KCG 3792 Radio Postcard

"Today's collection is a series of QSL cards from the 1960s and '70s. QSL cards, generally the size of a standard US postcard, are used by amateur "ham" radio broadcasters, and are mailed between operators as a physical record of a successful two-way radio communication. Each QSL card is unique to its broadcaster, and usually has a distinctive front design as well as spaces on front or back to denote the time, date, radio frequency, mode of transmission, and a signal quality report for the interaction. The name "QSL" is derived from the Q-code system (a standardized set of signals created when radio was exclusively broadcast in Morse code) and means "did you receive my transmission?" or "transmission received." Many of the cards featured here are from CB (Citizens Band) radio, a short-distance band distinct from ham radio that uses speech instead of morse code and doesn't require a license to operate—making it widely accessible for the casual hobbyist. To me, these cards fit squarely into the pre-computer "folk" design tradition commonly seen in show flyers, zines, and free newspapers. While they're all ostensibly responding to the same general brief, each operator clearly has their own goals in mind; some are documentarian, depicting the operator's family or interests, while others are bawdy and packed with inside jokes. The mix of clip-art, transfer lettering, and hand-drawn illustrations, primarily made by amateur artists (or, occasionally, CB-focused artists whose work, advertised only by word of mouth, could number hundreds to thousands of cards in a given year), achieves a completely unique look from card to card. I'm not sure I can think of a modern analog for these in either concept or execution, though this cut-and-paste style does seem to be making the rounds again. In some ways, I suspect the templates, drag-and-drop structure, and smart guides innate to a digital tools make it harder to achieve this kind of looseness and spontaneity without a lot more effort these days." —Elizabeth Goodspeed