Dave Richards AA7EE

March 29, 2013

Good Ops, Ben’s Best Bent Wire, and Some New Home-Made QSL Cards

Nearly every evening on 40M, I hear Bill Crane W9ZN for an hour or two coming in from Chicago. He’s a good op. I’m not sure what his top speed is, but I often hear him conversing easily with others at around 25wpm.  He always matches the speed of whoever he is talking to, which I think is one mark of a good op. I remember the first time I QSO’ed with KA7PUN a couple of years ago.  We were conversing easily at what was my comfortable speed back then (which was probably around 16-17 wpm).  I thought that was his regular comfortable speed until I heard him in QSO a few days later with another station sending much faster. I realized that he had matched my speed and felt very grateful to him for making me feel comfortable in that QSO.

Anyway, back to Bill. I first noticed him on the band for a style of sending that incorporates a variation on the “Ben’s Best Bent Wire” routine that commercial operators used to use in order to loosen up their wrists before a shift. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with this type of routine and only knew that Bill had a style that made him stand out on the band for me.  Here’s what I’m talking about.  This is Bill as recorded last night -

I imagine that a few decades ago, this kind of routine was more prevalent on the bands, but W9ZN is the only station I have heard doing it.  Some people would probably prefer to perform their warm-up routines off the air, but it sure is a good way for Bill to be instantly identifiable. A little online research seems to indicate that he was a Chicago radio personality in the 60’s and 70’s, going by the name of Bill “Butterball” Crane. I’d sure like to QSO with him, but he never hears my puny 5W sigs.  He’s running QRO, and a regular presence in the segment from 7031 – 7034 most evenings.

I’ve also been busying myself with making some new QSL cards, firstly for QSO’s I make with the CC1 beta.  I was inspired by NT7S’ CC1 beta card, and wanted one for myself. I’m lucky to have Photoshop (CS2) and to have finally figured out the importance of layers and how to use them.  The initial version of the CC1 beta card that I came up with looked good on the screen, but due to the fact that I didn’t have a profile for the printer at my local Fedex Kinko’s (they probably don’t have one), the card printed out a lot darker than it looked on my monitor, and some of the text ended up being buried in the background.  I did eventually come up with 2 versions, both of which look OK when printed. One, in my opinion, looks better in print than the other, but I’m waiting to hear back from NT7S as to whether he agrees before I print up a few of one of these two.  These are not scans of the printed cards, but jpeg renditions of the original Photoshop files. Bear in mind when you’re looking at these, that the printer in my local Fedex kinko’s prints files darker than they look on-screen, so if you’re thinking these images look a bit light, that is why -

I finally seem to be getting the hang of using Photoshop to do these kinds of layouts so, bolstered by the success of these cards, decided to make another one. It took me a while to scan the G-QRP Club logo and change it from black on a white background to white on a transparent background, but now I know how to do it, it’s a piece of cake -

Of all these cards, my favorite is my basic 2 color one.  The following image, unlike the previous ones, is not a jpeg generated from the original Photoshop file, but a scan of the final printed card.  I did this because the color of the card stock does a lot to make the card look good.  It’s called “Sawgrass” and unfortunately, my local Fedex Kinkos won’t be restocking it once their current stock is gone -

It’s simple, effective, and prints out well on a variety of printers – no complex graphics that need to be rendered in accurate tones. On top of that, if I need to make a lot and am feeling a bit skint, it doesn’t look too bad in monochrome either.

August 26, 2009

On QSL Cards

Filed under: Amateur Radio,Ham Radio — AA7EE @ 6:50 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

I knew when I became active on the air again a couple of months ago that I would have to deal with the question of QSL cards sooner or later.  I’m currently unemployed and am watching all my expenses closely. Even so, it seems against the spirit of amateur radio not to reply to QSL requests – even if I were to make it perfectly clear on my QRZ page. So that option was out of the window. At the time of writing this post, I’ve made the statement on my QRZ page that an SASE will be much appreciated for anyone that wants a QSL. I’m going to start using LOTW and will probably renew my relationship with eqsl, as well as figuring out which bureaus to use. That still left me wondering what to do about an actual physical QSL card.

When I started in the UK as G4IFA (actually, my first call was G8RYQ,  but it was short-lived, as I upgraded to the full G4 license within a few months) my brother drew a great cartoon of a ham sweating away at the key.  I wish I still had a copy of that card. Next came a home made affair constructed with lots of cutting and pasting (the old-fashioned way – not on the computer) and photocopiers:

By this time I figured it was time to try a professionally printed product.  These 2 cards were from Rusprint:

The Rusprint cards were great, but by now my address had changed twice and besides, I am into CW for the first time, and I wanted a card that reflected that. One thing that I learnt from the Rusprint experience was that my requirements of a QSL card tend to change a long time before the cards have run out, leaving me with a stack of fairly useless cards. I liked the idea of a simple yet informative and elegant card that would be easy for me to design and print at home, so that when my circumstances change (like I move, or start operating 80m AM and want to change my card yet again), I can make the changes, and only have to print what I need as I go along.

Then I found out that Kinkos, or as they are now called “Fedex Office” will let you upload a file online and go pick up your order a couple of hours later (sometime sooner) at any store you choose. Brilliant – I don’t have to fuss with printer cartridges, and all those pesky cleaning cycles that use up a lot of ink. I realized that I could fit 4 postcard sized QSL’s on a single piece of 8.5 x 11 stock and cut them myself at home with a box cutter and metal rule. The prices are quite competitive with the professional QSL printers. In some cases, it costs a bit more to do it yourself (especially if you’re printing color, and not just black and white) but to me, the ability to just print the quantity that I need, and make changes as necessary give the homebrew method the advantage.

I had decided that I wanted a card that was fairly functional and simple, yet appealing in it’s design. Operating CW has made me feel quite connected to the roots of this hobby, so I started looking at designs of QSL cards from the 20’s and 30’s. I liked the idea that cards of that era were simple and functional. They served to confirm a radio contact, and they did it perfectly. Some of the full color photo cards we have today feel like overkill in some ways to me, and besides, they cost too much to print! On top of that, I just think that a lot of old QSL cards look great. Steve VE7SL had cards printed by VE7DK that closely resembled many vintage cards, and I was impressed with the result. This page shows some vintage cards from Steve’s collection (opens in a new browser window) and also the card that he had VE7DK print for him. As an aside, Steve built his own replica of a “Paraset” (opens in a new browser window) – a British WWII spy transceiver. If you work him on his Paraset, he’ll send you one of his lovely vintage cards.

A few hours on the computer, and I had found a free old style font and put together a card with the help of Photoshop. I used much of the wording on VE7SL’s card, but did change it a little to suit my needs. He has spaces in which he can enter the voltage and current to the final transmitting tube, as was customary back then. I changed that to a simple space for power in watts, as I don’t have plans to build a tube transmitter. I also added my SKCC and NAQCC numbers, and made one or two other changes. It might seem like plagiarism, but this design was very basic and common for the era. I particularly like the idea of having the station callsign in large letters “behind” the QSL info.

Here’s my new QSL card:

It’s one sided, so it’s cheap to print – even cheaper if I want to print it in black and white on a colored card stock, and I can stamp and address the other side to take advantage of cheaper postcard rates. Some hams don’t like to send their QSL’s like postcards, because of the opportunity for damage in transit, but here’s another way to look at it; those old QSL’s with stamps and hand-written addresses on now are even more appealing 70 years later. The stamps that might seem pedestrian to you now, serve as a historical timestamp to folk who might be viewing them in the future.

Set up a sked with me so I can send you my new QSL card!

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