AUSTRALIAN SHORTWAVE JOURNAL



AUSTRALIAN SHORTWAVE RADIO JOURNAL

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Shortwave Broadcasters and their Listeners

SYNOPSIS

A history of the introduction, evolution and decline of the archaic term "QSL", an abbreviation traditionally used within the global community of distance radio listening enthusiasts. A radical suggestion is offered for bringing and modifying the concept into the current millennium, as a means of strengthening and extending the relationships which should exist between shortwave broadcasters and their listeners. (Author: Bob Padula)

1953 - QSL from Radio Australia,Shepparton
PREAMBLE
In recent years, interest in securing "QSLs" from the external services of broadcasters has trended downwards, and I expect this to continue. Interest in seeking "QSLs" from domestic HF broadcasters has also declined, mainly due to the increasing migration of such stations to cost effective mediumwave, FM, Mobile or on-line platforms for local or regional coverage.

My comments which follow are mainly intended to apply to international and national shortwave broadcasters...

TECHNICAL LISTENERS
In the past, a great percentage of QSL requests were from "technical listeners", who had developed a continuing awareness and understanding of the benefits which such two-way communication and feedback with broadcasters would generate.

The newer generation of "shortwave monitor" tends not to be involved with the preparation of reception reports, having entered the hobby via subscribing to countless internet lists and groups. Their interests and satisfaction arise come from seeing their innumerable "loggings" in E-mail listings, often instantaneously!

To many of these people, program content is of diminishing importance, due to the unfortunate "loggings" culture which is now dominating the global monitoring community.

SERVICE EFFECTIVENESS
Assessment of service effectiveness by many broadcasters is now a very ad-hoc affair, whether for program content and message, or for technical issues, or for both.

What I am seeing is a marked trend towards outsourcing the frequency management function from the organisation itself, with technical coordination and transmitter usage being sub-contracted to commercial "Frequency Management Organisations".

This inevitably introduces serious gaps within the overall business, where there is limited coordination or linkages across the broadcaster itself, and its outsourced technical operations arm.

In other words, there is no useful and simple process where listeners can alert the broadcaster to inappropriate frequency usage or scheduling, or for advising the relevant frequency management organisation of such problems.

Program production personnel at many broadcasters often have minimal, or no, interaction with the technical delivery people, and QSL reports commenting on engineering issues are frequently ignored.

Requests for traditional QSLs are no longer viewed by many broadcasters as useful, due to the high unfamiliar technical content which they may contain, and the disappearance of a "technical department" to which such correspondence could be referred.

Furthermore, many international broadcasters have chosen to phase out formal QSL responses, arguing that they have limited resources to devote to preparing QSLs or (simpler, non-detailed) feedback acknowledgments.

Thus, many listeners, technical or otherwise, have distanced themselves from some broadcasters, due to the impossibility of securing any form of response, including QSLs. Some broadcasters will no longer send out postal mailed schedules, falsely assuming that all listeners have ready access to the Internet!

LISTENER FEEDBACK
Despite these trends, many broadcasters are delighted to receive, assess, and respond to QSL reports, to keep in touch with their "customers" (ie, listeners). Broadcasters are "businesses", and businesses require feedback from their customers! Without such interaction, the business has no idea of where it is going, or if it is going at all!

Many listeners receive fully detailed QSLs as responses to their feedback letters, which take time and effort by the broadcasters to prepare and mail. In many instances, the listener merely seeks some form of simple reply, such as a "Many thanks for your letter, etc" and neither requests, nor needs, a full "QSL".

This is where the broadcasters, and many listeners, are getting tangled up, in not being able to distinguish between a request for a formal QSL or a simple acknowledgment. In may cases, the programming people have little, or no knowledge of actual operating frequencies, some of which are subject to continual churn by sub-contracted frequency management organisations or consultants.

Regrettably, the remaining DX "Clubs" these days seem to have little understanding of these sorts of issues, with negligible effort being directed into member skill development or guidance.

Thus, discussions on "QSLs" and "acknowledgments" become meaningless, as the club "leaders" often tend to be people having little familiarity with the vital "listener-station" feedback process.

VERIFICATIONS
There is also a shift away from the historical concept of the "QSL", which was originally used to complete the two-way listener-station feedback process, as it is today within the Amateur Radio Movement.

Somewhere along the way, the term "QSL" became misused, with broadcasters being asked to check reports for authenticity against "program logs", by "verifying" that the report was correct in every detail, and to "confirm" that it was their station which had been heard. Thus, the term "verification" came into accepted usage, which in my view was and is inappropriate.

This spawned a whole new generation of "Verification Hunters", and competitions within the DX Clubs, as to who could gain the most "veries" in various categories.

