November 1958 Popular Electronics
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Securing confirmation of having made a contact (QSL in ham-speak) with a radio operator behind the communist Iron Curtain was a real achievement during most of the 20th century. Russian and Chinese citizens were routinely imprisoned for such activity, and if you did manage to elicit a response to your CQ (request for contact), there was a good chance it was with a government propagandist posing as a civilian. When Sputnik 1 was put in orbit on October 4, 1957, a whole new realm of DXing (long distance communication) opened up by providing satellite relay paths. Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite, broadcast a series of pulses at 20.005 and 40.002 MHz that were tracked and reported by both professional and amateur radio operators. Vital data was learned based on the time and strength of signals that allowed scientists to ascertain the physics of upper atmosphere characteristics. Not wanting to give the impression that the assistance of the rest of the world's capitalist pigs was needed or wanted (although it definitely was), virtually no acknowledgement was forthcoming from Radio Moscow. This is a story of one Ham's successful effort to obtain a - in those days (1957), rare - space route QSL card.
QSL from Sputnik
How one SWL managed to get his prized space verification
By C. M. Stanbury, II
Have you heard Sputnik? Yes. Have you received your QSL? Unless you live on the other side of the iron curtain, chances are pretty good you haven't. Despite the fact that Radio Moscow has repeatedly asked for reports on the Soviet satellites, until now the highly prized space-QSL's have not been crossing the "red divide."
What's needed to verify Sputnik? An address? Yes, that will help a little. How about transmission data to prove your reception ? Yes, knowing how to get this is essential. But even more important is your approach. Without the proper approach, a DX'er is a very dead duck so far as Sputnik verifies are concerned.
The Proper Approach. The key word of this approach is frankness. Most of you know that the opposite seems to be the standard for at least 90% of the broadcasts coming from Radio Moscow. The same evasiveness carries over into their handling, of DX reports. The following excerpt is typical.
The call letters of the Chinese language transmission you heard are the same as the ones used for the North American broadcasts - the first bars of Dunaevsky's "Song of the Motherland."
To meet this kind of thing with more evasion would result in an endless series of correspondence which would net the DX'er nothing but propaganda. On the other hand, following a straight-line approach, cutting through the Soviet curves, will - nine chances out of ten - bring you what you are after.
The following are the final paragraphs of the letter that brought home my SPUTNIK QSL.
I am going to speak frankly. Even if you had not promised to verify reception of your Sputniks, it would be an act of bad faith not to do so. Many listeners all over the world took the time and trouble to receive and report reception of your satellites. They certainly deserve QSL cards or letters for their efforts.
Thank you very much for the cards and letters you have sent me in the past. I do hope you or somebody else will correct this most unfortunate QSL situation.
Radio Moscow, like any other International Short-Wave Service is dependent upon the world's SWL's. A letter such as that above would seem to leave them very little choice but to fulfill their obligations. You'll note, however, that the letter is courteous. Any station has the right to ignore a rude or insulting DX report.
Transmission Data. You will need transmission data to prove your reception. Easiest to obtain are the number of beeps per minute. Merely count the beeps in a 30-second period and multiply by two.
If you have a slightly musical ear, you can make your report considerably better. Estimate the modulation frequency by comparing the Sputnik signal with the alternate 440- and 600-cps tones transmitted by Station WWV.
If your receiver is poorly calibrated on the upper short-wave frequencies, the WWV signal on 20,000 kc. can be used to zero in the satellite's frequency of 20,005 kc. First locate WWV. If the signal is strong, tune to its upper edge. If WWV is being received weakly, tune just above the edge. In either case, retune every 10 or 15 minutes (unless WWV has disappeared) to decrease the danger of missing the Sputnik if you are slightly off frequency or if your receiver is drifting.
Where to Report. If you have already sent a report either in care of Radio Moscow or to The USSR Committee on the International Geophysical Year, wait one month for a reply.
If you have not yet sent a report, send your first one to the committee and wait three months. Make this a standard report with a casual request for a QSL.
If you do not get results, send a second report to: Eugenia Stepanove, North American Service, Radio Moscow. Ask her to forward it to the proper agency and say why you think you deserve a QSL.
Posted February 11, 2013