Sunday, December 30, 2007

QSLing (or The job isn't done until the paperwork is finished, Part II)

Back in August, I wrote an entry that talked a bit about my "routine" QSLing (mostly answering incoming requests) but focused more on getting a card ready for my then-recent ZF2DK operation. I've spent a bunch of time over the last week catching up on the QSLing that I should have been doing all along, and I thought I'd write a little bit about that as well.

As I mentioned previously, I try to be really good about responding to cards that I receive sent
directly to me (as opposed to via the ARRL Bureau). Most of the direct cards that I get tend to be from US stations that I've worked in a contest, though I think the majority wind up being for contacts on 6 meters, where my grid square might actually be of interest to someone. (Unfortunately, for the most part, a station located in New Jersey isn't exactly considered "rare" to anyone, although I have worked a few DX stations in the past that did need NJ for the WAS award or possibly Bergen County for a County Hunter award.) As a result, most of the DX cards I get come in through the W2 bureau. There are some DX stations that QSL every contact (which seems a bit excessive; I don't need confirmation from any given station more than once for any band/mode combination), but using the ARRL Outbound Bureau is a very cost-effective (though relatively slow) way to get cards back for those "band/mode fills". (My preference, of course, is to use the Logbook of the World service, but not every station uses that.) The one exception to my "respond the same day" to an incoming card is that when I receive a card via the bureau, I mark it for QSLing via the bureau instead of actually responding instantly. The way the bureau works is that you take advantage of sending out cards in bulk. You can send a small number, but it's not as cost-effective.

It seems that I'd been marking outbound "response" cards for quite some time, at least a year. Maybe more. What I'm supposed to do is to print out the card labels and send a batch of cards out to Newington (ARRL HQ, where the actual outbound bureau is located) every few months so that things don't pile up too much. That's what I was supposed to do. Unfortunately, with everything else going on, I'd gotten behind on answering those cards, along with sending for cards that I needed to get (but not urgently; a typical response time for a card sent via the bureau system is 1 to 2 years,
and much longer isn't unusual). Since I had some time off from work over the past week, I figured that this would be a good time to get caught up on my QSLing.

It turned out to be a lot bigger job than I'd expected. I figured that I'd probably have a couple of
dozen cards to go out via the bureau, and maybe a dozen or two cards to go out directly. (More abou those later). It turns out that I had 268 cards to send out, which, oddly enough, happened to be split exactly (134 each) between the bureau and cards that needed to be sent out directly. When I realized how big project was, I figured that I'd get the direct cards out first, then tackle the bureau cards. (What's another few days when you're talking about a year or two for a response?)

What I discovered about the direct cards was that there was a mix of a relatively small number of cards to go to stations located overseas (DX stations), but a lot more that went either to QSL
Managers located in the US or to stations located in the US. (A QSL manager is a person who handles the QSL duties for another station.) What I'd forgotten about was that a year (or two? or more?) ago, I marked a lot of my 6m contacts for QSLing to confirm their grid square, needed for the VUCC award. In fact, I marked about 65 of them. Because the ARRL bureau system only allows cards to be sent to stations located outside the continental 48 states (with some exceptions), those cards all had to go direct. So first, I spent quite a few hours (mostly very late at night; one of the advantages of not having to go to work the next day) researching to make sure that I had the correct addresses. After that was all set, I printed out labels for the cards (with the QSO information to go onto my QSL cards) and address labels. It's then a fairly mechanical process of affixing the label to the QSL card, usually writing a short note on the card (which often winds up being just "73, David" when I'm doing this many), putting the card, along with either an SASE (for domestic cards) or a SAE plus some means to supply return postage (typically either "Green Stamps" or an IRC) into an outer envelope, putting on postage, the address label, and a return address label (making sure it says "USA" if it's going overseas, sealing the envelope and repeating. And repeating. etc. The result is what you see in the picture, although I took that after I'd already mailed about 15 other airmail letters.

Of course, then we have the bureau cards. The good news is that there are no envelopes or addresses to worry about, though I did my research there too. Some stations do not accept cards via their bureau, but what's nice is that some stations will now sent you a return card via the bureau via either an email request (such as DL5AXX) or via a web form (such as DJ2MX). I assume that those stations just don't need my card, which and are happy to help you out. That's a
nice "spirit of ham radio" thing, and personally, I'd be happy to do that as well (if someone ever really needed my card.) I recommend doing the research to find out if a station will respond this way, as it can save you a considerable amount of money (versus a direct QSL; It's now USD$3 to get a card returned from Germany, that doesn't count the postage to send it there). The someone tricky part about using the ARRL outbound bureau is that you do need to send the card to the correct manager and the cards need to be sorted in country-prefix order. Fortunately, my logging program prints the labels out in the correct order, but you still need to affix the labels, then, as per the ARRL's instructions, you need to write the QSL manager's call on the upper-left corner of the back of the card, and put any cards going to manager into the pile with that side up. Whew. Ok, it's not the hardest thing in the world to do, and if I'd just managed to keep up with this, it wouldn't be nearly as big a task.

So the good news is that hopefully over the next few months (or years, for the bureau cards) I'll get some responses back from all of this work. While I strongly believe in electronic QSLing through the Logbook of The World, I do like coming home to find a new card or two in the mail.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:39 AM

    Hi there,

    I just thought it may be of some interest to you to know, a while back i came across a british labels company who sold me a batch of plain labels at a really low price. I know they also do many types of label printing aswell including address labels so if you are at all interested then may be worth visiting their website.