A Western Union QSL

Jack, K4ITE, was a life-long employee of Western Union, and he wanted a QSL card that told its story.

In Jack’s words:

“I started working at WU in September of 1965 when I was 19. I began in the Installation Department and traveled all over the Southeast before Uncle Sam came calling. After four years in the Air Force I resumed my career and went to work at the Marine Base in Albany, GA in a very secure government switching center Western Union and RCA built and partnered on called Autodin. That system used a new technology at the time called “packet switching” which broke a message into several pieces and routed the various parts for security reasons via several different paths before being reassembled at the destination. Packet switching today is the backbone of the internet.

“In 1974 I was fortunate to go to work on our Westar project, America’s first domestic communications satellite system, and was trained on working in our various earth stations. My primary job was to maintain five microwave relay stations between Atlanta and it’s associated earth station just a few miles north of Scottsboro, Alabama. The satellites were in geosynchronous orbit, and the output power was only 5 watts in those days, so the earth station locations had to be in a natural bowl for RF quietness and away from cities, thus the requirement for a 52 ft. diameter dish. Those were interesting times. I finished up my 23 year career in a Telex switching center in Atlanta.”

That was just one email from Jack. He was understandably passionate about Western Union’s place in communication history and wanted a QSL that said so. It was my job to create it.

We eventually narrowed Western Union’s history down to three phases: messages delivered by pony, messages delivered by Morse code, and messages delivered by Westar satellite. Using reference images found on the Internet, I created a collage of the three, with Jack’s call sign looming large overhead. Jack wrote a brief blurb for the back of his card summarizing Western Union’s legacy to go along with it.

To give his QSL the feel of history, Jack asked me to print it on parchment. I work only with glossy stock but was able to use a texture overlay that looked like parchment.

Today, Western Union is a shadow of its old self, its name now associated with money transfers for those who can’t afford a checking account. In its time, though, Western Union was America’s first communications giant. I hope this QSL is a fitting reminder.

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Something different: a single-sided QSL card

N1YBK-ham-radio-cartoon-QSL-by-N2ESTHere’s something different (for me, at least): a single-sided QSL card.

Even if one of my QSLs is meant to be sent as a postcard, I usually design them two sided: color on the front, black and white on the back. I like working with a big canvas.

Matt, N9YBK, however, was on a tight budget. He’s a former cop who works as an IT professional, freelances as a photojournalist and has eight kids. I get that. Contrary to popular perception, we cartoonists have to watch our pennies, too. I did my QSLs on the cheap for years.

My solution to Matt’s budget dilemma was to forego color and consolidate both his cartoon and the report form on one side of the card. The cartoon combines two aspects of Matt: his trusty camera; and his dream police cruiser, a Dodge Charger. Matt liked his card. So did I.

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The tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth …

Robert, WA2GO, is a dentist who wanted to incorporate his profession into his QSL. Fortunately, he also has a sense of humor about it. He gave me free rein to come up with something, and my first thought, I hate to say, was Steve Martin’s dentist in the movie”Little Shop of Horrors.” This illustration isn’t quite as wacky as Steve Martin, but at least it does look like Robert. I’m glad he was a good sport about it.

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Ham radio got his goat …

N1ESE ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTThis was the query from John, N1ESE: “I like goats and the woods. My shack is off-grid and runs on solar power. That’s about all I have. Let’s talk.”

We did. It was easy.

After nailing down a few details, John emailed me reference photos of his solar panels and Elecraft rig, and I went to work.

The result? Not too b-a-a-a-ad, if I do say so myself.

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Canine CQ!

K9CQ ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTSome QSLs just kind of draw themselves.

“A beagle calling CQ” is exactly what Tim, K9CQ, wanted when he commissioned me to illustrate his QSL card. “I though it would be kind of neat to have the K9-CQ reference,” he wrote. Tim says he’s owned several beagles over the years, so the choice of breed was easy. Drawing it was easy, too.

The challenge came unexpectedly when I tried to color the hand-drawn illustration and place it on a postcard-sized QSL: The sketchy background that worked nicely in black and white (see below) didn’t work quite as well with color. The other problem was that the illustration didn’t “balance” well in the allotted space, even with QTH info added in the lower right corner to weigh it in that direction. It leaned to the left.

K9CQ QSL inksMy solution was to delete the background for the printed version, easy to do with Adobe Photoshop. That way, Tim still had an attractive piece of art to hang on the wall of his shack, yet the QSL stayed clean and simple. Sometimes, less is more.

