ZS6EZ on the Seriousness of Radio
Or: Those Blank QSL Cards

Last updated: 2002-07-30

I'm sure we all have a few, or at least have seen them lying around. They come through the mail with legitimate cards; they get handed out as "visitor's cards"; they are handed out as printers' samples at ham conventions; they land in the trash when the visitors' board is cleaned out afterwards; they are used to remind people of email addresses.

Although most QSL managers probably take care to control the outflow of blank QSL cards, others are careless to the point where it is extremely easy to obtain blank cards from a large number of countries. I've seen colour cards from IS0, HB0 and even ZA handed out as print samples at Friedrichshafen. I've seen cards from ET and 3V being left on display boards after the show, making them easy pickings for would-be collectors. I've been given blank samples by intrepid DXpeditioners. And, probably my own personal favourite, I've received one through the mail with a stick-on note boldly proclaiming that the blank card is for "in case I need the country on another band".

I found my first few blank cards disturbing. Didn't they debase DXCC, and awards in general? Didn't they somehow tarnish the achievement? But as time went on, I realised that blank QSL cards are just another manifestation of the phenomenon that DXing is. It's an activity where you set your own handicap. You determine whether you're prepared to sell your soul by checking into a DX net. You decide whether you're prepared to break the law by running excessive power. You decide whether you're prepared to jeopardise your career and family by spending way too much time on a hobby. You decide whether you ask DX Telnet to find all the stuff on the Cluster for you, or whether you actually tune the bands and find the stuff yourself.

And, I guess, you decide how meaningful the result is in the light of the constraints. If you have tall towers and long-boom Yagis, a DXCC score of 300 is not a big deal. If you live in an apartment and use indoor antennas with a QRP radio, it is. If you check into a DX net to work stuff that your antennas would otherwise not crack, you ride on the back of someone else's preparation. Is it an achievement? Some don't think so. However, your DXCC certificate is not endorsed for "Sundays only, barefoot, no DX nets". It looks just like everyone else's.

What about blank QSLs then? I was in the interesting position once that I needed only two QSL cards to get on the DXCC Honor Roll. I was 29, and no other ZS had yet made Honor Roll before their forties. I thought it would be nice to make it in my twenties. Gee, I even had four blanks from countries that I needed! All I had to do was fill them in, and I'd be on the Honor Roll. Fortunately, I still have those blanks, and they're still blank. Selling your soul for Honor Roll just isn't worth it.

I now have a collection of blank cards from around 180 countries. I really enjoy showing them to guys who are very serious about DXing. Gee, I even have blanks from one of the countries I still need on SSB. Now lemmesee, if I fill it out, I could even become the top ZS on that Honor Roll... Or should I rather become the first in the world with an EME DXCC on 1296 MHz ATV?

But then, what would it prove? Would it give me a warm feeling? I strongly doubt it. If one's self-esteem is built on the "ooh"s and "ah"s of others, maybe that's the way to go. But if one's DXing is only for fun and as a challenge to oneself, blanks cards remain a fun novelty. Something to show guys who are very serious about their DXing, perhaps?

Afterthought: Much the same argument applies to log manipulation in contesting. Log padding, database sanitation and rubber clocking are all in the same league as filling in blank QSL cards. Fortunately, in contesting the advent of computer log checking has probably closed some of those doors to a large extent. Perhaps electronic QSLing (with proper cryptographic protection) will do the same for DXing. Of course, cheating is still possible; excessive power, illicit use of packet, "buddy" contacts and DX nets will not disappear. But those who compete for their own challenge will continue to shun these practices, and those that compete for glory will probably continue to bask in fake glory, and in the scorn of those in the know.

List of blanks in my possession, as of 2002-07

Perfect blanks: 1A, 1S, 3A, 3B8, 3D2 Fiji (VR2 callsign), 3D2 Conway Reef, 3D2 Rotuma, 3DA, 3V, 4S, 4U1ITU, 4X, 4J (UD callsign), 5B, 5H, 5W, 5X, 6Y, 7P, 8P, 8Q, 8R, 9A, 9M6, 9N, 9Q, 9U, A2, A3, A4, Antarctic, AP, BV, BY, C5, C6, C9, CE0Y, CN, CP, CT3, CX, DL, EA, EA8, EA9, EP, ET, EY, F, FH, FO Polynesia, FO Marquesas, G, GI, GJ, GU, H4, HA, HB, HB0, HC, HL, HS, HV, HZ, I, IS0, J3, J7 (VP2D callsign), JA, JT, JW, JY, K, KH0, KH1, KH2, KH4, KH6, KH7, KH8, KH9, KP1 (KC4 callsign), LA, LU, LY, OA, OE, OH, OH0, OK, OM, ON, P4, PJ9, PY, PY0S, PZ, RA1, RA2, RA9, S5, S7, S9, SP, ST, SV5, SV9, T30, T32, T5, T7, T8 (KC6 callsign), T9, TA, TG, TN, TY, UT, V4 (VP2K callsign), V5, V6, V7, VE, VK, VK0H, VK9C, VK9L, VK9N, VK9X, VP2E, VP2M, VP2V, VP5, VP9, VQ9, VU, XE, XF4 (XE5 callsign), XU, XV, XX9, XZ, YB, YJ, YL, YN, YO, YU, YV, Z3, ZA, ZC4, ZD7, ZF, ZK1N, ZK1S, ZK2, ZK3 (ZM7 callsign), ZL, ZP, ZS.

Deleted countries: 1A6 Bishop Rock, HC8 Ebon Atoll, OK Czechoslovakia, ST0 South Sudan, TI9C Comoran Reef, Y2 East Germany.

Cards with blank QSO fields, but with notes on the back: 9G, CT, EI, HI.

Cards addressed to me, but with blank QSO data: OD, ZL7.

Countries on blank multiple-country cards: 7Q, 7X, D2, DU, FG, FM, FP, FR, FS, FY, KP2, PJ8, SU, TK.

Depending on exactly how you count, the total is around 180. If you can contribute anything new, please let me know!

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