Another take on getting kids into amateur radio

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been swapping e-mail with a guy looking for some materials to help him get Boy Scouts interested in radio and in getting their ham licenses. He wrote:

I was wondering if you had thought about applying your approach used in “A No-Nonsense Amateur Radio Study Guide” to the Scout merit badge with the chance of getting a license during the JOTA [Jamboree on the Air] weekend.

Any thoughts on an approach that could be used on the “day” level that could help the scouts get enough licenses in a troop to experience the benefits’ of Ham Radio?

We need to come up with a program that will help 10- and 11- year-olds in Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and even high-school kids get licenses.

Unfortunately, most of my efforts along these lines have not been successful. I once did a “ham radio club” at a local middle school, but after a whole year, none of the kids got their licenses. I attribute this to the fact that the club met only once a week and I didn’t get a whole lot of support from the school or the kids’ parents.

I also suggested that someone come up with a study guide specifically for kids. My “No-Nonsense” study guides are pretty good for adults, but I don’t think they’re all that great for kids.  Nor are the one-day Tech classes I teach. I have had kids take the class and get their licenses, but in general, teens don’t do all that well in them.

Thinking about all this gave me another idea. Kids do seem to like the Elenco Snap Circuits kits. Perhaps we could come up with modules that could be used with those kits that would introduce kids to amateur radio specific and get them interested that way.  Any thoughts? Did those old, 100-in-1 kind of electronics kits that you used to buy from toy stores or Radio Shack have any projects that could be construed as ham radio projects?

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  1. This is been a subject of conversation both at my club and my area. And age-wise, we’re doing far better than the rest of the city. And I’m not bragging, I #@$%*& HATE typing that! One 15 year old and two guys in their mid-30s, myself included, is NOT GOOD!

    One thing we have talked about is using social media more. I now run the Facebook page and the Twitter account for the club. Another, related, is having a good web presence. Compare and (it’s almost an unfair comparison). Which do you think would appeal more to a younger person?

    Another item is the meetings themselves. Throughout the Cincinnati area, there’s been some good ideas, including moving the business meeting to the end of the meeting or on a separate night altogether. Nobody cares to sit through it. If you could hear our meetings, half of the normal business is motioned and seconded before the president is done talking about it because nobody cares to listen to it.

    A third issue is what happens when someone gets a license. With us, we do exams prior to the club meetings. But these new hams are generally not talked to during the meeting (part of it is that we sometimes don’t do a good job talking to them because we’re talking to our friends!)

    Like above, it’s worse once they go and do what everyone else does as soon as they get a license – they get an HT that runs 2 meters, find an evening after they’ve returned home from work, throw their callsign out there and……. crickets! Part of the problem is the beast we’ve created – most people (in our club, at least) go home and run HF. Some (like me) have family stuff (trust me, trying to get to the shack when you’ve got 3 kids is like trying to make gold from spit). Worse, about the only way to get someone on the repeater is to jump in on a round-table. For a new ham’s first time, that has got to be a nervous experience! I’ve even heard people say that they’ve heard people call out on the repeater and didn’t come back to them because “they didn’t know ‘em”.

    So anyway, sorry to write a novel, but being 33 and a ham for 21 years and going dormant for 20 of those 21 years because of some of the issues above… yeah, you kinda struck a cord. And this is a critically important topic, since if we don’t find and keep new hams, we’ll all just end up talking to ourselves. 73 de AC8JO

  2. We started a club in my son’s elementary school. This was spearheaded by Jim, WX8J, who is also a teacher there (music). So far we had only a couple kids get their license. We consider it successful. The thinking we had was to get them in and have fun. We did not try to get them to study for their license but show them all that hams can do. We had them talking on the radio the first day (3rd party of course). Over a few weeks they started asking their own questions about radio. They were asking to learn. It took a little longer and of the 15 (that is the cut off that was set when the club started. We started this during the school day. 40+ kids wanted to do it!) only 1 went to the 1 day cram course and passed his test. Everyone learned something and we may have more want to test later.
    On the scouting side……. Visit for scout radio information and tools. There is the new Icom radio loan program that could help. Fill out the application and have the Scout Exectutive of the council sign off on it and send it in. A complete station in a box shipped to you.
    Show the other forms of ham radio. We have video, text, analog and digital audio, QRP, Foxhunting and more. We always focus on “talking” on the radio ad nothing else. That is 1 part of our hobby. I am planning the ham radio operation for an event in the spring. I want as many different types of raio that I can get. The biggest item to plan is a balloon launch. I want at least an ATV and APRS payload. I want enough things that they will not see it all! To promote ham radio during the event I am having a ham walk around with an SSTV unit sending pics back to the main station. We will have our own Mars Rover too.

    The big thing to remember? HAVE FUN!!

    TNX & 73

  3. Dan KB6NU says:

    Thanks for your comments.

    In reviewing all the draft posts I’ve created and then never published, I found the page, “Teacher Resources for Amateur (Ham) Radio” by K8ZT. It’s a very nice compilation of links.

  4. Dan KB6NU says:

    I emailed Elenco with some of the ideas here, and Jerry Cecchin, Engineering Manager for Elenco Electronics replied:

    We don’t have an official development module kit, but we have some blank parts that make it easy for users to install their own parts. These are the 2-spring socket (6SCPY1), 3-spring socket (6SCPYQ), and 8-pin IC socket (6SCPYU8); these can be purchased online. We also have a document for drawing your own circuits with our modules.

    I don’t know of any amateur radio operators doing anything like you describe. You are encouraged to tell us about any ideas you have.

