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The Final Courtesy

from Michael J Manafo, K3UOC on October 18, 2014
View comments about this article!

"Editor's Note: Due to the popularity of some of eHam's older articles, many of which you may not have read, the team has decided to rerun some of the best articles that we have received since eHam's inception. These articles will be reprinted to add to the quality of eHam's content and in a show of appreciation to the authors of these articles." This article was originally published on: 10/01/2002

On March 27, 1925, Mr. T.P. Allen from Belfast, Northern Ireland was tuning around 75 Meters on his receiver looking for distant radio transmissions. At 2305 GMT, Mr. Allen had the good fortune to tune in on a conversation between Harris Fahnestock, Jr. (1BBO) operating from 1AF at the Harvard Wireless Club (or U-1AF, which was the callsign used by 1AF operators when making overseas contacts in those days) and an amateur radio operator in France. Mr. Allen recorded in his radio reception log that 1AF came through at a signal strength of R7 (moderately strong) but that the atmospheric noise was very bad during this reception. However, he also noted, there was little fading on the signal from the United States and there was also no interference from any other station at the time. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, Mr. Fahnestock recorded a contact in the club log book with station F-8HLP at 2305 GMT on that particular day. Mr. Allen must have been very excited to copy this U.S. station -- up until that moment his DX (distant stations heard) consisted of Porto Rico [sic] on voice, and Iraq and Finland on Morse Code. To celebrate this fine DX feat, Allen sent off a reception report to 1AF in the United States, fully expecting to have his reception report confirmed by the radio operator at the Harvard Wireless Club.

Allen's SWL card arrived in Cambridge and became part of a growing collection of contact and reception reports (QSL cards) received by the Harvard Wireless Club. Several samples of these early QSL cards can be found at hp/qsls/index.html. (Link updated 2014-Nov-12) Time passed, and for whatever reason, Fahnestock's confirmation never arrived in Mr. Allen's post box in Belfast. Fahnestock apparently failed to confirm this 1925 SWL report or if he did confirm it, his card was never received and filed by Mr. Allen. In time, T.P. Allen most likely lost interest in collecting reception confirmation reports from amateur stations. Although the final courtesy of a QSO (or of a SWL Report) is a QSL, no ham or SWL expects to receive a return card for every single QSL sent. Some contacts and reception reports will simply never be confirmed. Soon after March 1925, Allen earned his radio license and began a long and noteworthy amateur career of his own, operating as GI6YW from Belfast. Allen, no doubt, then put his efforts into collecting amateur radio contact confirmations instead of short wave reception reports.

In late 1924, some 15 years after the founding of the Harvard Wireless Club, a group of talented undergraduate radio operators at Harvard built one of the finest amateur radio installations in the country. However, the formative years leading up to this achievement could have just as easily marked failure rather than success for the club. Beginning in 1909, and continuing through the dark years of the Great War, the HWC had moved from Crufts High Tension Laboratory to the Jefferson Physics Laboratory to the Harvard Union and finally to the basement of Westmorly Court in the heart of Harvard Square. Club officers had searched with little success for an ideal location to operate from. Either the university was one step behind the club preempting valuable real estate for other purposes, or the huge wire antenna arrays somehow managed to offend the sensibilities of this Harvard dean or that building custodian. Anyway, by some stroke of good fortune, the perfect club space was finally located in a wooden structure that sat high atop the east end of Soldiers Field Stadium. In November of 1924, Harvard operators moved into this 12 foot square windowless cubicle and erected two 55 foot gutter pipe masts to support their array of wire antennas. By January 1925, 1AF was on the air from high above Harvard Square. Radiating a 110 foot wire cage antenna at 120 foot above the ground (with a four wire counterpoise), 1AF put out a blockbuster radio signal on both CW and AM telephony. The new station was an immediate success.

