ad: L-HROutlet
ad: l-rl
ad: L-MFJ
ad: Radclub22-2
ad: Left-2
ad: Left-3
ad: expert-2
ad: abrind-2
Latest Awards
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued

Short Takes #20 - 30th Anniversary Interview with QRZ Founder, Fred Lloyd

By Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

Trials and Errors readers, it is with great pride that QRZ.com celebrates its 30th anniversary as we publish this column. That’s a lot of history for a website. My interview with Fred Lloyd, founder, goes into some interesting detail about the website and its tools. But just as with any call sign, check out the QRZ record for Fred’s profile and you’ll learn other interesting information about this fellow’s history with radio and computers.


Dave: Fred, thanks for being here for our readers. As you know, I’m proud that my column is placed on QRZ, as it’s not only an important website for the ham, but also the premiere website for amateur radio. I know it has some interesting history behind it, and a lot of features and options that many people are not familiar with. In my article this week, I’m going to focus on some of those things that I believe our Trials and Errors readers would like to know more about.


As I understand from our conversations, you started this project back in the days when the Internet was really in its infancy – even before Google and Amazon. Is that correct? Can you tell me how it is that you came up with this concept at a time when most of us didn’t even realize what potential this “information superhighway” would have? [For you readers who grew up with the Internet, this overblown description is how it was known as it emerged into popular use.]


Fred: It is true that the name QRZ.com was granted to me on 10/28/1993, which is before Google was even incorporated.  If you look up the founding date on many large websites, nearly all of them are after that. The big website that was around a bit before us, however, was America Online or AOL. (DJ: That’s where many had their email addresses – the home of the popular “You’ve Got Mail” voice prompt.)

My initial concept for QRZ was that it would function as a call sign database. Prior to 1993 there was no public call sign lookup online. We created a QRZ call sign CDROM in 1992, before QRZ.com came into being. That CD was simply called "QRZ!". I thought of that name as I was putting the call sign CD together since I'd heard it on the air so many times during a recent contest.

About a year after the CDROM began to sell, we went online with QRZ.com. After that, QRZ.com became the primary sales outlet for the CDROM, which sold well. Throughout the 1990's, CDROM sales rose and then began a steady decline. At the same time, the number of people coming online generally was exploding. Our database moved to be primarily online and our CDROM sales petered out.


It was the late 1990s when we started selling ham radio advertising to make up for our lost CDROM sales. We followed that by starting our XML data service, selling subscriptions. The last CDROM was Version 32, 16 years after the first one in 1992. (DJ: I’m curious, anyone still own that collector’s item?). We continued to sell downloadable copies of the database for a few more years, but the size and complexity of the database made those copies unworkable. Bulk database sales ended in around 2005.

It seems obvious, but I must say that I did not envision today's QRZ. QRZ was, and remains, a labor of love. I truly enjoyed building the database and the biography pages, and later the Logbook. The least enjoyable part of that early QRZ was stuffing, sealing, and mailing CDROM envelopes. I often enlisted my wife to help with the task.

Dave: One of the great things about QRZ.com is that you can use it whether you are on a POTA activation or at home in your shack to find out more about the person you are talking to. What are your thoughts, Fred, about the all-important QRZ profile that every ham has access to? What are the key elements that you would suggest for a profile to engage the other station as much as possible?

Fred: We call them Biography pages and they are both important and unimportant at the same time. Many hams report calling CQ DX when they find that the respondent already knows their name. QRZ lookups are so fast that it makes this possible. Although we don't have actual measurements, it seems clear that if your biography page is at least slightly interesting, people will spend more time with you on the air. It's also a great way to find people with similar interests. (DJ: It’s one tool for breaking out of the “one minute QSO” rut.)


Dave: I’ve seen some super long biography pages, some quite ridiculous in their length. Do these help or hurt?

Fred: While an interesting page can help people talk to you, a very long page can do the opposite. A bio page reading should last no more than 5 minutes, no matter how accomplished that ham might be.  Pictures are great but readers don't like to scroll more than a page or two down from the start. Some bio pages are much longer than that and although the authors may be pleased with their exhaustive accounts, they are ultimately the only ones who have read the whole thing. When the bio page gets too long, people lose interest and stop reading.

For many serious contesters, their Bio page is either blank or outdated.  This is the "unimportant" part of a bio. Some of these contesters have tens of thousands of QSO's logged and have earned nearly every award that we offer. But clearly their bio page doesn't matter -- to them. (DJ: my guess is that many of those thousands would have enjoyed reading more on a profile.)


