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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 N432, June 4, 2017

California QSL Cards in Red White & Blue

As is so well known, the United States of America entered active participation in the events of World War 2 immediately following the dramatic and devastating attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. Thus, the two largely separate conflicts in Europe and mainland Asia were combined and they escalated into what became another World War.

As part of the American war effort, the American government took over the control of all shortwave broadcasting stations in the continental United States just a year later, in November 1942.

Back at that time, radio historians tell us that Germany operated a total of 68 shortwave broadcasting transmitters, both within Germany itself, and also in other countries of continental Europe that were under the Third Reich at the time. At the same time, Japan was operating 42 shortwave broadcasting transmitters both within Japan itself, and also in the countries of Asia that were under the Greater Japanese Empire.

Over in England at the onset of the European war in September 1939, the BBC operated just 8 shortwave transmitters, all located at Daventry. However, the BBC quickly implemented a program of rapid expansion, and by the time the United States entered the war at the end of 1941, the BBC now operated a total of 32 shortwave transmitters at half a dozen widespread locations.

When the American government took over the control of all of the shortwave broadcasting stations in the continental United States in November 1942, there were just a dozen shortwave broadcast transmitters available. However in addition, there were four other companies whose several low powered and medium powered communication transmitters throughout the country could be available if needed.

Now back at that time (1942), there were just two shortwave broadcast transmitters on the air on the west coast of the United States; KGEI with 50 kW at Belmont, and the new KWID at Islais Creek, both in suburban San Francisco in California. The United States government quickly implemented a rapid growth two-part program; the construction of new shortwave stations with new transmitters, and the usage of existing communication transmitters already on the air.

The Voice of America made its first radio broadcast on February 1, 1942 with a program in the German language that was on relay from shortwave transmitters operated by the BBC in England. A controlling organization, OWI, the Office of War Information, was organized on June 13, 1942, and they established a west coast office at 111 Sutter Street in San Francisco. This was the fourth tallest building in San Francisco, and it had previously housed the West Coast headquarters for the NBC radio company.

As the broadcasts from the California shortwave stations began to increase, so did the flow of reception reports from distant listeners. At first, no QSLs were available, but when the influential Arthur Cushen in Invercargill, New Zealand wrote a letter of explanation to OWI, they then prepared a generic QSL card design that could be used to verify all of the West Coast VOA shortwave stations.

The design of the new OWI QSL card was in the patriotic colors, red, white and blue. The card was thin white card with a large block of blue on the left side of the card showing a diagonal portion in white in which the station callsign was printed in large blue letters. Below the blue callsign panel was a red section that showed the country name, United States of America. The QSL text was printed in the same blue color in a panel on the right hand side of the card.

Over the years, OWI must have issued a huge number of these famous red, white and blue QSL cards. Research into an existing quantity of these OWI QSL cards indicates that there were at least four different print runs, in addition to the different callsign identifications.

The first print run for the standard card identifies the specific callsign for each station, one station per card. A second print run shows a blank area for the callsign, thus allowing the callsign to be inserted with a typewriter. A third print run is very similar, though with the QSL text in a different print font. Then there were two different QSL cards similar in design but prepared specifically for the two stations KWID and KWIX.

Usually there was just one callsign on each card, though initially when two transmitters were tied together electronically, then both callsigns were listed on the one card. For example, two transmitters at Dixon in California were tied together as KNBA-KNBC, and another two as KNBI-KNBX. Likewise for KCBA-KCBF in Delano, also in California.

When the shortwave communication stations were carrying a relay of VOA programming, OWI issued QSL cards verifying these broadcasts too, such as KWU and KWV, and also KES2 and KES3, all in Bolinas. Even though the 100 kW KRHO was installed in Hawaii and not in California, yet OWI also issued QSL cards in the same red, white and blue pattern for those broadcasts.

At the time when these OWI shortwave stations were on the air (1942-1945), there was of course a violent war in progress in the Pacific. Mail delivery by ship between the United States and Australia and New Zealand was slow and irregular.

In addition, these QSL cards were subject to censorship. For example, a May 1943 QSL card verifying station KWV and addressed to Jack Fox in New Zealand shows a rubber stamp impression, stating that it was examined by Censor No. 10177. A June QSL card in the same year (1943) verifying station KWY and addressed to Max Mudie in South Australia shows a rubber stamp impression from the same Censor No. 10177.

Over the years, several million QSL cards have been listed for sale on ebay, yet as far as is known, not one of these wartime red, white and blue OWI QSL cards has ever appeared on the list. It would be suggested that if one of these famous red, white and blue cards is ever listed for sale, it would command a very high price.

That's as far as we can go in this story today, and on another occasion, we will tell the story of some of the shortwave stations whose broadcasts were verified by the now famous red, white and blue OWI QSL cards.