Tag Archives: Tristan Da Cunha

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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Reminder: Radio challenge ends Thursday

TristanDaCuna-001

We’ve received some brilliant, creative entries in the Virtual radio challenge: your opportunity to piece together the best $200 (US) radio kit you might pack for one year on the remote island of Tristan Da Cunha.

To participate in this challenge, simply comment on our original post with your suggested set-up, any links, and a brief explanation for your choices. You’re also welcome to email me directly with your response.

I plan to post a selection of diverse entries this Friday. Click here to read about the challenge.

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Virtual radio challenge: one year, one radio, one (very) remote island

SWL Travel Gear - Timbuk2 Wingman

Pack your bags! We’re going on a trip!

Shortwave listeners are interesting, creative people who do interesting, creative work: they’re scientists, veterans, corporate employees, students, retirees, volunteers, politicians, musicians, inventors, entrepreneurs, engineers, humanitarians, reporters, artists, researchers, sailors, pilots, pirates…and most seem to be travelers. But to say the least, they’re very diverse. The joy of the SWLing Post, for me, is the fascinating readers here and the great variety of questions and comments I receive from you.

On this blog, I often write about selecting the “right” radio for home, boating, preparednessoff-grid living, and of course travel–but sometimes I like to go through the mental exercise of imagining a scenario a little more extreme.

Indeed, I occasionally receive such “extreme” questions from our readers, questions that push the limits of the hobby, demanding highly specific needs in a radio. And, I readily admit, I thoroughly enjoy these questions!  They give me a chance–and good excuse, really–to be imaginative and innovative, to push beyond mere practical or monetary constraints to consider unique environments, weather conditions, durability needs, power requirements, and/or resource availability…great fun.

If you enjoy this kind of brain game, too, check out our virtual challenge that follows:

Should you agree to take it on, you’ll need to complete it within two weeks. Why the time constraint? Let’s imagine that your flight leaves May 15th, and you’ll need to make sure you’ve received, tested, and packed all of your supplies by that date.

[By the way, this scenario is based on an actual reader question.]

Here’s your challenge…

TristanDaCuna-001

Location: Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, Tristan Da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean

Tristan da Cunha on 6 February 2013, as seen from the International Space Station (Source: Wikipedia)

Tristan da Cunha on 6 February 2013, as seen from the International Space Station (Source: Wikipedia)

Accommodation: A rented room in a native Tristanian family home

Electricity: Mains power via the grid, but you’ll have to expect extended power outages if there is a generator failure

Internet: The island has (slow speed) public Internet, but you will not have access at your accommodation

Your budget: $200 US–which must cover all of your radio requirements (radio, antenna, batteries, and all accessories)

Scenario: You’re on an assignment, being sent to one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands–Tristan Da Cunha, in the South Atlantic (see this overview of the island from Wikipedia)–to undertake research for one year. You’ll fly into South Africa, where you’ll board a cargo vessel for the one-week journey to the island. The maximum amount of luggage allowed by your airline is one carry-on and two check-in bags, both of no more than 60 kg (132 lbs), total.

Once on the island, you will not leave until a ship picks you up 365 days later.

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean (Source: michael clarke stuff)

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean (Source: michael clarke stuff)

Tristan Da Cunha has less than 300 total inhabitants, so while there are basic shops and accommodations, these are very limited. Once there, ordering a new radio or accessories will not be an option. Getting your rig fixed by an island electronics repair shop will be possible, to some extent (we’ll assume you don’t possess those repair skills yourself). Batteries are locally available, but very expensive…

You’ll be staying in a small, thick-walled stone cottage with a family and will have your own room, with a window.  The family will allow you to string a wire antenna outside, but there are no trees, only heath and shrubs. Additionally, winds are strong and rainfall substantial; sunshine can be quite limited.

We’ll assume you’re starting from scratch, that you have neither radio nor any accessories. You’re allowing yourself a maximum of $200 US for all of your radio gear.  Your goal is to have the best shortwave listening set-up possible for your budget and for this situation. Since your radio must be packed in your luggage, you can’t afford the space nor the weight of a large tabletop radio.

Obviously, the more you understand the island and its limitations, the better choices you’ll make for your gear.

Limitations:

  1. You’re limited to a (virtual) budget of $200 US to procure your supplies; ideally, this includes shipping costs
  2. You can select used gear, but must base your choices on reality (i.e., actually find item(s) online and document the price and time of availability). If you “shop” eBay, make sure you’re using the final price, not the current or opening bid. If you do locate something used on eBayQTH.com, QRZ.com or at Universal Radio, for example, include the link! (Just to add to the fun.)
  3. Your main objective is to listen to international broadcasters, and do a little DXing, of course. FM sensitivity will not be a factor (of course, I’m joking here!) Whether or not the radio has SSB mode is up to you.
  4. We’ll assume that you’re bringing a laptop computer with you.
  5. Remember, you’ll be stuck with this radio for one full year! So choose something you’ll love to operate, and don’t forget your vital accessories.

Note: The limitations of this exercise are simply to level the playing field for everyone as well as to make the challenge a little tougher (and thus more fun!). Of course, they’re open to interpretation, but do try to honor the spirit of the game.

Up to the challenge? You’ve got two weeks–!

GrundigG3To participate, just comment on this post with your suggested set-up, any links, and a brief explanation for your choices.

You’re also welcome to email me directly with your response.

We’ll select some of the most interesting and relevant responses and post them in two weeks, on Friday, May 9, 2014.

Have fun!  We can’t wait to read the responses…!

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