The development of the Radio Merit Badge over the years is quite fascinating. The original merit badge was titled the Wireless Merit Badge and was introduced in 1918. We’ve been able to capture some of the covers from the National Scouting Museum archives in this slide show.
We’ve also posted some of the requirements taken from the same pamphlets. Note that the 1922 requirements included being able to receive Morse Code at 10 words per minute. The 1930 Radio Merit Badge lowered the requirement to 5 wpm. The code requirement was dropped completely in 1984 and three options were added to the requirements: amateur radio, broadcast radio, and shortwave listening. Click on the link below to see the requirements over the years.
The impact of these changes, along with the revised pamphlet, appears to have caused a renewed interest in the merit badge. In 1984 the number of Radio Merit Badges earned was less than 1,000. By 2010 that number had seen steady growth over the years to hit 7,000. A peak was achieved in 2013 at 7,208 and has dropped since that time. The low number earned in 2017, at 5,840, could be due in part to the new requirements that became effective in January 2017. The number in 2018 at 5,205 continued to show a drop but in 2019 increased to 5,519. With declining membership along with a pandemic, the numbers hit 3,550 in 2020 but showed an encouraging rebound in 2021 to 4,439.
Note that statistics were not available for 1974, 1975, and 1976. Click on the chart for a larger version.