Tag Archives: QSL Gallery

Ultra-Rare Tristan da Cunha QSL: The Art of the Hunter-Killer QSL Pursuit

The remote South Atlantic island of Tristan Da Cunha (Image via Google Earth)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who shares the following guest post:


Ultra-Rare Tristan da Cunha QSL: The Art of the Hunter-Killer QSL Pursuit

by Dan Robinson

Those in the QSL collecting community are likely to have noticed the recent appearance on Ebay of one of the rarest QSL cards in existence.

The QSL from Tristan da Cunha showed up around March 19th with a six day auction window, by a seller in France who also listed a number of other older QSLs.

For a description, the seller wrote: “QSL card from radio station ZOE the broadcasting service of Tristan da Cunha 1973. A very rare and sought after QSL. Seldom seen on Ebay. . .”

Understatement to be sure. Along with QSL letters directly from Biafra, the breakaway state in Nigeria many decades ago, QSLs from Tristan da Cunha are pretty much NEVER seen.

ZOE Tristan was a station intensively sought by thousands of DX’ers when it occupied the 90 meter frequency of 3,290 kHz with a power of only 40 watts.

Only a handful of DX’ers ever heard and QSL’ed Tristan.  In this story still accessible online–three persons from South Africa are described as having received QSLs, along with two others, in the UK and in Florida, USA.

As a young DX’er, I remember reading the entry in the WRTH and the feeling of frustration with the reality that it was impossible to hear with my receivers, largely due to its limited broadcast time and hour of transmission which I recall was 2000 UTC.

eBay bid history

As the hours ticked away in the auction, the number of bids increased. The ending time fell in overnight hours EDT. This increased chances of obtaining the card for a lower price, though bidders in other parts of the world would surely be stationed at their PCs and on their phones in the final hours of the auction.

I have been one of the most active QSL hunters in the world, and there are specific strategies involved in competing for QSLs.

For purposes of this article, I’ll just note that these involve constant attention, especially toward the end. As an auction nears conclusion, it’s important to “test” the bid level to assess the likelihood of the item selling at that or a much higher price.

Some cards or verification letters have the potential to bring hundreds of dollars. I assessed that this Tristan card could bring as much as $500-$1,000 depending on whether someone had “gone high” with an automatic “knock out” bid using either the Ebay system or other auto-bidding site.

As you can see in the image, from a starting price of $4.00 on March 19th the Tristan card had reached only $50.00 several days later on March 23rd.  The $100 mark was reached on March 26th.  One bidder retracted his $150 bid at one point.

On the final day March 26th, it was anyone’s guess how high the Tristan card could go.  The card only inched up in small bid increments, surprising given its rarity.

If one assumed that any of the four bidders involved placed a “knock-out” auto-bid, and if two had placed such a bid, in the final seconds the Tristan QSL could quickly shoot up from the $142.50 level to whatever the extremely high maximums would be.

Due to the rarity of the card, my bid fell in the “knock out” category.  I went to sleep reasonably confident, but concerned the competition could drive the price of the card through the roof.

When I awoke the next day, I was relieved — the Tristan card, complete with its original postage stamp, rubber stamp mark, and signature by the station, was mine.  The price:  an astoundingly low $145.

Such is the excitement involved in being a “hunter-killer” QSL card collector. As I noted in SWLing Post last year, I now own three of the world’s rarest QSLs.

These include possibly the last remaining QSL letters sent directly from Radio Biafra, a QSL from Portuguese Macao, and now this wonderful ZOE Tristan da Cunha card.

That is–actually two ZOE QSLs.  About a decade ago, while scanning Ebay listings for QSLs, I was astounded to see a ZOE card listed as part of a group of amateur radio QSLs being offered by a seller in Europe.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Until that point I had seen not a single ZOE QSL appear since the Ebay market for QSLs began to heat up in the late 1990s

(Source: SWL Card Museum)

This particular card, which you can see posted at the excellent “SWL Card Museum” site has “ZOE” printed in large letters, like the card that I recently won, a date of reception as “June 1, 1977” but no signature.

The card did arrive with the original envelope in which it was sent to a European DX’er, complete with a postage stamp and postal mark for Tristan.

Why that particular ZOE card was not signed by someone at the station, and why it was placed in an envelope rather than post marked on the card itself, remains a mystery.

Back to the story noted above, about the group of South African DX’ers who were among the few worldwide to have heard Tristan da Cunha.

In that article, the author notes that two other DX’ers, one in the U.S., one in Europe, had received QSLs from Tristan.

