Special-events station K2BSA gave Scouts a link with home-and a new perspective on achieving the Radio Merit Badge
By Leo D. Kluger, WB2TRN, Club Program Manager, ARRL
Did you see “Raiders of the Lost Ark?” the scout asked me. “Yep,” I replied. “Remember at the end where Indy’s tied up and the bad guys die?” “Sure.” “Well, don’t those clouds over there look just like the ones in that scene?”
They did, but my reply was lost as the storm front swept over the campsite. What had, moments before, been a busy but peaceful Amateur Radio tent was transformed into a melee of wild activity as we tried to keep ourselves, the tent and our equipment from being blown away.
The effects of Hurricane Bob were just about the only unplanned episodes at the 1985 National Scout Jamboree, where 30,000 Boy Scouts and leaders from around the nation and around the world gathered to celebrate 75 years of Scouting. Held at Fort AP Hill, an Army base near Fredericksburg, Virginia, the 1985 Jamboree was the 25th such event to be held in the US, where national jamborees are held every four years.
The Jamboree concept is simple: Gather in one place thousands of Scouts from BSA Councils all over the US and provide them with the best Scouting time imaginable. Mix in Merit Badge programs, high technology exhibits, a week of camping and in-the-field cooking, meeting fellow Scouts from thousands of miles away, US military demonstrations, a free open-air concert by the Beach Boys, a visit from the First Lady and the largest fireworks show this year, and you have an idea of the fun the Scouts had.
Their ages ranged from 12 to 18, and each had to have achieved at least Second Class rank in Scouting. We weren’t dealing with Tenderfeet here, but with young men who had demonstrated the ability to set goals and achieve them-the pick of the crop of the next generation of America’s leaders. And, of course, Amateur Radio was there, and in force.
Planning began more than a year ago, with the request by the National Scouting Staff to have a substantial Amateur Radio presence at the Diamond Jubilee Jamboree. Amateur Radio had been a part of the last several Jamborees, but this time the ARRL was asked to provide 24-hour-a-day operation, and were given 40 staff positions to fill, as opposed to the 10 or fewer amateurs who worked on past Jamboree Amateur Radio areas. A QST Stray netted 65 candidates, from which the staff members were picked. This was a more difficult task than it seemed, for all of the amateurs who asked to participate were excellently qualified. Those who ended up attending were uniformly of a high calibre, each one an experienced Scouter and Amateur Radio operator. We also had five “Youth Staff” members, Amateur Radio ops between the ages of 16 to 21 who were Scouts or had recently left Scouting. A list of the Amateur Radio staffers is shown in the accompanying sidebar.
Amateur Radio vendors and manufacturers were contacted and asked for donations or loans. Their response was terrific: They provided the Scouts with an array of the more exotic aspects of our Service. Special QSL cards were designed and printed, and a simple code oscillator – the same one used in the 1985 ARRL Handbook – was selected for Radio Merit Badge candidates to build. The National Traffic System (NTS) was notified of the expected overload of messages to and from the site.
We were fortunate in that the station site had already been proven for us; it was the same one that had been used for the last National Jamboree Amateur Radio station. The antenna supports, 30-foot telephone poles, were provided, as was power to spare. The National Boy Scout staff ensured that our station would not be near any of the computer exhibits.
The Jamboree covered an area of about nine square miles, encompassing almost all of the sprawling Army base. With tremendous support from the Army Corps of Engineers (in fact, they did all the work), the base was prepared for its transformation into what would be the 15th largest city (by population) in Virginia, at least for the duration of the Jamboree.
Sleeping quarters – Army tents – for the 5000 staff members were erected; red, blue or yellow striped carnival-sized tents were put up for the exhibits and displays, and utilities for 30,000 people were put in. Electric power lines were strung, and a self contained telephone system was installed, along with extensions of the existing Army phone system.
The ARRL Connection
The activities for the Scouts were of two main types: Merit Badge-related demonstrations and stand-alone exhibits. Both kinds encouraged hands-on participation. The activities were provided and supported through a number of sources: professional Scout staffers from the BSA National HQ in Irving, Texas; branches of the Army, Navy and Air Force; NASA; nonprofit professional organizations such as the ARRL, IEEE and NRA; and corporations with a product-related interest in the activities they supported, such as AT&T, Apple and IBM.