  5. Norm Goodkin says:

    Has anyone succeeded in creating a program for young amateurs? A local teacher and I got over 75 kids licensed at his middle school, but never succeeded in creating a program for them – all of them have since graduated high school. We had some small successes, like getting them to Field Day, some with parents, and forming a Radio Club at the High School. We got an ARRL grant for a station at the middle school, and locals donated equipment for a VHF/UHF and HF station for the high school. We even have a teacher at the school licensed and active. But we only ever heard five or six of our 75 on the air. Any ideas on how to get these kids involved in ARES or other service groups? The kids and parents are interested in using ham radio to provide community service – I just don’t know how to get that going for the kids. Every service group I know requires members to be over 18. Teen CERT? Venture Scouts? Any success stories out there?

  6. I have taught Radio merit badge twice (total of 50 Scouts), and the top three favorite activities were talking on the radio. It was OK if they could see the other party, they just wanted to talk on the radio.

    I recommend integrating radio with other activities. One local Venture crew allows groups to hike separately as long as they check in by radio every 15 minutes. Unlicensed Venturers can use FRS, licensed once can use ham HTs. Obviously, groups with a licensed operator can hike with greater separation.

    The new SAR merit badge is a great opportunity for using FRS or ham radios for groups.

    The Scouts also liked PSK31 — we talked to Tennessee and Ukraine on 3W.

    We didn’t do Morse and no one even asked about it. I know that some hams love Morse, but it doesn’t attract youth.

  7. I would like to know if I can use your blog post in the next issue of my clubs newsletter Short Skip?

  8. Dan KB6NU says:

    Ben, I’ve e-mailed you a version more suitable for your newsletter. If you aren’t already signed up for my monthly column, please feel free to do so.

  9. I am a youth amateur radio operator myself. I took a two-weekend class with a handful of scouts, and we all got our licenses, but one year later, the class had the same amount of kids and only one got his license. The thing is, it matters on the age group of the kids. Kids under 11 may not be able to get it as kids 12 and above. There is a study guide for the class I took at and it helped me a lot when I took the test at the age of 12!

    Also, introduce kids into the Youth in Amateur Radio Podcast. We work on giving people advice on getting their license. You can find the podcast at

    If you know kids need any help with any of the license studies, have them contact me and I’ll be happy to help!

    Joe KD0LOS

  10. Chris KB3UNA says:

    I have been a ham for about 4 years now and I am currently 18. The thing that i have found hard when it comes to having Teenagers participate in ham is the fact that they don’t care how it works or why it works. Most people think oh Ham radio I can do all of that with my cellphone. The way I have come to appreciate ham radio Is through W3OK. We participated in a MS Bike Race called the Black Bear through The state Parks of Eastern NJ. These areas usually have Terrible or no cell reception so these “cell phones could not do the job. Also to add this area Is Very mountainous so we had to have a ham at one location on top of a mountain to relay local messages to the start of the race almost 60 miles away back to net control at the start/ finish line. The best part of this event was the fact that we had aprs That was also beaconed back to net control. They were able to see just about all SAG units locations. This part of ham being able to volunteer to help out for a good cause. During this event we were able to help downed bikers along the route we were able to see the progress of the race and we even had to help A biker who had a heart attack during the race Using our APRS beaconing Net control was able to pinpoint our location and relay that back to the 911 center so they could reach the down person.
    It’s all about the practical uses being able to help out when people need it. If you really want kids to get involved, participating in an event like this and bringing them out to see what really happens in an event like this. Show them the technology that is used to keep in touch.

  11. I’m taking a different tactic, and hopefully it will result in more young people licensed and operating. If not.. Well, just read along.
    Three of my grandchildren (ages 6-12) live with us, and I’m constantly looking for ways to keep them educated and entertained. After I passed my technician exam in September, I began looking for ways to help them get engaged in AR. I got excited when I saw a YouTube video from Todd Harrison (KF7NBI), titled “Rescue the Easter Bunny – Ham Radio Fox Hunting for Beginners”, and immediately purchased a micro-fox and a couple HTs. The grands and I conducted our “proof of concept” bunny hunt in December (brrr), and we demonstrated that with only an HT and perhaps a pigtail, young people can indeed track down a transmitter (you can view our YouTube videos on our FaceBook page, below). Sure, Yagis and attenuators HELP, but they’re not entirely NECESSARY for RDF. So we formed “The Bunny Rescue Squad”, placed lots of information for young people out on FaceBook in our TBRS group space, and will begin conducting our bunny hunts (public warmly welcomed) in the next couple weeks. I’ve also convinced one of the ARCs where I’m a member to conduct Kids Day activities at historic Fort Washington Park on June 21st this year, where I’ll unveil a standing RDF event I’ve invented, titled “Show Me The Bunny” (everyone steps into a ring with an HT and attempts to directionally pinpoint numerous transmitters located in club members’ houses, .5 to 4 miles away; more points for closer guesses). Our club is advertising the Kids Day event through a postcard mailing to all area hams, and by posting on nearby store/restaurant “community bulletin boards”.
    As a result of all this interest and activity, I know at least five young people studying for their technician exams at our church (NONE of which are my grandkids!), and a large number of parents who are watching to see how successful we become. Will all this activity generate any younger licensed amateurs? Not sure, but I am certain it WILL accomplish the following:
    1. Increase general public awareness in the sport and utility of AR,
    2. Place HTs into the hands of younger people to – literally – play with,
    3. Remind everyone that amateur radio is not confined to any particular age or ethnic group.
    In summary, I truly don’t approach this with a goal of “creating more licensed young people”. I approach this as a means to pour some of my knowledge and enjoyment into our younger generations (like mentoring and apprenticeships). At that, I’m absolutely certain we’ll be a tremendous success!
    Please check us out on FaceBook! Thanks!

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