Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Stan (WA1LOU), who writes:
Besides being a radio aficionado, I also dabble in philately and subscribe to a couple of stamp magazines.
The cover of the October 15 issue of Linn’s Stamp News caught my eye displaying a QSL card from Swan Island (HR6SWA) (see attached). As it turns out, the magazine contains an extensive article about the history of Swan Island and its various inhabitants (including the RF variety).
Being a philately magazine, the article concentrates on how mail was handled to and from the island, but its mention of the radio operations is interesting nonetheless. The article is well illustrated and includes a number of QSL cards from the various Swan radio operations.
I found the article interesting from both a radio and philately perspective.
And I’m sure glad I kept the envelope that delivered my Radio Americas QSL card!
I bet you are happy you kept that envelop, Stan!
Thank you for sharing this. While I’ve never been a stamp collector, I’ve always had a deep appreciation for stamps from around the world. I’m sure much of this has to do with being a radio listener and receiving QSL cards and listener material with all of those amazing stamps affixed.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor Dan Robinson who shares this fascinating story about what has to be “one of the most important occurrences involving a SWBC station that no longer exists — the Voice of Biafra”:
Biafra: One of the rarest of SWBC QSLs
by Dan Robinson
Many SWLing Post readers will no doubt have heard, in recent years, the station Radio Biafra broadcasting via various relay locations on shortwave, and also on the Internet.
Those of us who have been SWLs for many decades remember the history of Biafra and the story of the original Voice of Biafra, which when the station was active on shortwave, before it was closed down by Nigerian government forces.
My own SWLing career began in the late 1960’s, but alas my receivers at the time, and my knowledge of what was on the air were such that I did not hear the transmissions from Biafra (I’m one of those who regrets having missed many former tropical band broadcasters, such as Tonga, Fiji, Gilbert & Ellice Islands (later known as Kiribati) when they used shortwave, and Biafra was on that list as well).
I first learned about the original Radio Biafra from articles written by the late Don Jensen.
In one of those [download PDF], Don re-printed a copy of one of the most famous SWBC QSLs of all time — a Biafra verification sent to DX’er Alan Roth.
Typed on a piece of notebook paper, it had “Broadcasting Corporation of Biafra, P.O. Box 350, Enugu” at the top. Three paragraphs of text followed, referring to Roth’s reception dated January 28th, 1969 of the station on 7,304 kHz.
Pictured with the letter to Roth was the envelope with “Republic of Biafra” mailed from the Biafra mission on Madison Avenue, in New York City. I will always remember the caption, which said that Roth had taken his reception report to the Biafran delegation office which:
“managed to get it flown into the breakaway nation with other official correspondence, on the emergency airlift. Radio Biafra’s chief engineer wrote the verification letter and returned it via the same route. . . a high contrast photo was required to bring out the typing since a well-born typewriter ribbon had been used.”
For decades this Biafra verification to Roth was indeed considered to be the only one in existence, though because so many SWLs and DX’ers were active through the years, it’s always difficult to state this with certainty.
Those of us who collect historic SWBC QSLs, going through thousands of eBay listings, always keep an eye out for cards and letters and station materials.
So it was that a few weeks ago, as I was doing my usual due diligence looking through eBay listings, I noticed something unusual. Listed among SWBC QSLs from a seller in Ithaca, New York was something astounding — another Biafra verification letter!
Looking closely, it seemed to be exactly like the famous QSL letter sent to Alan Roth in 1969, with the exact same date, but sent to a James G. Moffitt, in Dallas, Texas.
Days ticked by — I had the QSL on ‘watch’ status on my eBay account, and as I do for any QSL of high value, I also had it on automatic bid status. For this piece of SWBC history, my maximum bid was very high, something I rarely do unless the item has extreme historic or collectors significance.
I envisioned furious bidding for this Biafra verification, but in the end only four bids were recorded. I won the QSL at what I consider to be a very low price ($81) considering its rarity.
The “Undiscovered QSL of Radio Biafra”, as Jerry calls it in his new article, now resides with me here in Maryland. Unless/until another of its kind emerges somewhere on the QSL market, it has to be considered the only one of its kind in the world.
As for the question of whether this previously “undiscovered” QSL is genuine, Jerry notes the similarities between the Roth QSL letter from 1969, and the one sent to James G. Moffitt, who he notes was active as a DX’er in the days when Radio Biafra existed.
“. . .what about the common date, and date-time-frequency details, in the two veries? If the reports had arrived in Biafra at roughly the same time, it would not be unusual for the replies to be prepared on the same day. As to the common date-time-frequency details, perhaps whoever typed the letters thought these references were standard boilerplate rather than information that was to be tailored to the specific listener. Certainly the frequency could be expected to be the same. The common date of reception is harder to explain, but it is not difficult to see how the almost inevitable difference in dates of reception could have been overlooked. QSLers know that verifications can be wrong in their details, misdated, even sent to the wrong listener. As for the different fonts, and for Alan’s letter being light in appearance and Moffitt’s dark, perhaps the typist changed typewriters because one was running out of ink. We will likely never know for sure, but I think the Moffitt verie (which sold on eBay for $81) is genuine. In any event, the story reminds us how, in every endeavor, even shortwave listening, today’s connected world can cast new light on old events and turn longstanding certainties into question marks.”
I am quite happy with having acquired what surely is one of the rarest of SWBC QSLs. It has been added to a collection that, in addition to my own QSLs that I carefully kept over the years, includes other unique cards, including one from ZOE Tristan da Cunha and the station at the former Portuguese Macao.
Amazing story, Dan! It pleases me to no end to know that someone who values our shortwave radio history–and does a proper job archiving it–has acquired this amazing piece. I especially appreciate the time that you and Jerry Berg put into sharing the history of the Voice of Biafra with the shortwave listening and DXing communities. Thank you!
Readers: As Dan suggests, I strongly encourage you to check out Jerry’s website, On The Shortwaves. It’s a deep treasure trove of radio history.
It reminded me that lately WWV’s broadcast on 25 MHz has been received from time to time here in southern Arizona. I emailed a report and recording to NIST in late June and received a QSL (images above).
I don’t know the status of the 25 MHz frequency. In 2017 NIST was soliciting reports but I haven’t found any current details on the web.
Thanks for sharing this, Richard. I’m under the impression that the 25 MHz frequency is still in use, though I may be wrong. This is also a great reminder–many don’t realize–that WWV does issue QSL cards!
The three letters – QSL – constitute one of the codes originally developed in the days of the telegraph. All codes consisted of three letters beginning with “Q”. Later some of these “Q” codes were adopted by radio-telegraphists and radio listeners. QSL means “contact confirmed” or “reception confirmed”.
The expression “QSL card” or just “QSL” gradually came to be used among radio-amateurs and then more broadly as radio began to develop as a mass medium. Radio stations were keen to know how well and how far away their programmes could be heard and began to send their listeners “QSL cards” in return for reception reports. The card would include letters making up the “call sign” of the station – the system still used in the United States – or the broadcasting company’s logo or some other illustration. The card would also include a text stating the frequency and the transmitter output power, and a confirmation of when the listener heard the station.
Domestic broadcasters do not tend to use QSL cards these days, but their popularity remains among radio stations broadcasting internationally. They are still keen to know how well they can be heard in the parts of the world to which they broadcast. In the era of shortwave broadcasts Radio Prague sent out QSL cards for reception reports received. After curtailing our shortwave transmissions as of February 1, 2011 we will continue issuing QSL cards for reception via the Internet.
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