K2BSA at 1981 Jamboree

The hills of eastern Virginia echoed with the cry, “CQ CQ from K2BSA/4 at the National Scout Jamboree” as 35,000 Scouts and Scouters caught a glimpse of Amateur Radio in action.
By Steve Place, WB1EYI

81bpScouting and Amateur Radio – few activities fit so well together. And what better way to introduce the two groups than at a National Scout Jamboree? From July 27 through August 4, over 35,000 Scouts and Scouters took part in a mix of Field Day, license classes, traffic handling, DXing, construction and public service at the 1981 National Scout Jamboree at Fort A. P. Hill near Fredericksburg, Virginia. The event was a tremendous success, thanks to a great crew and the cooperation of literally hundreds of people – from BSA officials, local amateurs and visiting hams, to equipment manufacturers and even the United States Army. Mentioning Amateur Radio and the Boy Scouts of America in the same breath works powerful “magic.”

From the outset, many, many months before the first CQ DE K2BSA/4 rolled off a Scout’s fist, we had decided to set up the radio tent as a station for the boys. It was to be a place where Scouts would do what hams do and meet others in Scouting on the air. A simple exhibit cranking out contacts would not live up to National Jamboree standards: The Scouts would have the chance to “get their hands dirty” and learn about Amateur Radio first hand.

Licensed Scouts would serve as control operators for their unlicensed brethren. Everyone would be encouraged to send a message home via Amateur Radio. Basic theory classes would get the Scouts through the rough stretches on the road to the Radio Merit Badge as well as lay the foundation for future Novice study. Scouts would learn proper soldering and construction techniques at a beginners’ workbench. And everyone would share in stories about Scouting and Amateur Radio.

Questions by the hundreds would fill the long hours from early morning reveille to well after taps. Only during slow hours (of which there would be very few) would the staff get on the air and “run ’em contest style” to pass out contacts. This was a difficult choice for a gang of hams who enjoy hours at the mike and key, but a choice best suited to getting across the message of Amateur Radio.

NTS Under Siege

Message handling at large public events is often the easiest tactic to get the greatest number of people involved – easiest, that is, at the counter. Unfortunately, a good day of traffic-taking leaves a stack of originations large enough to cause even the most dedicated NTSer’s heart to skip a beat. Virginia was alerted, and a great local NTS crew accepted the challenge. Jim Brodhead, KA4ERP, EC for the Fredericksburg area, rallied the local troops to the cause and took the responsibility for coordinating equipment and volunteers in his area. The plan was to handle some of the traffic directly from the tent to demonstrate NTS in action, and to pass the bulk of the messages physically to local outlets.

Our small staff of nine could not handle a deluge of traffic on the air and still accomplish our primary goal: showing thousands of Scouts the many facets of our hobby. Rather than limiting the amount we’d take, we relied on the enthusiastic volunteer efforts of Jim and his gang, who helped as guest ops on site when possible and who accepted pile after pile of forms for home-station origination.

We were able to keep the traffic moving. Over 2200 messages were processed and sent over a seven-day period! Long hours at the key by W2GJ, K3RC and WB8TRK of the K2BSA/4 staff, a 2-meter RTTY feed from KA4ERP to WA4STO, and the last-minute Herculean efforts of Ray and Silvia Massie, K3RZR and KA3DTE, qualified several stations for BPL Medallion with Purple Heart Cluster. (Not to mention the “order of the flaming reperf”, resulting from an overheated paper tape machine originally intended to take all of our traffic… WB2JWD)

Our congratulations and thanks to the Hundreds of NTS “unsung heroes” who saw these messages through to delivery. The system works, even when stressed to its limits. July and August BPL tallies in the Virginia Section are very interesting.

How Many Ya Got Now?

Nothing captures the attention and imagination of a Scout more than a challenge (unless, of course, it’s the blonde in his third-period English class). K2BSA/4 set out to work all continents, all states and 100 countries, and we made our intentions known. Up-to-the-minute tallies were posted prominently, as were lists of countries worked and states needed.

As the states-needed list grew smaller and smaller each day, the crowds of inquisitive Scouts grew larger and larger. Everyone wanted to know if and when his state had been worked, and if so, “Who was it?” and “Where did he live?” Montana proved to be the tough one, a fact emphasized by the increasingly frequent visits of Montana Scouts eyeing the tally. When the “Big Sky” state finally fell, attention turned to the quest for 100 countries.