Some of these organizations, the ARRL among them, ran Merit Badge programs in addition to their hands-on exhibits. The ARRL program was unique in that ours was the only large-scale exhibit put on by a nonprofit independent group. The ARRL’s program was divided into two sections: a working station and a Radio Merit Badge booth.
Radio Merit Badge
Our booth was one of about 125 exhibits at what was called the “Merit Badge Midway.” From above, the Merit Badge Midway looked like a starfish, five arms of booths radiating from a central area. Each of the arms had about 12 exhibits on a side. The Scouts wandered from booth to booth, sampling the wares, testing the toys, participating in the projects and generally having fun. If he wanted, a Scout could stay a while longer at one particular exhibit and work on requirements for the Merit Badge represented by that booth. And if really motivated, he could complete all the requirements for that badge.
Because the main Amateur Radio exhibit was intended for actual Amateur Radio demonstrations, it was the latter type of Scout, the motivated kind, who Ken Johnson, W7BES, concentrated on. Ken ran the Radio Merit Badge booth and put together an elegant system that encouraged 39 Scouts to achieve the Radio Merit Badge.
In a double-sized booth, about 10 by 20 feet, were an all-band receiver, a display of QSLs and Amateur Radio call sign maps, an array of test equipment and several workbenches with soldering stations. The typical Scout had his interest piqued at the main station, and was then taken under wing by Ken and his crew. At the Merit Badge tent, he went through the first few Radio Merit Badge requirements, learning about the shortwave bands from Doug Rowe, KA5GFJ, one of our youth staffers, and having sine waves from a frequency generator demonstrated on a ‘scope by Jerry Friedman, WA2FQA. He then went on to build one of the oscillator kits, which came complete with battery, key and speaker. With 40 staff members, there were enough amateurs to give each Scout a private tutor into the assembly and theory of his oscillator. Donated by Circuit Board Specialists, these kits were the perfect means to teach basic circuit theory and construction without being overwhelming.
Good safety practices were encouraged, as was the proper way to solder discrete parts. But before actually soldering together his oscillator, each Scout contributed to our growing piece of “modern art”: a haphazard construction of wire and parts contributed by staff members’ junkboxes. At the end of the Jamboree, the statue was donated to the permanent K2BSA station shack in Texas.
As much of the Radio Merit Badge covers what’s needed for the Novice license, several Scouts went beyond their Scouting requirements to ascend the first rung up the Amateur Radio ladder. During the Jamboree week, six Scouts went from from tyro to passing the Novice examinations – a tremendous accomplishment!
Bringing anyone from scratch to their tickets in seven days isn’t an easy job, but the fact that six Scouts did it is proof that motivation is the key. Besides the highly charged Jamboree atmosphere, we had a magician on our side, Dan Douglas, N7DC, a long-time ham, Scouter and accomplished short-wave-listening (SWL) enthusiast. Dan, a professional telecommunications officer, had an amazing rapport with the Scouts and was able to keep their attention for hours, regaling them with the wonders of electronic theory, Amateur Radio and Morse code while teaching them everything they needed to know to pass their Novice and probably their Technician, too.
In addition to the six new Novices, 60 scouts earned “partials” on their Radio Merit Badge. These Scouts were given signoff sheets showing the areas completed so that once home they could contact a local Radio Merit Badge counselor to finish the rest of the requirements.
The main thrust was to entertain and educate the thousands of Scouts who would be passing by our exhibit. With this in mind, the K2BSA layout took shape as a multipart demonstration. We were located in a high-traffic area, next to the NASA tent and along a prominent path. All we had to do was lure the Scouts in and show them enough interesting sights from our hobby and they were hooked-enough for the more motivated ones to head over to the Radio Merit Badge tent.