With a bit of online sleuthing, and help from some fellow DX’ers, I was able to determine that one of those two, Dave Sharp, is indeed still with us.

In response to an email inquiry, Dave provided the following history:

“I forget when exactly I heard the station, but it was 1984 or just prior, as I was still in high school. I was in Florida at the time and was using a rotatable three element beam ham antenna. [I] heard threshold talk from a woman with a deep voice and this apparently matched to voice of the Radio Tristan announcer at the time.

[I] received a reply from Pat Patterson, the Tristan postmaster and a Ham radio operator himself. Since my reception report was tentative, I felt a QSL wouldn’t have been issued if they hadn’t been reasonably confident of reception.

I received a personal letter, stamp bulletin, and a small QSL, bright green on white background, with “ZOE” across the front.

Long story, but many of my personal belongings were lost over the years and this includes my entire QSL collection (which had been left in possession of my sister).

Needless to say, I received a fair bit of ridicule after coming forward with the QSL. To emphasize, my report was tentative and they decided to issue a reply.”

It remains to be seen if other ZOE/Tristan da Cunha QSLs will surface in the future, and of course it is unknown how many of the cards that were sent out to the few DX’ers who heard, or claim to have heard, the station, still exist.


Wow! Thank you for shedding light on the history of ZOE Tristan Da Cunha QSLs. At those meager power levels, from such a remote location, and during that broadcast window, I can see why ZOE must be one of the rarest of QSL cards. I’m happy to know you obtained the card, too, Dan as you have such a long history of properly archiving and sharing your cards. As you just did.  Thank you!

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Lennart shares Radio Tahiti QSLs

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Lennart Weirell, who writes:

The posting about Mark’s shortwave recording of Radio Tahiti brings back memories from the 80s.

In 1982 I visited Tahiti with my family during a holiday from Malaysia, where I was working at that time, and could listen to Radio Tahiti locally. Back in Malaysia I managed to catch Radio Tahiti on 15170 kHz with my DR-28 and got the reception report verified with a nice QSL card.

When I moved back to Sweden a few years later I also managed to catch Radio Tahiti on 15170 kHz and got the reception report verified with another nice QSL card.

I saw that a QSL card from Radio Tahiti 1981 recently was sold on E-bay for $66.50!! so you better keep these old rarities.

Many thanks for sharing, Lennart! You’re right…some of these QSL cards are worth quite a bit of money on eBay. Take good care of them!

Readers: if you’d like to take proper care of your QSL collections, please read our guide to archiving.

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Guest Post: Possible Last Remaining Direct Biafra QSL Emerges

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.

Now, the rest of the story.

It turns out that among the three other bidders was none other than Jerry Berg, DX’ing colleague and author of so many wonderful books on the history of shortwave.

As I was preparing to complete this story for SWLing Post, I emailed Jerry who had already written up a comprehensive story about this newly-discovered Biafra verification.

Jerry’s superb article also includes links to the late Don Jensen pieces (The Life and Death of Radio Biafra and Biafra’s Incredible Radio), as well as a link to a recording of Voice of Biafra made by one of the other big names in the hobby, Al Sizer:

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.

Jerry continues:

“. . .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.

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Lennart’s WWVH 5 MHz QSL and a quick NIST update

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Lennart Weirell, who writes:

I saw the recent posting of a QSL card from WWV. Here is my QSL card from WWVH,
Hawaii 5 MHz from 2006 [above].

Thanks for sharing this excellent QSL, Lennart!

Update on shutdown of WWV, WWVH and WWVB

At WWVH Hawaii from left to right: Dean Takamatsu, Dean Okayama, Director Copan, Adela Mae Ochinang and Chris Fujita.
Credit: D. Okayama/NIST

Post Readers: please keep in mind that the NIST 2019 Presidential Budget request includes a desired reduction of, “$6.3 million supporting fundamental measurement dissemination, including the shutdown of NIST radio stations in Colorado and Hawaii.“

This would equate to the closure of WWV, WWVH and WWVB. 

Unless enough people protest this budget proposal, these sites will be closed.

If you value these services, I would encourage you to contact your local representatives, and sign this White House petition.

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Richard’s 25 MHz WWV QSL

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Schreiber (KE7KRF), who writes:

The NIST article about WWVH was very interesting and informative.

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!

Of course, as we’ve mentioned in a previous post, if the FY2019 presidential budget proposal is accepted/approved, WWV will be no more. 

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