of contacts, may also recognize a specific electronic QSL system in verifying award applications.

One such system, eQSL enables electronic exchange of QSLs as jpeg or gif images which can then be printed as cards on the recipient's local inkjet or laser printer, or displayed on the computer monitor. Many logging programs now have direct electronic interfaces to transmit QSO details in real-time into the eQSL.cc database. CQ magazine began accepting electronic QSLs from eQSL.cc for its four award programs in January 2009. 10-10 has been accepting eQSLs since 2002. Another, the ARRL’s Logbook of The World (LoTW), allows confirmations to be submitted electronically for that organization’s DX Century Club(DXCC) and Worked All States awards.

Even in the presence of electronic QSLs, physical QSL cards are often fine historical or sentimental keepsakes of a memorable location heard or worked, or a pleasant contact with a new radio friend, and serious hams may have thousands of them. Some cards are plain, while others are multicolored and y be oversized or double paged.

Click here to view some of the ARTS Club Memebers QSL Cards.

Awards and Certificates

Another reason for collecting QSL cards is to participate in the many award certificate programs available to amateurs. Whether it's getting your DXCC (DX century club) for getting cards confirming contacts with 100 or more DX countries, working all states in the U.S., all provinces in Canada, or many other awards available you will need the cards to support your claim for the award.

There are many different awards and certificates available from all sorts of Amateur Radio groups and organizations.   Some are from large organizations such as the ARRL, and some awards are from smaller groups for achievements in more specialized areas of ham radio such as QRP, or CW Operation.

An amateur radio operating award is earned by an amateur radio operator for establishing two-way communication (or "working") with other amateur radio stations. Awards are sponsored by national amateur radio societies(such as the ARRL), radio enthusiast magazines (such as CQ), or amateur radio clubs, and aim to promote activity on the amateur radio bands. Each award has its own set of rules and fees. Some awards require the amateur radio operator to have contacted other stations in a certain number of countries, Maidenhead grid locators, or counties. 

Many amateurs decorate their radio "shacks" (the room where they keep their radios) with these certificates.  This has led to the popular nickname for these awards and certificates as 'wall paper'.

Most amateur radio operating awards require that the applicant submit proof, such as QSL cards, of the contacts which satisfy the requirements of the award.

There are thousands of operating awards available. The most popular awards are the Worked All States award and the Worked All Continents award, and the more challenging Worked All Zones, DX Century Club (DXCC) and VHF/UHF Century Club (VUCC) awards. DXCC is the most popular awards program in the world, initially requiring amateurs to contact 100 of the (as of 2007[update]) 338 recognized countries and territories in the world. Other popular awards include contacting remote islands, US counties, and lighthouses. Many awards are available for contacting amateurs in a particular country, region or city.

The two most popular awards for Ham in the USA are the ARRL DX Century Club(DXCC), and the Worked All States(WAS) certificates.

DX Century Club, or DXCC

The DX Century Club, or DXCC, is an amateur radio operating award earned by making contact with 100 or more geographic entities around the world.

The award is granted by the American Radio Relay League. Radio amateurs worldwide are eligible to apply although applicants from the US, its possessions and Puerto Rico must be ARRL members. Proof of two way contacts, either in the form of QSL cards or via digital entry into Logbook of The World (LoTW), must be submitted to qualify. Each DXCC award certificate is dated and individually numbered.

The basic certificate is awarded to those amateur radio operators who successfully complete and confirm amateur radio communications with land based amateur radio stations located in at least 100 different "entities" on the official DXCC List.

"Entities" are often, but not always, countries. Each entity contains some definable political or geographical distinctiveness. For example, although Hawaii is not a separate country from the United States, it is a separate DXCC entity due to its distance from the rest of the US.

Worked All States

Worked All States, or WAS, is an amateur radio operating award given to those amateur radio operators who successfully complete two-way amateur radio communications with other amateur radio stations located in each of the 50 United States of America (contact with the District of Columbia may be used for Maryland). The award is sponsored by the American Radio Relay League. It is available to radio amateurs worldwide although US applicants must be ARRL members.

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