A long counter continuously attended by staff members was at the front of the Amateur Radio tent. There, the Scouts were invited to originate traffic that would later be entered into the NTS. Three standard messages had been publicized through the NTS-JAMBO ONE, TWO and THREE -and the Scouts were encouraged to use them. A minicomputer was located on the end of the counter. Continuously loaded with Morse University or CW Coach (on loan from their respective manufacturers), the graphics programs did more than their share of attracting crowds of interested Scouts, while teaching a few letters of the code. It was fun to watch the Scouts learn five letters of the code in as many minutes-and hundreds did it! Also on the counter was an extra radio hooked to a long wire and used as a monitor rig for the Scouts to play with. Nothing is more interesting to a 13-year-old than the chance to turn some knobs, push some buttons and see or hear some results. An operating receiver gave them just that, and it was one more method we used to expose Amateur Radio to the Scouts.
After asking questions of those manning the counter and sending a message to their family (or, in some cases, their girl friends), the Scouts were invited to take guided tours of the rest of the station. The groups were first shown what were probably the flashiest and most interesting computer graphics programs they had ever seen: GrafTrack II and Silicon Ephemeris, two newly released software tracking programs by Silicon Solutions, Inc that we had set up on an IBM PC-XT.
These programs showed, in full color, real-time satellite-eye views of the earth. Footprints of the various “birds” were also displayed, and a zoom feature allowed the user to take a close look at the ground below the satellite. The geographic detail was impressive, and the Scouts enjoyed the fast mode, which allowed them to speed up the subjective orbit of the satellite, with the continents flashing by. These programs very naturally led to a explanation of the Amateur Radio OSCAR satellites, one of the more fascinating aspects of our hobby to these space-oriented Scouts of the ’80s.
The tour group then went to one of the operating positions to make a contact. With a separate station and antenna for each of the five major HF bands, there was usually no problem in finding an open rig. The large staff size helped us again here, allowing us to have an operator at each position. The K2BSA call sign was a great help, causing more than the usual responses to casual CQs. The emphasis here was to encourage the Scouts to talk as much as possible. Getting some of them over “mic fright” proved to be difficult at times, but most of the thousands who came through our tent during the Jamboree took the chance to speak a few words to the voice at the other end. After their stint at the radio, the Scouts were given certificates of participation, signed by the control operator.
The undisputed highlight of the operating arena was when Shelly Weil, K2BS, got on 20 meters to work DX. Shelly, a famous DXer in his own right, has been to just about every one of the national and international Boy Scout Jamborees for the past 10 years. His rapport with the kids was matched only by the number of friends he has worldwide, amateurs who were always on the lookout for him on the air, and who were always glad to contact K2BSA. During the Jamboree we not only worked stations in every one of the 50 states, but also contacted DX stations in 119 countries. Most of this impressive operating feat was due to Shelly’s skill and perseverance. We were privileged to have him on staff.
Mounting an operation that succeeded in making over 2300 noncontest-style contacts over a seven-day period took some sophisticated equipment. Besides the equipment already mentioned, we had enough radio gear to make an amateur drool: state-of-the-art packet equipment lent by AEA and Microlog, HAL RTTY stations built into Zenith PCs for passing traffic, a Robot color slow-scan transceiver, and a few other computers used for logging and entering traffic into the correct format to be passed to the NTS. Backing all this up were two triband beams, numerous dipoles and several vertical antennas, roped off to keep heavy-footed Scouts from trampling the radials.
A Maggiore Hi-Pro on-site repeater helped us communicate around the Army base. It was controlled by an Advanced Computer Controls RC-850 controller, with the antenna and rig mounted on top of and inside AT&T’s large display tent. Our thanks to the Middle Atlantic FM and Repeater Council for granting us temporary frequency coordination for the repeater during the Jamboree.
We figured that with 30,000 people around-over 150 amateurs signed our guest log book-at least one was going to want to go for his Novice or upgrade. Accordingly, Bill Free, W3FTG, put together a fine testing program under the ARRL/VEC. Bill’s efforts (and those of his examiners) were worth it, resulting in four new Technician licensees and one new Amateur Extra.
Bob Johnson, K3RC, organized and ran the traffic operation at the Jamboree. Bob and his staff did a tremendous job, passing over 1700 messages and receiving 72. The National Traffic System was used throughout the operation, having been notified of the upcoming load by Jim Brodhead, KA4ERP. Received traffic was delivered to the appropriate Scouts by Order of the Arrow runners.