Dave: I’d like the whole world to be on QRZ with a biography and a Logbook. It’s so easy, and secure, to use QRZ’s Logbook feature, and I like the awards as well. What do you think is stopping some of these DX stations from being more accessible on QRZ? How can we get non-USA operators as enthused about QRZ as are the US hams? The awards, the ability to put up a bio page with station photos and detail, the ease of access to Logging . . . it’s all so attractive, and I’m wondering what you might say about the ‘rest of the world’ and QRZ.com.


Fred: QRZ has more non-USA (DX) call signs than USA-issued ones. This is in stark contrast to the early QRZ which started with only USA records. We have been manually adding DX call signs since day one and now they outnumber the USA calls.

Language has always been an issue but it is lessened each day with advances in computer technology. Fast, accurate translation is available now for almost any language, right inside the browser.  We in the USA don't get to see how non-English speakers interact with the site but their numbers suggest that they are successful. Our support desk has translation built into it so that when someone asks us a question in Indonesian, we can read it!

We have frequently been asked why we don't offer multiple language versions of the site and the answer has to do with the scope of the work. It becomes extraordinarily difficult to support multiple languages with a single piece of programming. Every phrase that is used by the system, thousands of them, must have a foreign language counterpart. Imagine the word "radio" and consider that we would have to save two or three dozen translations of the word, in foreign character sets and grammar.  Every phrase. The major drawback of this approach is the time and effort needed to 1) rewrite all of our code to use only phrases from a lookup table, and 2) create sensible phrases in each language, and 3) testing and support. Currently, we do not have enough engineers to pull this off, and the increased code size of a multilingual approach would present yet more problems with scalability. You can write a program for a roomful of people pretty easily.  But when you serve tens of thousands per day, some serious hardware is needed.

Dave: I think that QRZ awards help bring in the DX stations. How long have you been offering these? There have been a few fun awards along with some of the usuals, which you do quite well at QRZ. I’ve got some cool QRZ certificates hanging on my wall, and of course my Amateur Radio License printed by you as well.

Fred: We started our awards program in the mid-2010's and their popularity has been great! In case you were wondering, I am the graphics designer for all of those awards. I use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and other tools to create them. Our first emphasis is to make them look and feel like engraved bank notes.

Dave: What’s your favorite feature on the website? What do you think the most underutilized feature on the website might be? Can you share some detail about elements that you built into the website which many readers may not realize you even offer?


Fred: My favorite thing has always been the call sign database, then the Forums, then the Logbook. Many of our users would rank those items differently, and for good reason. Many people have never seen what a station that is fully integrated with QRZ looks like. Some users are setup to do contesting such that when they type in a call, their record is fetched from QRZ, their coordinates examined and bearing fed to the antenna rotator, and ready to input a new log entry with the remote operator's QSL information already filled in.  All this starts with just a call sign entry on QRZ.

​​​​DaveRecently I wrote about the subject of studying for a ham license and it turns out that you were probably the first website to offer the full practice exam, using the exact questions from the FCC question pool. Has that been successful in generating either new hams or perhaps in upgrading our licenses? 


Fred: Yes, it has been extremely successful on both counts.  We don't have numbers because we don't know what the outcome was for the individual. From a practical observation, however, I've never been to a hamfest where someone didn't approach me to pass along their thanks for the Practice Tests. "I upgraded using those...", or "I got my license on QRZ!", and frankly, I never get tired of hearing it. The tests really work and we never charge people to use them. {DJ: unlike the major online "competitor" who charges for the same service.}  We want as many people as possible to have access to the hobby, and QRZ is more than ready to Elmer anyone who needs help.


Dave: Thanks Fred -- as an aside, I would love for users of the QRZ ham tests section to put up their positive reviews on eHam. If you've used the QRZ license study materials, it would take you two minutes to put up a positive rating here, just click. Doing so will help QRZ continue to help hams upgrade and earn their licenses, for free when the other site requires a credit card.


But my guess is that the single most active section of QRZ.com (besides the call sign lookup feature and associated profiles) is the Forum area. There have been some great discussions there over the years, and a lot of back-and-forth about certain “hot button” subjects. I know that you must have a team of forum moderators on hand to ensure the discourse stays civil . . . but, for curiosity sake, why do some of these discussion subjects turn into the ‘wild west’ when they are being discussed?


Fred: Actually, the logbook is more "active" in terms of data in/out on a continuous basis. The Forums, however, occupy a very special place on the site.

