Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ephemera of the Airwaves: Vintage QSL Cards

I think I can safely say that the two greatest questions of our cellular age are “Can you hear me?” and “Where are you?”

It just so happens that those two questions have been around for quite some time. In fact, it’s been about a hundred years that while the rest of us were telephonically tethered, amateur radio operators around the globe have been asking each other those exact same questions. The answer came in the form of a QSL card.

The QSL card (Q-code for “confirming contact”) came into popular use in the early 1920s, around a decade after amateur wireless started to spread as a hobby. When sending out a signal, the only way to know how far away it was picked up, was to get verification from a recipient. A QSL card was sent by mail as confirmation that a signal had been received. In addition to date, place, and call letters, the sender supplies details about all the receiving equipment. Upon receipt of a card, the originator of the signal would then send one back.

There are thousands upon thousands of QSL cards out there. Their design range from large letters of whichever type style prevailed at the time, to radio and transmission imagery, to something representing the sender’s location or interest (usually amateur radio). Some of the cards look to be standard issue, but as you can imagine, given the DIY nature of ham radio, many operators designed their own cards.

One especially well know operator was cartoonist, Otto Eppers (1893-1955). The first thing you will read in any write-up on him is that as a teenager, he jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge as a stunt and survived. Eppers worked as an inker for numerous comic strips and also illustrated ads for radio supply companies.You can see lots of his work, including many QSL cards here.

Like all subcultures, ham operators have their own lingo, and love bragging about the celebrities in their ranks. They claim Walter Cronkite, Marlon Brando, and Robert Moog as fellow operators. And while there is no doubt about the geek quotient (GQ?) inherent in ham radio, operators get to clam the nerdiest nerd of all time as one of their own--Gerson Strassberg, inventor of the plastic pocket protector.

Okay, all you OMs and YLs, enough rag chewing. Over, 73!

Much thanks to Bob Green W8JYZ and  David Johnson G4DHF
 for permission to post cards from their fantastic collections.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jazz Signers

“Autographs” is stamped in gold across the top of the book’s bright green cover, and in the corner is a little girl holding an umbrella. While it might look like something to be passed around a 5th grade classroom on the last day of school, this darling autograph book was actually passed around the nightclubs of Winnipeg, Manitoba in the 1940s. It's filled with signatures of some of the greats, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, and Gene Krupa. 

The book is for sale now, on eBay.

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