Every year, around the third weekend in October, Scouting’s biggest on-air activities takes place. JOTA or the Jamboree on the air is an operating activity that gives Boy & Girls the opportunity to experience amateur radio and make connections world wide. JOTA also gives amateur radio operators the chance to ‘give back’ to their community and perhaps even recruit a new young ham to the fold.
One the amazing aspects of JOTA is the ability to share the common bond of Scouting with a world-wide audience. Since Scouting is a world movement, there are Scouting groups in just about every nation around the globe, it doesn’t take very long operating to find another Scout or Scouter on the other end of the ether. Scouts and Scouters, current and past are always willing to share their experience in the movement.
If you are currently or once involved with Scouting, think about sharing your ham shack for the day and getting some kids on the air. Scouting’s JOTA- Jamboree on the Air is October 16-18, 2015. Your participation in Jamboree on the Air can be as simple or elaborate as you choose.
The simplest and easiest way to get started with JOTA is a invite a Boy Scout troop, Cub Scout pack, or Girl Scout troop to your tour your ham station. If you are already connected or involved with a local troop, arranging a tour with your unit should be easy. Talk to the other adult leaders of a troop or pack and see if they are interested. Make sure you have ample space and have the ability to give every kid the chance to get on the air. If you aren’t volunteering with a Scout troop, talk to co-workers or see if your church or service group you belong to sponsor a Scouting group. They may be able to introduce you to the leaders in that troop.
If you shack is too small, a better idea may be to set up a field station in a local park or parking lot. Many troops meet at area churches, schools, or other public places, so they may have a parking lot that is suitable for a field station. A portable dipole, Buddipole, or vertical type antenna is all you need to get on the air. JOTA is a popular activity, so it doesn’t take a lot of power or a big antenna to score a few contact.
JOTA doesn’t have to be an elaborate affair, one year, my son’s troop scheduled a camp-out the same weekend as JOTA. This was a convenient opportunity to pack my gear and set up a portable station over the weekend. Firing up the ham radio on a Saturday afternoon as the other activities wore down and before dinner began, was perfect time to give a few kids the ability to experience ham radio. Using a homebrew version of the Buddipole, I was able to make a couple dozen contacts in the US and Western Europe.
You also don’t need an HF station and general class license to expose the Scouts to the wonders of ham radio. There are plenty of JOTA activities you can do with just an HT or on the VHF/UHF bands. Set up a schedule with some local hams and use the repeater to make some JOTA contacts. Or connect to a distant repeater using IRLP, Echolink, or D-STAR. You will certainly find some JOTA nets going on some of the popular reflectors.
Want to do something on a bigger scale for JOTA? How about a Fox Hunt? For a group JOTA activity our ham radio club created a Jamboree on the Air event for the local Council. As part of the activities, we hid a fox on the Scout camp grounds. It only takes a few minutes of instruction to show the kids how to use a handheld radio (transmit function locked out) and yagi antenna to find the fox. This kept a group of kids busy as the other group made their contacts.
JOTA is also a great opportunity to offer the Radio Merit Badge as part of the weekend’s activity. With a bit of prep work, you can offer a clinic or series of clinics for the Scouts to work towards completing the requirements with the final meeting being the JOTA event itself. Since the Scout needs to make a 10 minute QSO as part of the badge requirements, JOTA is a perfect event to provide that opportunity.
All of these activities will take some time and planning to be successful. So if you’ve never done a JOTA event before, start small and work your way up to a bigger event the next year. Getting your local radio club involved should provide ample manpower to make JOTA a success.
Working with kids
When working with kids, consider the age group and experience level. Cub Scout, Brownies, and younger Girl Scouts will be in the 7-10 age range. They will have a shorter attention span and will soon grow restless if not kept actively engaged. Consider breaking the entire pack into small groups of 5-7 and breaking the activities down into small 10-15 minute chunks. The younger kids can rotate through the activities so they stay attentive.
Boy Scout and older Girl Scout aged youth will be 11-17 years old and will be able to do longer and more complex tasks. Whereas I may not engage a Cub Scout aged youth in a 10 minute QSO, older Boy Scouts will definitely be able to carry with one.
Speaking of QSO’s, be prepared for mic. fright. Have a list of prepared questions that the kids can use in case they have nothing to stay. Common topics can include location, weather, if the other party is involved in Scouting, favorite Scouting activities, etc. Let the youth lead the conversation- if they run out of things to say, just have them say goodbye and move on to the next Scout.
have some backup activities planned. Scouts can get restless waiting for their turn on the radio. Provide some activity sheets, a small wireless project, or even a code keyer for the Scouts to play with while waiting. The older the kids are, the longer their attention span will be, so age appropriate activities will go a long way towards keeping their attention the entire time.
Finally, when working with Scouts, always remember the rules of safe Scouting. Scouts are encouraged to utilize the buddy system at all times, and adult leaders are not to be alone with Scouts. If you are inviting Scouts into your home, have another adult, preferably a Scouting leader, present at all times. Not only will a second adult offer a level of safety, but will be able to keep order with the group while you are working with the radio.
There are plenty of online resources to get started with JOTA. Remember, your JOTA activities can be as simple or detailed as you want. If you’ve never done a JOTA or worked with kids before, start small, and grow your activity as you get comfortable working with the Scouts.
JOTA- Jamboree on the Air Official Site
For ham radio operators in the USA, start out with the Boy Scouts of America’s official JOTA page. You’ll find plenty of resources, guidebooks, and supplies for your JOTA event. Don’t forget to register your station if you’ll be on the air- it will make it easier for other JOTA stations to find you.
ARRL’s Jota Page
The ARRL provides some excellent resources on operating a JOTA site, including what the third party traffic rules are for international contacts.
JOTA isn’t just confined to the US. Just as Scouting is a world-wide movement, JOTA also has international influence. Be sure to check out the World Scouting Movement’s JOTA page and JOTA/JOTI international website.
Radio Merit Badge
The Radio Merit Badge may be a Scout’s first foray into the hobby of amateur radio. Registering to become a merit badge counselor and possibly holding a merit badge clinic or instruction day along with your JOTA activities is a great way to get youth interested in ham radio and possibly taking the step towards getting their license. You can purchase Radio Merit Badge handbooks online or at your local Council service center. Also view the the requirements for completing the badge here.
I hope this gives you some ideas for getting involved with your local Scouting organization. I think that you’ll find that Jamboree on the Air is a very popular activity, and Scouting and ham radio are a natural fit. Are you, your Scouting troop, or amateur radio club doing any JOTA activities this year? Why not tell us your plans in the comments below.