… And a New Group Is Formed
The results certainly justified the energy put into the program. Approximately 10,000 people passed through our 24-houra-day program, and hundreds of folks filled out on the spot requests for more information on Amateur Radio. Radio Merit Badge, for several years sadly near the bottom of the Merit Badge list in popularity, was given a big boost by the impressive number of Scouts who earned it in less than a week.
The best news is that the Jamboree Amateur Radio program was the genesis of a group of amateurs with a renewed commitment to Amateur Radio in Scouting. It’s a nationwide K2BSA club, with membership open to anyone with a mutual interest in the Boy Scouts and Amateur Radio. (Unfortunately, the organization no longer exists… WB2JWD)
Every major operation has a few folks who do a tremendous amount of work over and above the rest. At K2BSA we had the special help of Mike Brown, WB2JWD, who co-coordinated the program with the author. Among other feats, Mike did the scheduling for the nine 24-hour days the K2BSA staff was at Fort AP Hill. Not as easy as it might sound, for he had to juggle all the jobs that had to be done versus the job that most people wanted to do-and he did it equitably, even when last-minute circumstances necessitated a complete reworking of the schedule. Mike also designed a database system for storing all the outgoing message traffic on floppy disks, to be transmitted later by the traffic crew. A great photographer, Mike also took what was to become the cover photo for this issue of QST.
One last person deserves a special mention, though he wasn’t a member of the K2BSA Staff. Major Paul Cuda, WA7QEX, helicopter and fixed-wing pilot extraordinaire. Paul helped the K2BSA crew where others couldn’t or wouldn’t, pulling strings, moving antennas, and helping us out in varied, sundry and subtle ways.
1985 Scout Jamboree Amateur Radio Staff
George R. Bair, KD8FJ
Peter Baker, KD2KD
Mike Brown, WB2JWD
Keith Bushong, KB8PN
Jim Clark, N5HOV
Dennis Cooper, K3NVI
Ed Crow, WD8DDE
Billie Dickson, WB8 TRK
Dan Douglas, N7DC
Bob Downs, W7VTB
Lary Eichel, K2NA
Jack Feldman, WA4THF
Bill Free, W3FTG
Jerry Friedman, WA2FQA
Dwight Gann, K5MOA
John Geiger, NE0P
Bruce Hamilton, KK2A
Jim Hood, W0PUD
Harry Howell, KA51MO
Ken Johnson, W7BES
Robert Johnson, K3RC
Otto Julick III, WB9WAZ
Leo D. Kluger, WB2TRN
Jason Mayrand, KW1W
Richard Mayrand, K1IEE
Ralph McMillan, ND2F
Ray Moyer, WD8JKV
Art Mueller, WA3BKD
Dan Nixon, N4DVW
S. Lee Price, KA2MLG
Doug Rows, KA5GFJ
Jack Schechter, WD4KYC
Alan Schup, KA5WKA
Allan Schwartz, KA1CFA
John Sharps, KE5KX
Glen Singer, KA5GRP
Raymond Sloss, K5ZFN
George Weber, KC0ZQ
Fred Weigel, WD48BZ
Shelly Weil, K2BS
Equipment Donations and Loans
No program as extensive as K2BSA could be accomplished without the generosity of equipment vendors and manufacturers who contributed their wares. Here’s an alphabetical list of the ones who were so helpful for the 1985 Jamboree.
Advanced Computer Controls, Cupertino, CA
Advanced Electronic Applications, Inc, Lynnwood, WA
Bomar Crystal Company, Middlesex, NJ
Butternut Electronics Co, Lockhart, TX
Circuit Board Specialists, Pueblo, Co
HAL Electronics, Urbana, IL
Maggiore Electronics Laboratory, Inc, West Cheater, PA
Microlog, Gaithersburg, MD
Mosley Electronics, Inc, St Louis, MO
Radio Inc, Tulsa, OK
Robot Research, Inc, San Diego, CA
Silicon Solutions, Inc, Houston, TX
Times Fiber Communications, Inc, Wallingford, CT
Trio-Kenwood, Compton, CA
Varian/Elmac Division, San Carlos, CA
Virginia Microsystems, Woodbridge, VA
Albert H. Wohlers Insurance Co, Park Ridge, IL
Reprinted from January 1986 QST magazine by permission