Donald Sonnefeld, KD2FIL, recently forwarded the story of his Road to Amateur Radio. It’s a story about amateur radio and Scouting and the influence it’s having not just on the Scouts but on the Scouters, too. It also emphasizes the point that Radio Scouting is all about planting seeds — that sometimes take decades to grow.
KD2FIL’s Road to Amateur Radio
My first encounter with amateur radio happened when I was in high school. It was at Scout Camp—Camp 49er—when another camp staffer had his HT out. Terry talked with me about licensing, repeaters, Morse code, and other basic concepts. While I thought it was cool, I had so much other stuff going on that I didn’t pursue what I perceived to be an expensive hobby.
Years later I was in graduate school, when a friend at church, Randy, encouraged me to take the Technician exam. “You don’t have to know Morse code anymore,” he offered as one inducement. He gave me a 3.5 inch floppy disk with a question pool study program on it. I went through it a couple of times. It seemed like I was reading a foreign language, so I abandoned it in favor of the degree I was pursuing.
Over the next few years I became aware of Hams here and there among my peers. Some suggested that I look into it, but I dismissed the idea quickly based on past experience. I sat on the sidelines while another friend, Stan, passed both the Technician and General exams. (Stan even called me once after I moved away asking if I had gotten my license yet.)
My first real look at amateur radios in action happened when a Scouter friend, Cliff, announced Jamboree-On-The-Air (JOTA) at roundtable. While I couldn’t interest the boys in my small Troop in going, I took my family (2 sons and 2 daughters). A local radio club (including my Scouter friend) had an interesting, interactive program that included CW keys to play with, a couple of radios for contacting, and an internet gateway where the operator helped my youngest (not quite Cub Scout age) to send an e-mail to himself via my address. We spent a little more than an hour and left with a patch for each of us—including my daughters.
I went to the district JOTA program occasionally for a few years before moving to Western New York in 2011. That fall I discovered that there were no JOTA stations in the Council. The following year I did something about it. I contacted the Radio Association of Western New York (RAWNY) and asked if they would host a station at the council service center. The club president, Kevin, was a former Scoutmaster, who jumped at the chance. He brought a couple other Hams, equipment, and ran a feed line out the front door to an antenna. We pulled kids in, mostly Cub Scouts who were with their parents going to the Scout Shop across the hall. A grand total of six Cubs, with associated brothers and sisters over 7 hours gave us lots of opportunity to talk about the hobby. He invited me to join the class that the club sponsored and promised that, if I stuck with it, I would get my Technician license.
He stuck with me, e-mailing me the club newsletter, inviting me to club meetings and field day. As the start of the class drew near, I talked to my youngest son, then convinced my wife to let us take the class together. I explained that if I was going to play a leadership role in JOTA, that I should be licensed myself. With no fore-warning, my son and I walked into the class a little late on the second session. We were welcomed with open arms in to the slightly crowded room. Just before Christmas 2013, we took the exam and passed. (Good thing too, because we had gotten an HT for my son). It seemed like forever (but it was only about a week because of the holidays) before we found out our call signs via QRZ.com, followed a few days later by the license in the mail.
In Scouting we claim to introduce youth to topics that will change their lives. That was certainly the case with me. Terry, Randy, Cliff, Stan, and Kevin all helped me to become a Ham. They all have one thing in common: they were all active Scouters. It took nearly 30 years from the time I encountered my first HT at a Scout Camp in California, until I took the license exam some 3,000 miles away. But all along the way it was opportunities in Scouting that ultimately took me down the road to becoming a license amateur radio operator.
Donald Sonnefeld, KD2FIL