ARRL

The QSL Postman

 Earl Schlenk, WØES

w0es@arrl.net

Getting that rare QSL into your mailbox takes a dedicated effort by your local bureau.

Ever wonder how those DX cards get to you? I am the “V” sorter for the WØ QSL Bureau and I would like to explain how one sorter does it.

QSL cards from all over the world arrive at the local bureau. Figure 1 shows Steve, WØSJS, with a typical stack of about 18,000 cards that arrive at the bureau. My area bureau (The Mississippi Valley DX and Contest Club) then sorts the cards according to the individual suffix letters in the call. For example, all call signs, KØ, WØ, KCØ, NNØ etc, whose suffix (the first letter after the number) begins with the letter “A,” are presorted by the bureau managers. These are sorted into individual letter groups, to be given to the letter “A” sorters. That’s where guys like me get to work.

The Triage of Sorting

As a letter sorter, I receive a bag with hundreds of cards (see Figure 2) from the local club, which is the WØ bureau. I also receive a data sheet listing new postage purchases by bureau users. It lists the stamps, envelopes and address labels recently purchased from the bureau along with the amount of any monies deposited in the user’s account. I enter this data in an Excel spreadsheet.

I then remove cards one by one and compare that particular card to a list of bureau users to determine if they have envelopes and postage on hand. If the station is listed as having postage on hand, their cards go into their specific letter slot according to the second letter in their call. If they are on the list but do not have envelopes or postage left, I hold these cards in their respective slots and contact them by e-mail or post card notifying them that they have cards on file and they need to purchase envelopes and postage if they want these cards to be delivered. If they don’t respond, their cards are held for a year and then they are shredded. If a station is not on the list, I place them in a “dead file” and keep them for a year.

At the WØ bureau we have boxes built by one of the sorters, Mark, AAØYY, that have slots in them to hold the individual cards by the second letter in the call. As an example of this, the call WØVS gets sorted by the letter S and goes in the S slot, WØVZ, would go into the Z slot, etc. Figure 3 shows the sorting box used by this bureau. I am the letter “V” sorter and I have a larger slot for the letter V because 2 × 1 calls (WXØV, AAØV, etc) go into this slot as well as calls with a V as the second letter. Other than the 2 × 1 calls signs go into a slot designated for the second letter after the “V.” This is the first sort.

After all cards are placed in their respective slots, I then start with the cards in the A slot. I sort all the cards for the same station, group them together and secure them with a rubber band so they don’t get mixed again with other calls. I double-check the grouped cards to insure I didn’t mix similar call sign cards. It’s easy to make a mistake getting WAØxxx grouped with WBØxxx.

Preparing for Delivery

The envelopes and postage are kept in a manila folder designated by the second letter of the call. The information on a particular station is also kept in an Excel database to account for the postage and envelopes used and new postage and envelopes purchased.

Once each station‘s cards are grouped, they are again checked for mistakes and then the cards are placed in an envelope or envelopes. If a station has acquired many ounces of cards and has funds on hand in the bureau, I will request a priority envelope from the bureau manager, which could hold up to 13 ounces of cards, this will cost the user less money in postage.

The weight and thickness of the standard envelopes are now very limited by the USPS. If you receive multiple envelopes from us it is because we can’t send more than about 7 thin cards in the standard size envelope. With the weight and thickness regulations imposed by the USPS as I am writing this in 2009, we can get about 15 thin cards in one envelope for 61 cents (one 44 cent + one 17 cent stamp), which is 2 ounces in weight and under the 1/4 inch thickness limit.

The envelope is weighed and its thickness is measured to see if it is within the USPS limits. If it is over these limits, another envelope is used and the cards are divided between the envelopes. Some cards are thick and are counted as two cards.

Keeping Count

Once the cards are placed in the envelopes and are counted, a “status” or “accounting sheet” is manually filled out and placed in the envelope along with the cards. If you receive many envelopes, only one “status” sheet is included.

The status sheet shows you:

• the number of cards sent to you

• the funds you have on hand at the bureau

• the number of envelopes with postage and the value of that postage you still have available

• the amount and value of the extra postage you have in your account

I will write a note on this sheet if there is any information I think you need to know, such as that you need to purchase address labels or a priority envelope.

The Excel data sheet is changed to reflect the postage used in this mailing and the number of cards sent to you. Then additional postage is affixed to the envelope, if it is needed. Once this is completed, the envelopes are sealed and delivered to the Post Office. The bureau has a schedule as to when cards are to be mailed out and every effort is made to adhere to this schedule.

Mistakes are inevitable with the volume of cards going through the bureau and your understanding is asked for the occasional error. Every effort is made to correct these errors as soon as they are brought to our attention. Please keep your account current with the purchase of envelopes, postage and address labels for your particular activity level.

Pinching Penny (Stamps)

It is time consuming for a sorter to have to notify a station by e-mail or post card that they need something. You may get envelopes with different denominations of postage on them as we try to use any old stamps you may have in your account to save you as much money as we can. The Post Office has changed their postage and imposed envelope restrictions so often, that it is very difficult to keep up with them. The bureau donates many 1 and 2 cent stamps to keep your cost down.

Many stations that have a low volume of cards only have very old postage on hand. This really complicates shipping these cards at minimum cost. You may receive an envelope with two 23 cent stamps on it when the postage is 44 cents as this is the only way to send the cards with the postage you have on hand. The Post Office won’t trade old stamps for new ones or refund the postage to purchase current stamps. We do not want to waste the old postage denominations in your account, so we send the stamps with the extra postage. Unfortunately, the various denominations are not multiples of each other and the postage is changing so fast, it is not possible to use the old postage economically. The bureau now purchases “Forever” stamps when they are available.

I have sent envelopes with up to 8 stamps of various denominations on them. I bet this drives the post office computers crazy. The envelopes are comical looking with all those stamps but the post office doesn’t want to trade old postage and we don’t want to waste your postage so we add up the various stamps to meet the post office’s newest requirement.

All the sorters donate many hours of their labor and they do this as a service to the amateur community. I hope this article gives you an idea of the effort needed to get your DX cards to you.

All photos by Earl J. Schlenk, WØES.

Earl J. Schlenk, WØES, an ARRL member, who is a retired railroad electronics technician. He was first licensed at the age of 11 in 1956 with the call sign KNØRIO and upgraded to Extra class in 1963. Earl also holds a First Class Radiotelephone license with a Radar endorsement. He is an avid homebrewer and likes to experiment with antennas. He is interested in CW operating and holds an ARRL 35 WPM code proficiency certificate. He can be reached at 1051 Mersey Bend Dr, Apt D, St Louis, MO 63129-6903.