The 1AF antenna (featured in the January 18, 1925 issue of the New York Times) was grounded directly to the steel frame of the football stadium. Its size was imposing and its performance was helped along by the fine equipment that the Harvard hams had assembled up in their cozy shack on the stadium roof. The radio apparatus (shown below) consisted of a 40 and 75 Meter transmitter, a 150 to 200 Meter transmitter, a 65 to 200 Meter low loss receiver, a 30 to 70 Meter low loss receiver and a Kennedy 180 to 20,000 Meter receiver with a two stage audio amplifier. The 40 and 75 Meter transmitter used two 50 watt tubes in a push-pull Hartley circuit operating on harmonics of the antenna. The 150 to 200 Meter set could be used with D.C., self rectified A.C. or phone, and could use from one to four UV-203-A tubes in various circuits. Plate supply for this transmitter was obtained from a transformer with "S" tube rectifiers and filters. With Club Secretary Fahnestock behind the microphone, this is the fine installation that transmitted the signal that T.P. Allen monitored across the Atlantic so many years ago. HWC operators reported in the summer of 1925 that an average of 140 messages (contacts or relays) per month were being maintained. As opposed to several years prior, when amateurs were limited to operating at 200 Meters and down, trans-Atlantic contacts on the higher frequency bands were now fairly commonplace.

And then disaster struck the Harvard Wireless Club. In early November 1927, less than three years after relocating from Westmorly Court to the roof of Soldier's Field Stadium, the 1AF shack caught fire. The wood-burning stove in the stadium shack overheated one cold winter evening; hot coals spilled out of the hearth and set the entire wooden structure aflame. Within an hour's time, the shack and all of its contents were a total loss. The Cambridge Fire Department was unable to reach the blaze due to the height of the structure above ground. Messrs. Fahnestock, Bohn, Thomas, Graves, and the other club operators could only watch as their magnificent station went up in flames. Morris "Al" Hughes, W1MU ('26) recalled that, Many times I'd go down to the stadium at 2:00 AM and climb up to the radio shack and pound brass. We had a wood stove in the shack for the cold winter nights. Well I graduated in l926 and the following winter I heard that some member got the stove going S-9+ and burned the shack down. And that was the end of the Wireless Club, I believe, for quite some time. Mr. Hughes (SK 1992) had that absolutely correct -- club members discussed rebuilding 1AF after the great fire, but the project garnered little enthusiasm from the discouraged operators. Too much had been invested in the station and too much had now gone up in smoke. It took nearly 20 years for the Harvard Wireless Club to right itself from this disaster.

Without delving into the tremendous activity of the Harvard Wireless Club at 52 Dunster Street during the 1950's, let's return to our story of the unanswered QSL request from Northern Ireland. Some 50 years pass by and along about 1977, a Harvard graduate student named A.E. "Buzz" Jehle (N5UR) joined the HWC. Buzz astutely observed that the history of the HWC was in danger of being lost if something wasn't done to organize and preserve the written records of the club. Being a man of action, Mr. Jehle took it upon himself to catalogue and then deposit the Wireless Club radio log books and written club records in a special collection at the Harvard University Archives. In the midst of his labors, Buzz saved out a handful of documents and early QSL cards and passed these on directly to the club members in a bound folder. Among the documents in that folder was a SWL card from Mr. T.P. Allen in Belfast, Northern Ireland, dated March 27, 1925.

Skipping ahead some 22 additional years, in February 1999, yours truly (K3UOC) and HWC Web Maestro, Phil Temples (K9HI) began the extensive job of rebuilding the HWC web site. As the site grew, one of the new club web pages featured those antique QSL cards that Mr. Jehle had collected together for the club, including the SWL card from Belfast, Northern Ireland. This page has proven very popular among history-of-radio buffs. Since uploading the antique QSL page some three years ago, we have had many positive comments from hams around the world. Several hams thanked us for preserving some of the earliest examples of QSL cards; others simply found the cards fascinating to examine. No one, however, had ever written to us with any sort of personal connection to any of those pioneer radio experimenters. That is, until September 8th, 2002.

