48 years of QSLs  and callsign nametags 

A printer's walk through the hobby's connection to my profession

CONSIDERING THAT I'M A PRINTER, my QSLs aren't really anything special. In fact, my favorites are the ones printed by Clayton Fritz of Scottsdale, AZ. Many guys who've been on the air for a long while will remember them as the "premium" QSLs of their day, a balance of old-world craftsmanship and design, nice stock and that indescribable "something," that I recognized as them being printed by letterpress. Letterpress includes the use of cast metal type, hand composed, then secured in a form called a chase and held in the press, inked, and finally pressed against and slightly into the stock. Then there was a split fountain technique that no one did quite like C. Fritz,  to give the rainbow effect that I especially like on the KD4NI card's map.

I could go into a long discussion of what printers identify as "the third dimension of type," when referring to the effect that type has when printed by letterpress. It is contrasted with lithography, the predominant method of printing used on the popular QSLs of the same era from many of the printers. C.Fritz cards also made use of typefaces that were not typical, reflecting the era of when the fonts were designed and manufactured. Greeting Monotone was a personal favorite. The closest I could get to it in my high school printshop was Park Avenue, which I used in my own early attempts. More than you want to know about them follows.  :-)

This is the design for the first QSL for our Amissville QTH. They were printed by my former employer, and a couple hundred have gone out since 2012. The photograph, taken by my wife, is the Pampas grass from the previous year, lit by late day sun. I feel that it captures the winter radio season at this new location.

As often happens when you include equipment and awards, some of the rigs are gone, at least one of the desired antennas never happened (a 3 element SteppIR), and 7BDXCC is now 8BDXCC. I still wish my recipients "GUD DX" via the fake license plate (VA requires only your callsign on an Amateur Radio license plate, at a cost of $1, one-time) and I haven't been ejected by either PVRC or FARA. 

I also decided to include my nametags that I've had over the years on this page, which reflect the changes in calls as well. Otherwise, they're just trinkets in an old cigar box in the radio shack drawer. Despite their inclusion here, like the rest of this stuff, they're still just trinkets...

I attempted to keep the descriptions brief as I expounded upon each card, but as a printer, there just seems to be details that need to be shared. Believe it or not, there is actually more I could say about each, so some restraint was exercised.

Finally, there are some QSLs of others from the past, including my first QSO, my ham Elmer's card, and some from others that I operated with on a 1974 Field Day in Nokesville, VA. All went on to considerable success in contesting (I was the singular underachiever).

These items represent, like a photograph, a fixed point in time, and a whole host of related memories.

A Google Photos Album of Certificates, QSLs and nametags.

1. Radio Canada Shortwave Club certificate. I got this in 1969, just about a year and a half before getting my license. I even got endorsement stickers for something, although I don't remember what. I suspect it's for SWL reports to the CBC. If you know what they're for, drop me an e-mail please.

2. Popular Electronics, Short-Wave Monitor Certificate of Registration.  This was issued in the same year as I got my novice license. This and the RCSWC certificate were "discovered" in a foot locker of old papers. I had no idea it was still around. It's in remarkably good condition, as it never had rubber cement or Scotch tape applied to it.

3. WPE3ICO - First "call" as a SWL. I had my Radio Canada and BBC SWL membership numbers on there too.

4. WA3PHG - Handmade card from high school printshop. Hand cut silkscreen masks of the call (in gold) and the map (in blue), then letter press printed with Park Avenue font.

5. WA3PHG - Similar to #2, but I took a little less time with the type. It shows.

6. WA3PHG - Boatanchor station, with photos taken by a friend who was on the school newspaper and had a "real" camera. Roger also scored 1600 on the SAT. This station looked better than it worked, but the receiver was magnificent. The card, less so. I used lithography, and made the halftones for the printing and did the press work in two colors. I was still learning. The hand lettered call leaves more than a little to be desired, and the fit of the whole mess is not optimal. Still, it was exciting to do all the camera work for the card, page layout, stripping, platemaking, and presswork.

7. WA3PHG - This card, with the green callsign, was prepared at Chowan College, where I studied printing. It's not complicated, but it represented a better level of craftsmanship from a printing standpoint. It's coated stock, and I printed it on a Saturday, with special dispensation from my offset press teacher, Mr. Sowell.

8. WA3PHG/4 - This is the corollary to #5, also typeset and printed at Chowan. The station shown is on my desk in the dorm room I shared with the Matt McKenney, my best man. What's not shown is the Eldico SSB-1000 amplifier that I ran there also, but that was the second year.

9. KA4EKO - This is a card that I typeset in hot metal (raised type) and printed myself at home on my Challenge precision proof press. Since I didn't have any large fonts so I just repeated the one I had. It's a simple, two-color job, printed on linen-finish stock.

10. KA4EKO (2) - This was my first card from Clayton Fritz, of Scottsdale, AZ. These are the cards most considered to be the best of the best back then. Green was a favorite, and these are similar to the ones that a local in Delaware, WA3LMY, Bruce Draper, had. 