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Strictly ballroom

N4VZ K4VZT ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTWho’d have thought to combine amateur radio with ballroom dancing, of all things? Ron, N4VZ, did. He and his wife, Kate, K4VZT, are both hams, and Ron wanted a his-and-hers QSL that spotlighted another hobby, ballroom dancing.

I decided to keep it simple: the two of them, dancing in the spotlight, on top of their call signs displayed in an elegant font. And holding their handi-talkies, of course.

N4VZ K4VZT QSL backTo make the card usable by either Ron or Kate, I modified one of my standard report forms as shown here, adding check boxes as shown here.

I’m not much of a dancer myself, so getting the pose right took some research and education. Creating these QSLs is a lot like a good first-time rag chew — you learn about things you’d never have thought of otherwise. That’s one of the things I enjoy about drawing these cards.

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DXpedition to Tidra

5T5TI DXpedition logo by N2ESTSometimes the solution is obvious. DXpedition? From an island? With a pelican? And a hex beam? Coming right up!

Kuwaiti amateur Ahmad, 9K2AI/5T2AI, commissioned me earlier this year to create a logo for a DXpedition station on Tidra, an island just off the coast of Mauritania. The logo would be used on banners, websites, and, of course, QSLs. The only requirements: It must include the call sign, one of the great white pelicans native to the island, and a hex beam antenna. Done, done, and done.

Judging from Ahmad’s 5T5TI QRZ.com page, he and his cohorts have been there before and plan to return this December. Contact them on the air, and you can get a QSL with this groovy logo. Good luck!

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Rolling down the river

W5PLT ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTScott, W5PLT, pilots ships professionally between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. He says he’s “kind of a modern-day Mark Twain.” That led me to believe I ought to play this QSL for laughs. Then Scott directed me to the website for the Crescent River Port Pilots’ Association — and I knew I ought to play this one straight.  After watching the video on the website’s news page, I was impressed with the magnitude of what these pilots accomplish every day. This is serious stuff.

The simplified  illustration of a typical container ship is drawn heavily from photo reference. Scott himself is drawn from video reference; he first appears in this video at about :20. For those of you interested in how things work — and what ham isn’t? — this presentation is well worth the 12 minutes it takes to watch it.

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If it’s not Scottish …

GM7USC cartoon QSL by N2ESTWhen Gary, GM7USC, asked me to create a QSL for him, he made it clear: “I am a very patriotic Scot.” Also, he wanted something funny because, as he put it, “I like to laugh.”

I decided to draw something both Scottish and funny. What if Gary were carrying a bagpipe that worked as an amateur radio, with antennas in place of pipes? It sounded funny to me. Gary liked it, too.

There were two other Scottish touches. Gary is from the Campbell clan, so the kilt he wears on this QSL features a simplified version of their tartan. Also, I chose a typeface, Willow, specifically associated with the Scottish Arts and Crafts style popular in the late 1800s.

Bagpipe, kilt and typeface — I couldn’t make it much more Scottish than that. Gary liked this one. I did, too.

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May the Force be with you …

KC3PO ham radio cartoon QSL by N2ESTAs a rule, I normally won’t create a QSL featuring a well-know copyrighted character — but there’s an exception to every rule.

Over the years I’ve drawn dozens of licensed characters, and I’ve found that most of their owners are protective, often litigious, over their property. Why court trouble by drawing one without their permission? I say as much on my website.

That’s why Gary, KC3PO, practically apologized to me when he wrote to request a custom QSL. “After reading your FAQ, I fear my dreams may be crushed,” he wrote.

What did he want on his QSL? Well, look at his call sign.

I deliberated over this one. I even asked professional colleagues for their take on it. Several suggested I draw a parody of Star Wars, something that called it to mind without actually duplicating it.

Problem was, Star Wars was tough to parody without coming so close to the source material that I may as well just draw it outright. I found it impossible to draw something that looks enough like C-3PO to be identifiable without actually being C-3PO.

But then I thought about what artists typically do at comics conventions: They draw favorite characters for fans. Representatives of the rights holders are usually in the same building, and they don’t care — as long as it’s for a fan. And who could be more of a Star Wars fan than somebody who manages to work “C3PO” into his call sign?

Once I relaxed about it, this one was fun. Gary likes to operate from parks, so he wanted C-3PO operating from a picnic table. I drew a few walkers in the distance. The font was obvious. And after tweaking the background colors into a warm-to-cool gradation, Gary was happy with the results. May the Force be with you, indeed.

 

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