On that particular day Tony Quest, G4UZN, wrote to W1AF regarding the Belfast SWL card. I recognized Tony's callsign from the Hillview Gardens (9M6) DXpeditions of recent years. He and I had also worked on a number of occasions from 7Z5OO in Saudi Arabia. He wrote to the Harvard Wireless Club on September 8th with a very interesting QSL request. You see, over the years, Mr. Quest has inherited entire QSL collections from SK hams. One of Tony's collections is from the estate of Mr. T.P. Allen of Belfast, Northern Ireland. In his letter to the Harvard Wireless Club he states that, I have [Allen's] collection of cards, some going back to the 1920's -- alas no card from 1AF. . . PSE QSL!!!

As anyone who has dealt with Box 88 in the past understands, there is no statute of limitations on sending or requesting QSL cards. Requests for confirmations five or ten years after a contact has been made are not unusual. In 1981, I had a QSO from Venezuela with a ham in Yugoslavia. I received his QSL request via the bureau in 2001 -- a full 20 years after the contact itself! No problem! I was pleased to confirm our "ancient" QSO. Therefore, in the spirit of ham radio camaraderie, why not confirm this 1925 SWL report now on behalf of the Harvard Wireless Club? I can think of no good reason not to honor Tony's QSL request. And so here it is; the first 1AF QSL issued in nearly 75 years.

Of course, T.P. Allen, GI6YW, is a Silent Key. And Harris Fahnestock, Jr., 1BBO, has also gone on to that big DX pileup in the sky. Yet, with G4UZN (as the curator of the GI6YW QSL collection) standing in for Allen and K3UOC (as the Trustee of W1AF) standing in for Fahnestock, I have issued a bona fide confirmation of a verified reception report -- 77 years, 5 months, and 15 days after one young Irish radio enthusiast monitored a young American radio operator chatting with a station in France, back in the halcyon days of amateur radio. The above confirmation card is the product of a good deal of graphic wizardry. In order to create this QSL, the one and only remaining 1AF QSL was scanned at 150 dpi and saved in 8 Bit Gray Scale. Handwritten text from the original contact was carefully airbrushed out. Several words printed on the original card were obscured or blurred and could not be salvaged. The upper and lower right corners of the card that are torn and missing were added. Then starting with a blank 1AF QSL, the confirmation text was added in 18-24 pt. True Type BD Cursif bold italic font, which has a wonderful turn-of-the-century handwritten feel to it.

A world record, I am certain -- 77 years, 5 months, and 15 days to confirm a QSL card! The next time you lament an overdue QSL, imagine waiting the equivalent of three and a half generations before receiving that card! Apologies for penning Fahnestock's signature on the confirmation above. I believe that the OM would have approved. His one small piece of unfinished business has now been settled. So, here's to you, Mr. Allen -- you have finally received your long overdue reception confirmation! And here's to you Mr. Quest -- for your kind attention to the legacy of our remarkable radio pioneers. And to you as well, Mr. Fahnestock -- for your legendary operations from atop Harvard Stadium. What a magnificent time you and the other Harvard radio operators must have had! And so, in the true spirit of ham radio, the circle is once again unbroken.

The Final Courtesy of a QSO is a QSL

Member Comments:
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The Final Courtesy  
by ONAIR on October 18, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Wouldn't it have been marvelous if TP Allen would have still been around to get that conformation?
The Final Courtesy  
by DL8OV on October 18, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
That is a nice story. My YL has no interest in ham radio but I have noticed her glance at the QSL cards on the wall once in a while. As for myself, every contact with DL8OV gets a card because it is one of the things that I like about our hobby.