11. KD4NI - When the FCC changed the rules, allowing then currently licensed Advanced class hams to apply for a 2x2, I did (since I'd changed call areas, and didn't think I'd be back) and received KD4HI. I had this call for about 7 years. This first of the KD4NI cards used the split-fountain technique, where a set of dividers were placed in the ink fountain, and some intentioanal migration between the colors took place. In this case, since there is space between the letters of the call, and the colors and the number of characters is the same, it gave a nice, colorful effect to the call. I called Mr. Fritz, and chatted with him about his techniques, rookie printer to master printer. He was remarkably forthcoming about his techniques.

12. KD4NI (2) - I went to C.Fritz again, for what is without question, the favorite card I've ever had.The colors on the callsign were good, but this is THE classic card of the era, as far as I'm concerned. The split fountain with the colors blending one into another is just a great look to my eye. Thank's again Mr. Fritz.

13. KX3Q - I skipped over the call I got when I upgraded to extra in 1987, AA4HE. It was such a terrible call on CW, it just had to go. So I "moved" to Delaware (to my parents' home) and applied for a 2x1, which, as you can see, were still available after the 4th call area had gone to the AA$xx format. I dropped it in 1996 when the vanity callsign program started up again, and it's just recently been picked up fb a fellow in Pennsylvania. These cards were created on the first 600-dpi laser printer in a relatively small format, the Varityper VT-600. I sent the pasteup to a printer who used lithography for these. I had quite a few printed, since I was doing a lot more contesting in those days, and tended to go through a bunch of cards.

14. K4SO - My current and final callsign, which I got in 1996. It was a landrush event, with FedEx a big winner. This call was my #3 choice, but I've gotten pretty attached to it after 12 years, making it the longest held call I've had. As far as I can tell, it was not held previously. The card is the first of a new era for me, printed on the Xerox iGen3, a 28-foot-long 600 dpi, 100 ppm laser printer. I designed this card for speed for bureau use, with room for 3 QSOs on the front, and the stock was only 80lb., to keep mailing costs down, especially for a block of them. There's a lot packed onto the card though, and tiny pictures that I can't see now without my glasses.

15. K4SO (2) - This is the first band-specific card I've ever had. I had so much fun with my TenTec 6M transverter, homebrew pair of 4CX250Bs, and M2 6M5X, that I decided to make cards just for 6 meters. The center photo is the RF deck of the amplifier,complete with boots and chimneys from Alpha. That's where the similarity ends however. This amp is very simple, but I really have probably had more fun per dollar spent on "the magic band" than any other. I'm hoping that the next cycle will bring me the last 7 countries needed for DXCC on that band. (2018-Still using the same amp, I completed DXCC in 2012 and worked my first JAs on FT8 this year.)

16. K4SO (3) - Currently, this is the card I am using for most QSOs, but I still have some of the two preceding cards. I made the photos larger, and moved the report form to the back. I haven't had a postcard style card for quite some time, favoring an envelope for those which I request (which include an S.A.S.E.) or to answer the requests of others that include an envelope.

17. K4SO (4) - Stay tuned! I plan station-specific cards next, with the S/Line to be the first. Even with computerization, I still prefer handwritten cards. As bad as it sounds for a printer to say, I'm really smitten with LoTW and can see using QSLs in the future just for special contacts. When we moved, I decided to recycle the majority of cards I've received over the years, saving my wife or children the trouble. I try to respond to requests, especially with SASEs, but prefer electronic methods. 

18. WA3KZX - This is the QSL card from my Elmer who gave me the novice test, as well as my friend up the street, Mark, WN3OYA.

19. WN3OYA - Mark lived about 5 houses away, north on Barr Road, and on the other side of the street. We SWL'd together, and he is the one who found WA3KZX to bring us into ham radio. It was his set of World Book encyclopedias that provided the Morse Code listing that I used to learn it (without sound, decidedly the wrong way.) 

20. WN4SGV - Now, KT3Y. Philip and I go way back to our novice days, and lived near one another (5 miles apart and about 10 minutes by car) for over 20 years. He's now the owner/operator of KP2M, in addition to a long, distinguished "career" in contesting, especially CW. He used an all-wire station to numerous top-ten finishes in the major DX contests.

21. WB4MRI - Bill, known back than to us as "Will" was one of the prime movers and shakers for the 1974 Nokesville FD. His mother knew the lady that owned the field where we operated. He's now an MD, serving on a Native American reservation out west.

22 WA2LQZ - a card from a contact with John, now K1AR (and holder of that call for what seems like forever), back in our teenage years. John was on the infamous WA3LXK/4 Nokesville Field Day in 1974, that I have referenced elsewhere. John went on to a high-profile involvement in ham radio, and is still highly active and decorated.

23. WA2ICU - Steve is, and has been for as long as I can remember, N2IC (after upgrading and changing calls, of course). Steve was also on the Nokesville expedition for Field Day, and his call is well-known for many contest wins and his involvement with the N1MM and N1MM+ logging programs.