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"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.


Wavescan, October 6, 2013

Focus on Africa: The Story of the Torn QSL Card

The Story of the Torn QSL Card takes place in Africa, in two countries in the central areas towards the bottom of the continent, in both Botswana and South Africa. Originally, Botswana was known as Bechuanaland, and these two names mean Country of the Tswana.

Bechuanaland/Botswana is a landlocked country, surrounded by almost half a dozen other independent countries. Their population is around two million; and the capital city is Gaberone, a planned city that was first developed back around 1964. Gaberone lies close to the border with South Africa, less than ten miles distant.

The original inhabitants in Bechuanaland were the Bushmen, a small people who speak with an unusual clicking sound. The more populous Tswana tribals migrated into the area around two thousand years ago.

During the era of European colonial exploration, England established a Protectorate over Northern Bechuanaland in 1835; and they administered Southern Bechuanaland as a Crown Colony. Northern Bechuanaland was granted independence as Botswana in 1966, though by this time Southern Bechuanaland had already been absorbed into South Africa.

The capital city for the Bechuanaland Protectorate in the British days was Mafeking, which was located not within its own country, but in neighboring South Africa, some fifteen miles distant from the border. The official government offices for neighboring Bechuanaland were located within Mafeking in what was known as the Imperial Reserve.

It was in the year 1936 that radio station ZNB was established in the building that was occupied by the Department of Education in the Imperial Reserve in Mafeking. This new radio station was on the air with .25 kW on 5900 kHz as a communication facility for the government of Bechuanaland.

The station was originally owned and established by the Police Department for radio communication throughout Bechuanaland. It was on the air with a point-to-point telephone service, with personal telegrams in Morse Code, and with a flow of news items for publication in regional newspapers.

Around that same era, a whole network of more than half a dozen communication radio stations was established throughout Bechuanaland with ZNB Mafeking as the control station. Station ZNB operated at 250 watts, and the regional network stations operated on different shortwave channels with a power of usually 40 watts.

The callsigns of the regional stations all began with the two letters ZN, such as ZND at Lobatsi, ZNF at Ghanzi and ZNG at Gaberone. Station ZNC was a 40 watt portable transmitter.

In view of the fact that the key station in Mafeking was on the air under the callsign ZNB, it seems then that there must have been a ZNA somewhere. We would presume that station ZNA must have been another communication station which was established at some other location elsewhere in South Africa, though we have discovered no information about a station under this callsign.

Back at the time when the ZNB transmitter was first installed (1936), test transmissions were radiated consisting of station announcements and the broadcast of music recordings. Letters of request for regular programming came in from many different areas, both within Africa and beyond, even as far away as the United States, Europe and Japan.

However, station ZNB soon encountered a problem regarding the broadcast of music due to copyright infringements, and so the broadcast of radio programming was discontinued. Due to the large response from listeners in the Bechuanaland areas, SABC, the South African Broadcasting Corporation then took over the responsibility of programming over ZNB, and thus the broadcast of radio programming was reintroduced over this low powered communication station.

This reintroduced radio programming was made up of station announcements, local information, bulletins of news from SABC, and locally available music recordings. Thus the station was on the air for the transmission of its originally intended communication traffic, and in spare time it was often on the air with the broadcast of entertainment and informational radio programming. Some of this radio programming was radiated at specifically scheduled times.

Monitoring reports during the era of World War 2 indicate that the station was immensely popular, and it certainly did provide the fulfillment of a real need in the area. The station was often heard far afield when propagation conditions were good, and a multitude of QSL cards were issued in response to reception reports from listeners in many different countries in Europe, Asia, the Americas and the Pacific.

The regular channel of operation was usually 5900 kHz, slightly variable, though at times 8230 kHz was in use. The Indianapolis Heritage Collection holds several QSL cards verifying the reception of ZNB on 5900 kHz, though one card issued to a listener in Sweden is for reception on the alternate frequency 8230 kHz.

A close study of the available QSL cards from ZNB Mafeking reveals that there were at least five different printings of this specific QSL card. The design for their slightly oversized QSL card, measuring 6 inches by 4 inches, is a large electric triangle with the inset of a small coat-of-arms stating, "Bechuanaland Protectorate." The card shows a two color printing, in red and blue.

The text on their first card in the late 1930s simply stated that they were "Acknowledging your report." However, in all subsequent printings of this now highly prized QSL card, the text was changed to read that they were "Verifying your report." The only additional differences in the five known printings of the one design show a slight displacement in the two color printing, red and blue.

Now as time went by, the popularity of the low power broadcasts from ZNB Mafeking waned, due to the increasing number of other stations on the shortwave bands. As a corrective measure, the preliminary intent was to install a higher powered transmitter rated at 10 kW.

However, the increase in power was never implemented at ZNB Mafeking, and instead a new transmitter was installed at a new location under a new callsign. This new station ZND was inaugurated around the same time as work commenced on the building of a new capital city for the newly emerging nation. Thus, the program broadcasts from the communication station ZNB in Mafeking were terminated on September 30, 1963, at the end of 27 years of unique radio history.

The Story of the Torn QSL Card? The ornately designed ZNB QSL card was a little larger than the regular postcards of the day, and in order to fit it into the envelope for posting, the card was folded, thus making a fold mark down the middle of the card. Over time, some of these folded cards then tore into two pieces. We hold two cards that were originally folded in this way. One card is completely torn into two pieces, and another is partially torn at the fold mark.