Peter DL8OV
RE: The Final Courtesy  
by K9MHZ on October 18, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Very interesting reading.
RE: The Final Courtesy  
by KJ4DGE on October 18, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Great story! I am always impressed with this hobby. When I first started as a ham, I never thought about QSL's that much until I began receiving them. I then created my own and started sending them as well. If nothing more as you say a courtesy from one Ham to another. I especially like the ones from Special event stations as these are usually very unique.

The Final Courtesy  
by K8QV on October 18, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
These days hams prefer the Internet for QSLs (and often even for their "radio" contacts).

Some real QSL cards on the wall generate more interest with visitors than anything else in the shack. They say things like, "This one says Mongolia - did you really talk to somebody there?" or "Where the heck is Pitcairn"?

Ah, progress. No wonder people aren't interested in becoming a ham anymore.

The Final Courtesy  
by WA4HBK on October 18, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
My personal record this year is receiving a QSL request for a QSO in August 1978. I was more than happy to add another country for this ham's DXCC. I use a program on my PC to print cards as I need them for my various calls through the years.
RE: The Final Courtesy  
by W9OY on October 18, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Man, that story wore me out! I bet this guy is a 75M op

73 W9OY
The Final Courtesy: The Card  
by AI2IA on October 18, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Anyone requesting my QSL card for a contact will get one from me, SASE or no SASE. If they prefer, I can send an eQSL card. Usually these are good for needed locations, or special situations, but also they are good to confirm friendly QSOs and sometimes for contest contacts of special value to the requester. Special event QSL cards are always very nice to receive.

Some look upon them as an unwanted burden, and that is their option.

A photo album of QSL cards is especially nice to show folks new at the subject of ham radio and very much enjoyed by children.

All things considered, every ham ought to keep some from others and give some when the situation arises. They are part of ham radio just like microphones and keys.

RE: The Final Courtesy: The Card  
by KF4HR on October 19, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
"These days hams prefer the Internet for QSLs..."

Not this ham. If I wanted an electronic confirmation, I'd forget radio and just use Skype.
Think about it.  
by AI2IA on October 19, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Who these days would not want to possess a paper QSL card from Marconi?


We certainly are not all like Marconi, but are we not all amateur radio operators following in the path where Marconi once walked?

The deep tone blast of the horns of two ships passing in the night - there will always be something special in the keepsake of a ham radio exchange.

I suppose the value depends upon how deeply you feel about the wonders of ham radio.
The Final Courtesy  
by WA7SGS on October 19, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
When I was a Novice over 40 years ago it was 100% QSL. I'll still send out QSL cards these days too but less than half send back. Considering a card can be sent for 34 cents in the USA and $1.10 overseas, there should be no problem sending one back for such a pittance for postage. Buying 1000 high quality cards ran me a bit over $80 shipped, which in radio buying power terms isn't much. Getting those cards is special as is the sending of them since it means you made a QSO!

It's time to get back to the "final courtesy". This is one of the coolest aspects of amateur radio after all!


RE: The Final Courtesy  
by JOHNZ on October 20, 2014 Mail this to a friend!

I've been around for five decades, and hams have always been exactly the same, when it comes to QSL procedures, be it electronic or paper.

This is a talking/fun hobby, and many hams can care less about the administrative/paper details of following up a QSO. Don't get me wrong, I agree with the concept of the QSL being a courtesy, just saying many hams do not see it that way, and nothing has changed over the years. The situation is worse, when hams who do not QSL are in areas where QSLs are highly desired from that area.

I have seen some hams throw tantrums, when they cannot get another ham to QSL, while other hams find more mature sane ways to finally obtain the much desired QSL, such as physically traveling to and arranging a meeting with the non QSLing ham.

I was well acquainted with an old curmudgeon, who would announce on the air that the only way you would get a QSL from him was to bring your own paperwork with you to his QTH for him to sign off on. Since his QSL was highly desired, many hams complied with his instructions and got their QSL.

