K3OSR — How to Build a Vibrant Camp Radio Station… And Pitfalls to Avoid

The history of the K3OSR Amateur Radio Station at Ockanickon Scout Reservation can provide insight for building an Amateur Radio Station at your own Council camp. And it can also give a few hints as to how not to do it!

Decades ago, Ockanickon Scout Reservation had a big radio station established by local contesters with huge antennas, including a 40-meter beam.  But it was too good a station for a Scout camp!

Why? Contesters used it many weekends but occasionally ignored curious Scouts; non-hams blamed the big antennas for interference even when no one was there; and it occupied prime building space in the center of camp. When lightning damaged the equipment 15 years ago, the camp quickly reclaimed the radio room for other uses and the antennas became useless.

To offer Radio Merit Badge after that station’s demise, other hams would haul their own rigs to the camp once a week, hang a temporary antenna, and teach the badge in a breezeway.

Ten years ago, two new districts were merged into the council. One district had a Radio Scouting Committee offering annual JOTA and Radio Merit Badge Days. It contacted Radio Merit Badge counselors and hams throughout the council and expanded into a Council Radio Scouting Committee to help rebuild a new Amateur Radio station.

The hiring of a new camp STEM Director with a ham license resulted in the donation of a new multiband rig and power supply.  This was now installed in a corner of the more appropriate Science Center.  Local hams hung a multi band dipole between two trees and the station was operational.  Radio Merit Badge was once again offered throughout the summer!

Then came Covid…

After the pandemic closed the camp for a year, a new STEM Director without a license was hired. So, a ham once again drove to the station each Wednesday evening to let Scouts meet the on-air requirement for Radio Merit Badge.  The remaining requirements were taught by the STEM staff during the day.

To even the workload, other hams were recruited to staff the eight different “Wireless Wednesday” evenings of each subsequent summer camp season.  The Groups.io email group aided this scheduling and for JOTA operations.

A member also offered to pay the licensing costs of any summer camp staff member who wished to get an FCC license. We now have one licensed Ham on staff who can pitch in if the scheduled visiting ham cannot make it.

The visiting hams made incremental improvements to the station, adding simple local repeater access, documentation, guidelines for visiting hams, and improved visual appeal. Weekly reports to the Council Staff about the number of Radio Merit Badges earned increased visibility and garnered support.

Keeping the professionals informed proved vital.  When a firm wanted to quickly give a few thousand dollars to the science center, the staff asked the Radio Scouting Committee for a list of desired equipment.  The equipment was ordered and delivered in two weeks!  And the donor was happy with the donation timing for its tax purposes!

Ockanickon now has an attractive station used each summer and for JOTA, a team of multiple hams involved, a program to get staff members licensed, and the active support of the Council professional staff.  The future looks bright because we’ve kept it simple and focused on introducing Scouts to Amateur Radio.

Here are some lessons learned:

  1. You need a cadre of Scouter hams to provide impetus and long-term support. This is best done by creating a Council Radio Scouting Committee so it is not a one man show.To create a Radio Scouting committee simply contact all Radio Merit Badge counselors in the council and supplement them with volunteers from local Amateur Radio clubs. We created a Groups.io mailing list for Radio Scouting in the Council. This makes it easy to communicate, find necessary resources, and keep everyone informed about upcoming Radio Scouting activities.
  2. You need an appropriate station location for your Scout camp. The place needs to be secure, allow feed lines to enter the building, have trees to support a simple wire antenna, and be acceptable to your council staff.

To find such a location, have a Council professional walk around the property with you. They know the plans for the property, and you have the knowledge of what’s needed for an antenna.  If a dedicated room isn’t available, consider mounting the equipment in a lockable patrol box that can be opened to form a radio desk.

Explain how a permanent station will enhance their summer camp program, and how it can be used for Radio Merit Badge Days and JOTA activities off-season.  Increasing off-season use of a Scout camp is always a Council priority.

  1. Start small, especially with antennas. You do not need a big tower and beam to start. Your primary goal is not DXing but putting Scouts on the air to engage in 10-minute conversations to earn Radio Merit Badge.Since over 50% of the native English speakers in the world live in North America, a simple, multiband dipole erected high between two trees gives very good results.  And with the right conditions you can talk overseas for demos.

We have had great success with the Alpha Delta DXCC multiband dipole. It’s inexpensive, simple, very rugged, blends in, and just needs two high trees to throw support ropes over.

  1. Once you have a station location in the camp, you need equipment. Two ways to get it are donations from the local Amateur Radio community, or external funding. Asking for money to add “Wireless Technology Education” to your camps STEM offerings is one way.  This terminology instead of “Amateur Radio Station” increases your funding chances with many education-oriented grant programs.
  2. Your initial equipment needs will include:
    • A simple to use HF rig, ideally with an internal soundcard, such as an ICOM 7300
    • A 12-volt power supply
    • A window pass-through for your feedlines
    • Feed line
    • Lightning arrester
    • Ground rod.
  1. If you have a nearby repeater, a Two-meter FM rig and vertical antenna are useful. This can ensure that someone answers your Radio Merit Badge candidates even if HF propagation is poor. Let local hams know when to monitor the repeater for your Wireless Wednesday evenings in the summer.
  2. An inexpensive computer running Windows and a free logging program like Logger 32 is useful.  But also have a hard copy logbook for visiting hams to use if they are not familiar with the software.  Modern rigs like the ICOM 7300 have an internal sound card and can handle most digital modes with just a shielded USB cable connected to your computer.
  3. Having a nice QSL card adds pride and publicity. Include the camp and the K2BSA.org logos on it along with the line: “Help create the next generation Amateur Radio Operators through Scouting. See ww.k2bsa.net for details how!” Since your card is going across the nation, you might inspire others to put their local Scouts on the air!
  4. Ensure that feedlines and AC power lines are easily and always disconnected when the station is not actively being used. This prevents lightning damage or unauthorized use.
  5. Finally, since everything in Scouting needs a patch, we created one based on our QSL Card. “The Friends of K3OSR” patch is given to hams who travel to the station and put five Scouts on the air; answer ten Scouts at K3OSR from their home station; or help with repairs and improvements to the camp station.

We hope these ideas can help you get your own camp station operational and want to talk to your Scouts soon!

Check out K3OSR on qrz.com to see the current setup at our camp:



Gary Wilson, K2GW

Assistant District Commissioner

Mercer Area District

Washington Crossing Council, BSA