At the previous Jamboree in 1977 in western Pennsylvania, K2BSA/3 crew member Shelly Weil, K2BS, had set the same goal. Noisy power lines, rain – lots of rain – and generally poor conditions left the gang about 11 countries short. Taking this as a personal affront, Shelly set out to slay the “DXCC Dragon” single-handedly at K2BSA/4, his seventh Jamboree. When the dust had settled after several all-night jousts with QRN and QRM, we had bagged 109 countries and were rewarded with a long, enthusiastic ovation from the Scouts who had doubted that we could do it. Though K2BS worked the bulk of them, several countries fell at the hands of fellow staffers and licensed Scouts. The spirit of challenge and the satisfaction of accomplishment, however, were shared by all.

A First Step

Scouting is a program of achievement, a context within which kids 11 years old and up can experiment with responsibility and leadership, try on new skills for size and be recognized for their accomplishment. Of the 50 or so merit badges offered at the Jamboree, Radio proved to be one of the more popular, though one of the more demanding. Thirteen Scouts who had begun studying the Morse code a few weeks before the Jamboree were able to pass all of the requirements at K2BSA/4, and 52 others earned partial completions. Instructors beware: Over 800 Scouts took their enthusiasm for Amateur Radio home with them and have requested information on local licensing classes!

Mike Brown, WB2JWD, ran the classroom most of the time, including both classes in basic theory and construction technique. Many hesitant newcomers to radio first hoisted soldering iron and wire under Mike’s tutelage, demonstrating their skills on projects ranging from transistor and 555-timer CPOs, to a variety of kits donated by Heath Company. The most popular project of the lot was a Heath HW-8 on which 11 Scouts performed constructive surgery. At the conclusion of the Jamboree, a Scouter from Panama, HP1XKO, drew the name of one of the builders: Andre Thompson, a ham-to-be from Detroit, proudly accepted the radio with thanks to his fellow Scouts for their contributions.

Building a working circuit from a handful of components excited more Scouts than we were able to handle comfortably. But the extra effort was well worthwhile. The tones blaring from the code-practice oscillators signaled success, giving the kind of satisfaction one can get only by conquering a new challenge, and satisfaction was reflected in the smiles of many Jamboree Scouts.


“Give Our Best to the Gang”

Two weeks of Scouting and Amateur Radio set the stage for many special moments. Staffers from the radio tents at past Jamborees stopped by to say hello, as did visiting Scouter-hams from Japan, Switzerland, Australia, Panama and other DX locales. Literally hundreds of visiting U.S. hams dropped by to sign in a K2BSA/4 and to make a contact or two.

A patrol of Scouts from Venezuela peered over the counter at the operation and haltingly asked if they could send message home to their families. One of the boys in particular, not able to speak English, seemed a bit forlorn, overwhelmed by all that was happening around him (one could speak English well and still be overwhelmed by the immensity of a National Jamboree!). A little coaxing from his friends and our promise to do the best we could left him grateful but no reassured. Luck was with him, however as to everyone’s amazement, we stumbled across a ham in his hometown within few minutes and passed the message. The twinges of homesickness gone, one more smiling Scout rejoined the fray.

A young Scout from Oklahoma, suffering a similar affliction, had failed to meet several skeds with his father. Day to day, with each failure to make the connection, his spirits visibly sank to new depths. Finally tossing in the towel, the Scout gave us his “Thanks anyway,” and slumped toward the exit when he recognized the voice at the other end of a 20-meter QSO. Not exactly a schedule, but son was able to reassure Dad, and vice versa.

The original planner of K2BSA/4, Harry Harchar, W2GND, was unable to attend the Jamboree and reluctantly relinquished the reins to others. To make sure we didn’t forget him, though, Harry dropped in frequently on the air to check our progress and keep us honest. Being an avid SSTV buff, Harry even helped solve a technical problem that was keeping our slow-scan operation off the air. Harry can take much of the credit for the success of this and other Jamboree stations, as well as for the continuing success of Amateur Radio in Scouting: He is deeply involved with the Boy’s Life Radio Club, is trustee of K2BSA and is U.S. coordinator for the annual Jamboree on the Air. . . Always there in spirit, sometimes there on 75.

The more rewarding experiences for the crew usually related to new Novices who had not yet been on the air. They would hover timidly at some distance from the Novice station, watching every detail intently. When asked if they’d like to try their hand, they would shy away with nervous laugh and “No, thank you.” A few hours or a few days later, the Novice would nervously slip a brand new license from his wallet and, trembling, ask for help. With a little nudge and a lot of patience, a staff member would bring the Novice to his first CQ, after which you couldn’t tear the Scout away from the radio.