From a philosophical viewpoint, the Forums are unnecessary to our primary mission, i.e. the call sign database. The Forums do, however, promote the identity of the site through the voices of its users. Sometimes our users will surprise us in good ways, and sometimes we wish that the Forums never existed.  It's the bane of all online forums that deal with the general public. People tend to feel empowered by the keyboard and will write things that they would never say to a person's face. Sometimes they are serious; sometimes, they are kidding. Others intentionally "troll" people to elicit visceral responses. Trolls, i.e. people who antagonize other readers for sport, are always present. Trolls give our volunteer moderators a lot of extra work which they do not appreciate. We don't negotiate with trolls!

The number one job for our moderation team is to enforce common decency. It may sound straightforward . . . until people start arguing about the meaning of "common", and soon it becomes apparent that lots of people just want your attention, above and beyond the argument itself. Sometimes, a complainant will become such a burden to the administrators that we are forced to either ignore him or close the account down. This doesn't happen too frequently, but, we always have the option available for the benefit of our other 800,000 members.

Dave: You’ve taken a personal interest in the area of selling used ham radio equipment. My guess is that you do this because you’d like to keep it as clean as possible, in a time when scam artists and ripoffs occur regularly on the Internet. Are there any tips you’d offer the seller or buyer for used gear?


Fred: I was a swapmeet junkie long before QRZ was started. I've always like buying and selling gear almost as if it were a separate hobby of its own. I'm a gear-lover who loves big panels with lots of knobs and switches. I started the QRZ Swapmeet way back in the 1990s and it has been used by hundreds of thousands of hams over the years. (DJ: so much has been bought and sold via QRZ that there must be entire stations that come from third-parties courtesy of the website. Has this been your experience? Let's hear about it in the discussion forum attached below.)

Scams have existed since day 1 of the internet. I've written extensively about the do's and dont's of online trading and it has taught me one very important thing; people who are excited about buying something will not read any warnings about basic safety. I've listed numerous things that people should avoid and nearly all of them fit the category of pure common sense. One thing that has helped QRZ is that we NEVER get involved in any sale. We never touch any money, we don't make recommendations, and we don't assist with person-to-person problems.  

Dave: That makes good sense, Fred, as I am sure it would be a quagmire if you jumped in between two parties in a dispute.


One last question from me, and it's about the most unusual promotion I've ever seen on the Internet for ham radio. You and your CEO at QRZ, Jaime Jeffries, came up with an idea along with Gigaparts that I think was fantastic. You actually gave away more than 2000 brand new radios to newly licensed ham operators, as well as providing the radio at a deep discount to another few thousand! What was the inspiration behind this idea? Do you have any idea as to the downstream effect it had on these new licensees?


Fred: I wanted to do something to help the hobby increase its membership by eliminating at least one barrier to entry. I told the staff that I would reach into our own pocket to fund the purchase of 2000 radios. My thinking was that our generosity would be contagious and that a movement could be started to continue funding beyond the initial order. Although this did not come to pass, Gigaparts nevertheless had the means to restructure the program and still provide a significant savings for new hams.  QRZ still provides a free 1-month Premium subscription to all New Hams that apply for the program.


Dave: Everyone talks about the problem of getting interest from new hams, Fred, but you're the only guy I've ever seen who put his money where the mouth was. Two thousand new hams walked away with a quality radio and, hopefully, got on the air and later upgraded their interests with a higher grade of license. I would like to explore how a program like that might continue, and perhaps we can find a way to bring back the "free" aspect of Jumpstart. Regardless, anyone who's been affected positively by that program, we'd sure love to have your note in our discussion forum below. Thanks to everyone at QRZ for their support of the hobby, and thanks to AA7BQ for the interview today!


Dave, W7DGJ



Have a comment? See what others are saying now in our Forum discussion!



Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

Dave Jensen, W7DGJ, was first licensed in 1966. Originally WN7VDY (and later WA7VDY), Dave operated on 40 and 80 meter CW with a shack that consisted primarily of Heathkit equipment. Dave loved radio so much he went off to college to study broadcasting and came out with a BS in Communications from Ohio University (Athens, OH). He worked his way through a number of audio electronics companies after graduation, including the professional microphone business for Audio-Technica.  He was later licensed as W7DGJ out of Scottsdale, Arizona, where he ran an executive recruitment practice (CareerTrax Inc.) for several decades. Jensen has published articles in magazines dealing with science and engineering. His column “Tooling Up” ran for 20 years in the website of the leading science journal, SCIENCE, and his column called “Managing Your Career” continues to be a popular read each month for the Pharmaceutical and Household Products industries in two journals published by Rodman Publishing.

Articles Written by Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

This page was last updated November 2, 2023 11:24