In general, courtesy among hams continues to worsen every year. Profanity and rudeness are now part of our once extremely courteous gentlemanly hobby.
The Final Courtesy  
by KC2QYM on October 20, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
As a somewhat new amateur radio licensee (less than 10 years) Sure I have QSLs to share back if I receive a card but prefer the electronic confirmation process to extend the courtesy. QSLing can get quite expensive. I never chase after the so called rare stations because I have no interest in amassing awards like many do. I extend courtesies on the air but due to the many hobbies I particpate in, QSL cards are not on my priority list. Certainly the population of ham radio operators has risen over the years and due to that fact the novelty of 'ancient' niceties has been diluted.
The Final Courtesy  
by NW0LF on October 20, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I am not an awards chaser but I love to collect QSL cards and certificates from DX stations and special event stations. When I send out a card, I always include a SASE to get one back. For me, it's a little bit of Christmas when that SASE comes back or I get an envelope from the bureau. Right now, they are all in a drawer but I plan to get card holders to put in a 3 ring binder to keep them safe and organized along with the certificates already in there.
The Final Courtesy  
by KL7AJ on October 20, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
This is a wonderful article...I remember it well. We need to convey the spirit and the "vibe" of amateur radio to the new techs...something we've been doing very poorly. QSLing is a deep part of amateur radio largely defines us.
RE: The Final Courtesy  
by K9MHZ on October 22, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
"Some real QSL cards on the wall generate more interest with visitors than anything else in the shack."

Yes they do. I remember back in the Soviet Union era, having one from Moscow was especially interesting to most people. They'd ask things like: "what was he like?"

There's a nice book out, most likely now in the secondary/used market, that's titled "Ham Radio" or something very simple like that. Inside is just a large collection of pictures of QSL cards from exotic places that the author had collected over the years.

The Final Courtesy  
by K3UOC on October 22, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I think you are referring to "Hello World: A Life in Ham Radio" by Danny Gregory and Paul Sahre (2003). There are 300+ color QSLs in the book from memorable DX'ers and DXpeditions. I met the authors at Dayton shortly after the book was published and had an interesting chat with them about the spirit of ham radio as drawn from these or from any set of QSL cards.

Thanks to all who read and commented on "The Final Courtesy." And thanks to eHam for bringing it back one more time. Interestingly, shortly after the article was first posted, I was contacted by T.P. Allen's daughter who had read it online. It turns out that Allen went on to a long and distinguished career as head of the EE Department at Queen's College in Belfast. He remained an active ham throughout his life and during the war, he was a member of the RSS and monitored Allied and Axis radio transmissions for London.

Harris Fahnestock graduated from Harvard in 1927 with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering and then went on to head up the Lincoln Labs at MIT. He was heavily involved with Project Whirlwind and was one of the principal authors of "Forecast for Military Systems using Electronic Digital Computers" (1948) which became the blueprint for the development of digital computing that would be adopted by the US government.

RE: The Final Courtesy  
by K9MHZ on October 26, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
"I think you are referring to "Hello World: A Life in Ham Radio" by Danny Gregory and Paul Sahre (2003)."

That's it. Saw it at a local book resale place and sifted through it, enjoying all of the card entries. Had to hurry to dinner and it was gone when I returned to buy it. It really is a nice compilation.
RE: The Final Courtesy  
by K3UOC on October 26, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Very interesting, indeed. I recall being amazed how two non-hams could capture the true spirit of ham radio in this compilation. But they did, and more power to them. Interestingly, if you get this book, I was an operator at both 7Z1AB and at YX0AI. I can't say that I recall working the ham who generated this collection, but then we had multiple operators during both operations. Ham radio is still magic - except some of the magic remains hidden until years after-the-fact.
The Final Courtesy  
by STRAIGHTKEY on October 27, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Real QSLs are made of stone. You guys who use paper aren't real QSLers.
The Final Courtesy  
by W3TTT on October 30, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
The link to the Harvard Radio Club QSL page is broken (in the article). The current link is
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