This detracted from the fundamental purpose of the "report" as a feedback mechanism, with reports being generated by the thousands, mostly containing little or no "verifiable" program detail. This resulted in an incredible "QSL culture" being maintained, with many reports containing no other details except "man talking, woman talking" All stations have "man talking, woman talking"...! This barrage of garbage forced many broadcaster to discontinue replying to such rubbish.

QSLS IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM
My definition of a "QSL", in this millennium, is that it is a response from a broadcaster, acknowledging the report, and stating that the details submitted by the listener were correct, and showing those details - date, time, frequency, and transmitter site (if available).

I am advocating that the term "
AKNOWLEDGMENT QSL" be used .

There is no longer any real requirement for broadcasters to "check" imaginary "program logs" and to confirm with the listener that it was indeed "our station which you heard" (and not some other station!) If someone wants a QSL acknowledgment from, say, " Radio Hot Chocolate", then they know that they heard that station! If there is some doubt that they heard that particular station, then they should not be writing to it in the first place! Thus, the onus is now on the listener to manage the reporting process. The listener should not be asking the station to tell them that they heard the station!
Listeners who do NOT seek an "ACKNOWLEDGMENT QSL" should state this in any communication to the station.



PREPARING USEFUL
LISTENING REPORTS
The Guidelines which follow have been based on nearly 50 years of personal involvement by the author in reception reporting.

They have been formulated primarily for
writing to international shortwave broadcasters. The same general principles apply when communicating with domestic shortwave stations, acknowledging that letters from listeners distant from the primary target area of domestic broadcasters are generally regarded as novelties from "radio operators", and are of little benefit to these stations!
SUGGESTED TEXT TO THE STATION REQUESTING AN "ACKNOWLEDGMENT QSL"
I am pleased to send you this letter concerning my reception of your shortwave broadcasting station.

I would be delighted if you could acknowledge this listening report, stating the frequency, date, and time of my reception, to assist me in completion of my records.

I hope that this listening report will be of interest to you and I thank you for your consideration of my request.

I will look forward to your reply.
SUGGESTED CONTENT OF A LISTENING REPORT FOR AN "ACKNOWLEGEMENT QSL"
Addresses of the listener for receipt or reply - postal, FAX, E-mail, SMS, telephone, Internet
Location of the listener - urban, suburban, rural, high-seas (or anywhere else)
Brief personal details about the listener - age, vocation, education, other interests, family
Date UTC, and local date at the receiving post Time UTC, and local time at the receiving post
Frequency (as accurate as possible within 5 kHz) Antenna (such as active, passive, indoor, external, in-built)
Receiver , including designator (such as: portatop, tabletop, portable, professional, casette recorder/radio, scanner)
Reception quality - a simple SIO is all that is required (signal strength, interference, overall). Information about propagation would be useful.
Interfering signals from other broadcasters (if any) and local electrical interference (if any)
A specific request for an "ACKNOWLEDGMENT QSL", showing frequency, date and time, using the information supplied by the listener. It is the obligation of the listener to submit correct information.
Language of the program
Specific program content of at least 15 minutes (to avoid reports of the "man talking woman talking style" of one minute in length). The name of the program should be given. This is in effect a quality "audit" by the listener, so that they will actually listen to the station, and not use the process to gain a collection of picture postcards under the guise of "QSLs"! (Postcards can be purchased at the newsagency, the internet or post office!) Succinct remarks about content of the program should be included.
Reports can be by postal mail, cassette, SMS, CD, FAX, E-mail - broadcasters should make these requirements known. Inclusion of a self-adhesive address label with postal mailed reports may be of assistance to the station. Reports should be sent promptly - within a day of the reception - whether via E-mail or other means.
It is up to the broadcaster to decide whether it wishes to request return postage (cash, PayPal, IRCs, etc) That requirement could be shown in broadcaster publicity material on the Internet, in actual programming on-air, through postal mailed information, in annual reference books. or distributed by hobby monitoring organisations.

Broadcasters would need to manage this feedback process as they see fit, if they choose to differentiate between "ACKNOWLEDGMENT QSLs" and/or "THANK YOU's.

The broadcaster could also indicate publicly if it will issue "ACKNOWLEDGMENT QSLs" in the accepted sense or respond with a simple Thank-you message, or nothing at all! Thank-you messages can also be given on the Internet, by Email, or in actual broadcasts. Some broadcasters may wish to respond with E-mailed QSLs, or with Internet-pickup QSLs. Many options!

Listeners often send localised material with their reports, accompanying their requests for ACKNOWLEDGMENT QSLs, such as postcards, badges, maps, souvenirs, calendars, photos, newspaper articles, audio/video tapes, etc, as personal gestures. Many broadcasters welcome these personal souvenirs.

Return postage may be included to stations which request this.
 
Personal Note
The author has received nearly 8000 QSLs and Acknowledgment QSLs from over 900 shortwave broadcasting stations, dating back to 1954.

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