“The final courtesy of a QSO is a QSL” - ARRL Operating Manual.
QSLing is weird on the face of it. You worked someone via radio but you still need “proof” of that contact. It’s as though you don’t believe you did what you just did. I’m all but certain the practice began in the days of spark when ‘Junior’ made a contact using Morse code and his parents seemed skeptical when he told them about it. After all, they couldn’t decode the weird sounds pouring forth from the loudspeaker.
But when a paper card was delivered by postal mail a few weeks later, the deed was confirmed and ‘Junior’ was vindicated. This may not be historically accurate, but I’d bet a growler of some tasty brew that’s precisely how the practice of exchanging QSL cards came to pass.
These days the price of postage can be prohibitive, especially for a very active operator who might make 10,000 or more contacts a year. QSL bureaus exist to offload some of these costs, but it takes time packaging all the cards and then it often takes two or three years to complete the exchange. Bureau use may be coming to an end anyway as it may not be be sustainable for a myriad of reasons.
I make use of Logbook of the World (LoTW), a way to electronically submit contacts (QSOs) for confirmation and ARRL award credit. This is fast and easy but the adoption rate is not terribly impressive to me.
At present, just 56% of the contacts I’ve uploaded over the last decade have been matched. Being a CW enthusiast most of those contacts were made using that mode and I’ve found CW operators less likely to QSL via LoTW. On the other hand, a high percentage (over 90%) of digital contacts that I’ve made have been verified via LoTW - often within hours of completing the contact.
We’ll circle back to these particular points in another post.
While the DX Marathon doesn’t require QSLs, my ultimate goal is to add to my DXCC totals and that does require some form of confirmation. Accordingly, I’ve decided to resume direct exchange of paper cards in addition to LoTW. I had ended that practice in 2015 but going forward I’m willing to reciprocate directly, even though I don’t expect that will be very fruitful.
I remain unwilling to pay for any confirmation other than electronic. For instance, I’ll use Online QSL Requests when expedient, but I won’t tuck a few greenstamps into an envelope sent around the world via postal mail, etc. as it seems a poor practice in the 21st century.