Radio Merit Badge Session a Big Hit

Earlier in the year, Jack, WT8N, my partner in the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum project suggested that we try to get more Scouts interested in ham radio. He looked up the requirements for the radio merit badge, and then we met with the program director, James McLellan, of the local council about holding a radio merit badge session.

2007 Radio Merit Badge Day Patch
Each of the hams participating got this cool patch from the Boy Scouts.
(Photo: Jeff Zupan W8SGZ).

The program director, James McLellan, was very enthusiastic about having us do this. Jack originally thought we’d do this at the museum, but McLellan suggested that we hold this event at Camp Munhackie, located about eight miles north of Chelsea, MI. He also suggested that we hold it on the last Saturday of March. This was a good date, he said, because later dates would conflict with the Scouts’ camping activities. McLellan also suggested that we set up a number of “activity stations,” each covering one or two of the merit badge requirements. These would all prove to be good suggestions.

For one thing, we did not anticipate the turnout that we would get. In fact, Jack was worried about getting anyone to show up at all. Well, about a month before the event, McLellan contacted us and said that 12 had already signed up. This number steadily increased over the course of the month. A week before the event, McLellan reported that 77 had pre-registered! It’s a good thing that we didn’t press to hold this at the museum. They don’t have the classroom space to handle that many kids and their parents and troop leaders. When all was said and done, McLellan had counted 105 Scouts who had checked in!

The suggestion to set up several “activity stations” was also a good one. This really worked out well, with the scouts going from one station to another. That way none of the stations was overloaded.

Jack decided that there should be five stations:

  1. This station covered merit badge requirements #1 and #2. The topics covered included basics of radio—including how radio waves are propagated—and callsigns. There was also an introduction to Morse Code, with three keys and a code practice oscillator available for the Scouts to play around with. Jack, WT8N, and George, K8GEO, manned this station.
  2. This station covered requirements #3 (the electromagnetic spectrum, DX vs. local signals, and the FCC) and requirement #4 (how radio waves carry information). Bruce, KD8APB, and Patrick, KD8DZB, were responsible for this station.
  3. This station cover requirements #5 (safety precautions) and #6 (schematic diagrams and electronic components). Glenda, N8KPL, and Steve, WB8WSF, set up and ran this station.
  4. This station covered requirement #7A, 5 and 6 (how to make emergency calls, HT vs base stations). Mark, KD8AOM, and Jeff, W8SGZ, were responsible for this station.
  5. This station covered requirements #7A, 1 through 4 (license requirements, Q signals, and actual QSOs), as well as requirement #8 (describing a typical amateur radio station).

I manned station #5 with Mark W8FSA. At our station, we had the club’s IC-746PRO connected to a 40m inverted-V antenna that we set up outside. We were lucky in that the lodge has big, screened windows. We were able to easily remove the screen and snake the coax out to the antenna. Also fortunate for us, 40m was in decent shape, and we made a bunch of contacts.

The lodge at Camp Munhackie
The lodge at Camp Munhackie was more than big enough to accomodate the 100+ Scouts and assorted parents and Scout leaders.
(Photo: Jeff Zupan W8SGZ).

Shortly after the antenna went up, I contacted NX2ND on CW on 7040 kHz. This station is aboard the USS Ling, sitting in the harbor of Secaucus, NJ. I took our working another special event station as a good sign. After I mentioned that I wanted to make sure that we could make phone contacts, the NX2ND operator, Howie, suggested that we both QSY. After a couple of minutes, we also worked on phone on 7232 kHz.

After that, Mark did most of the operating, and I was kept busy explaining things to the kids. I had made charts explaining some of the material, and I was really glad that I did so. There would have been no way that I could individually explain everything to the kids.

I was also kept busy signing the Scouts’ merit badge applications. Every requirement had to be dated and initialed on the forms. Then, after they had completed all of the requirements, Jack or I had to sign off on the form. This not only required two signatures, but also writing down our addresses and telephone numbers! I personally signed 62 of these applications.

This really was an overwhelming experience. For one thing, I never anticipated such a big turnout. For another, really was impressed with the scouts. They worked very earnestly on meeting all of the requirements, which were not easy. For example, they had to draw schematic symbols for three different components, and then match a real component with the schematic symbol. To meet each of the requirements, they had to do something similar.

They also asked very good questions, and I think some of them were genuinely interested in amateur radio. At the very least, we’ve given them a glimpse of what amateur radio is all about and hopefully sparked their interest.


  1. Steve Przepiora - KC2QXE says:

    Hello, I frequently read your blog and this post really peaked my interest as I have a couple of boys in scouting. I too would like to set something like this up. Besides the website listing the requirements can you give any suggestions?

  2. Ronny, KC5EES says:

    I was asked recently if I would lead a Scout Merit Badge event. Because I had no idea what it entailed, I volunteered to assist who had done it before. After reading your blog entry, I’m glad I didn’t say I’d run the event. Wow! You guys really worked hard on this. And it looks like the kids got a wonderful education out of it. Thanks for doing it right, rather than doing it quickly. I hope that you peaked the interest of many future hams. Great community service.

  3. Dan KB6NU says:

    Steve, the best advise I think that I could give is to “be prepared.” :) Honestly, get the Radio Merit Badge handbook, read about the requirements, and have all that information handy. Also, I’d have a station to actually make contacts. If it’s a small group, perhaps you could do it in your shack. If it’s a larger group, set up a portable station. Nothing hits home like actually making contacts.

    Ronny, don’t be deterred. It was a bit of work, but not too bad, especially if the group is smaller than the one we had and if you can get some friends to help out. There are a lot of materials available on the Net, and you can always call me or Jack for advice. :)

  4. Karena Myers, CC says:

    How often do you hold this type of event for Boy Scouts and when is the next?

    Also . . . I guess I should find out where you’re located. Many thanks.

  5. Dan KB6NU says:

    Hi, Karena–

    We’re in Ann Arbor, MI. The BSA council here is the Great Sauk Trail Council.

    This was our first go at doing this. I’m not sure how often we’ll do this in the future, but I can imagine this being an annual event.

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