At the other end of the spectrum we had Bart Cranford, KA4BNK. Bart, a Scout from North Carolina, had passed his General well before the start of the Jamboree and had waited in vain for the ticket to reach him before his departure for Virginia. A frequent visitor to the station who was comfortable with a key in the Novice bands, Bart clearly wanted to work 20 meter SSB without a control operator. As luck and the USPS would have it, his folks had received the license at home the day after he left; they forwarded it to the Jamboree site immediately. On the final day of operation, we first heard his shout as Bart crested the hill at full gallop waving his General ticket in the air. Not slowing for congratulations, he skidded past the counter and hit the seat at the 20-meter position in mid-CQ. Now there’s a Scout with enthusiasm for Amateur Radio!


Where Credit’s Due

Countless numbers of people contributed to the success of the K2BSA/4 operation. The Boy Scouts of America played an obviously important role in planning, administration and support, A great gang of volunteers and professionals on the Exhibits and Displays staff intervened on our behalf, solving problem after problem. From increasing our electrical service from 20A to 60A, to fighting to get us on the schedule of the one Army “bucket truck” within 50 miles that could handle our antenna erections, Hank Biggers and crew came through. Special thanks must go to Spec. 4 Mark Howard, the “Wizard of the Bucket Truck,” for his deft handling of tricky situations. Both he and his immediate supervisor caught the bug and plan to pursue their Novice licenses.

From the planning stages to cleanup, the Corning Glass Works Of Corning, New York, offered a tremendous amount of assistance. Several complete stations from their club’s emergency communications bank were loaned, replete with spare components. Pete Radding, W2GJ, represented the company on the K2BSA/4 staff and personally provided invaluable cooperation right down the line. Should any of you wonder why the Glass Works stepped forward and offered its assistance so willingly, Dr. Thomas MacAvoy, its president, is the current president of the Boy Scouts of America, and one who recognizes the value in both Scouting and Amateur Radio.

Many manufacturers provided equipment to help keep K2BSA/4 on the air. Scouts and Scouters got to try their hands at a Rockwell Collins KWM-380, Icom IC-251A and IC-720A, Yaesu FT-l01ZD and FT-480R, Robot 800 Terminal and 400 Scan Converter, an assembled Heath HW-8 QRP transceiver, and Heath kits ranging from CPOs and a keyer to an SWR bridge and HW-8. Two Cornell Dublier Ham IV rotators and 300 feet of Times Wire and Cable coax carried our signal from the tent and headed it in the right direction. The staff helped fill in the gaps with examples of mobile and portable gear, inexpensive surplus equipment and even a “boat anchor” or two. And Robert Luetzow, K9ZLU, lent us his prototype variable-speed casette controller that was featured in September QST.

Thanks also to 73 Magazine and CQ for supplying issues of their magazines and to Ham Radio for supplying copies of issues and a quantity of Amateur Radio publications. Last, but far from least, the Boy Scouts of America has expressed its appreciation to the ARRL for its support in providing manpower, publications, incidental equipment and a year of planning and coordination, from the initial on-site visit to the final QSLing.

Though he was not directly involved with the K2BSA/4 operation, a special nod of appreciation must go to Gordon Thomas, WB4LMT, and his crew of over 30 volunteers, who assisted the BSA in coordinating the massive traffic flow on opening and closing days. The roads to Fort A.P. Hill were crammed with hundreds upon hundreds of buses, cars and campers overflowing with the 35,000 Jamboree-bound Scouts. Thanks to Gordon’s gang and Amateur Radio, fast arrivals and departures were made without a hitch.

Most credit, however, must be given to the K2BSA/4 crew who put in a long string of 16-hour days: Pete Radding, W2GJ; Mike Brown, WB2JWD; Shelly Weil, K2BS, an old hand at National and World Jamboree Amateur Radio stations; Bob Johnson, K3RC, chairman of the 1977 event; Ed Crow, WD8DDE; Dee Larsen, KB7QN; Billie Dickson, WB8TRK; Dean Klingler, WA7HQU; and Steve Place, WB1EYI. Whether suffering the early morning braying of Pedro, our mascot QSL “Burro,” fending off carnivorous insects the size of F-18s, finding a way to wash some wellworn laundry or holding up the battered tent besieged by severe storms, one couldn’t ask for a more conscientious, reliable crew.

Two weeks of exhausting, yet exhilarating work demonstrated just how well Amateur Radio and Scouting mesh. Hundreds of boys left Virginia with memories of talking to faraway places, of new friends made and of the intriguing “mystery” of radio. K2BSA/4 touched many people – our thanks to all.

– from the December 1981 issue of QST