Radio and Scouts

Throughout the month of October, Scout Troop 164 of Quartz Hill was introduced to the world of amateur radio.  I’m Bud Turner (N1ROE) and I’m an AVARC Member, Scouts BSA Assistant Scoutmaster and Radio Merit Badge Counselor.   Throughout the month, I was assisted by Antelope Valley Amateur Radio Club (AVARC) members Brian Basura (N6CVO), Loretta Smalls (AJ6HO), and Betsy Haslett (AJ6AF) as we presented the Scouts with all things RF.  From base stations to HT’s, WSPR to 100 watts, HF to microwaves, and SSB phone to WINLINK, the boys of Troop 164 got to experience a wide range of what amateur radio has to offer.

Troop 164 meets Monday nights in Quartz Hill and the AVARC team was able to bring their equipment and set up right at their meetings.

Monday, October 2 was the first evening.  I gave a presentation on the basics of radio communications as described in the Radio Merit Badge booklet.  My talk covered topics such as the differences between broadcast and amateur radio, radio waves and how they travel, the electromagnetic spectrum, the different services between 200 kHz and 3000 MHz, modulation (AM, FM, CW and digital) and block vs. schematic diagrams.

Afterwards, the boys got to see my old Heathkit tube radio along with some QSO cards that I had on display.  They also got practical experience with Loretta’s CW equipment trying their hand at sending and receiving morse code.  Brian showed off his ARES go-kit which included VHF/UHF voice and digital capabilities, while I demonstrated how VHF/UHF repeaters work using my HT.  Many of the Scouts remained after their meeting to watch me attempt a contact with other amateurs via the satellite repeater on the International Space Station (ISS) using my HT and Arrow yagi antenna.

The following Monday I continued my discussion to include the role of the FCC, the phonetic alphabet and expanded on propagation of HF radio waves.  Our focus being on HF, Brian brought his muti-band QRP transmitter kits.  He got on-the-air with a 20-meter WSPR rig and the boys were able to track the real-time propagation right on their smart devices.  Loretta went to the other end of the spectrum by demonstrating microwave communications with her 10 GHz signal generator that she nicknamed the “Armadilla.”

I used that evening as a shakedown to test my Jamboree-On-The-Air station.  I set up my Yaesu FTDX10 HF rig fed into the ARRL EFHW antenna home-made kit which I strung between the building and a street light in the parking lot.  My battery worked well but since it was after sunset, I wasn’t able to use the solar panels so I just used my power supply plugged into an outlet on the side of the building.  Several of the boys were able to make a few contacts but we were limited on time.

Troop 164 had its annual recruitment night the following Monday so we skipped that night which gave me time to get ready for Jamboree-on-the-Air!

Jamboree-on-the-Air

Jamboree-on-the-Air (JOTA) is held every year on the third full weekend of October.  This year the event was from October 20 through October 22, 2023.  With the support of Troop 164, I decided to host my first JOTA station on Saturday, October 22nd at the Forrest E. Hull Park, also known as the “Dog Park”, across from Paraclete High School in Lancaster on 30th Street West between West Ave L-8 and West Ave M.

The station was advertised to all the scout troops in the Antelope Valley District of the Western Los Angeles County Council (WLACC.)  I arrived at the park at 7:30 am and was pleased to see Carol (KE6OZX) our troop’s committee chair.  With her help we got to work setting up the station.

First, I used my drone to fly the guy lines (nylon fishing line) up and over some trees and then hoisted my EFHW antenna about 20 feet up.  Carol got the ground anchors drilled into the grass and I secured the guy lines with some orange paracord for visibility using a bowline and tautline hitch.  The light wind moving the trees pulled my hitch loose so I opted for my Nite Ize Figure 9 carabiner which did the trick. I used my Rig Expert antenna analyzer and checked the SWR of the antenna.  I can’t say enough good things about the EFHW antenna kit sold on the ARRL website.  This antenna performs great across 10, 15, 20 and 40 meters.

Next, we got the folding table in place and set up the radio, Bioenno 120 watt folding solar panel and LifePo4 battery in a Powerwerx portable battery box.  We were able to set up in the shade of a tree and had enough wire to keep the solar panel in the sun.

Finally, we got the feedline connected to the antenna and plugged the radio into the battery box.  The solar charge controller was showing good current so I turned the radio on and the 3-D spectrum scope on the display lit up with signals all over the 10-meter band!

Brian arrived shortly before we were ready to kick off at 9:00 am.  He was instrumental in managing the solar panel throughout the day as we moved the table and chased the shade around the tree.  He also engaged several of the scouts with questions and, this being my first field exercise, provided valuable feedback regarding the station operation.

Scouts were already starting to show up so I put them to work setting up chairs and browsing my QSO card binder while I got the radio dialed in and started looking for contacts.

Once the radio was tuned up, I put a Scout in the “hot seat” and had him reach out to a JOTA station in Michigan calling CQ.  Our first contact of the day!

From our location in Southern California to Washington, Maine, Alabama and over a dozen states in-between, we made contacts all across North America.  As the propagation changed and we moved to 20 meters we contacted several stations in Canada and even made a few DX contacts in Bogota, Columbia and Tokyo, Japan.

I tried to keep my transmissions to a minimum, making sure the Scouts operated the radio and did most of the talking.  They changed bands, spun the VFO dial when changing frequencies, called CQ, answered calls, and engaged with other Hams and Scouts operating JOTA stations of their own.

We took a short break for lunch (thanks again to Carol for Chipotle) but the alarm on my watch reminded me of an ISS pass coming up.  Scouts listened in as I made three contacts via the ISS repeater using my HT and Arrow antenna.

The final contact of the day was made by Noah, one of the Troop’s newest Scouts.  His family is from England and his father is stationed here at Edwards AFB for three years.  Noah was able to contact Christopher (VE5CJB) in Saskatchewan who just happens to be from the U.K.!  Noah’s eyes lit up when VE5CJB told him that he hailed from Noah’s home QTH.  I introduced Noah to QSO cards and had him fill one out to send to Canada.

In all, it was a very successful first-run at JOTA in the Mohave Desert.  By the end of the day, we had 13 Scouts from three different Troops visit the station.  We operated on VHF, UHF, HF (10, 15 and 20 meters) and the Scouts were able to hold dozens of QSO’s with other Scouts around the country and around the world.  In total we logged 34 different stations.

Final Meeting

The following Monday was our last evening at the Troop’s regular meetings.  I reported to the rest of the Scouts about our successes at JOTA and then turned the floor over to Brian.  As the Assistant DEC of the High Desert Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), Brian gave the Scouts an overview of how amateur radio is charged with providing emergency communications during times of need.  Afterwards, Brian and Loretta provided the Scouts with a WINLINK demonstration and I briefly showed the APRS capabilities of my HT.  At the end of the evening, the boys were introduced to formal emergency comms as Betsy checked into the Los Angeles County Disaster Communications Service (DCS) net.

I’d like to personally thank Brian, Loretta, Betsy, and Carol for their support in bringing amateur radio to the Scouts of Troop 164.  I hope to plan more events in the future and will definitely be hosting another JOTA station next October.  Since we finished our introduction to radio, I’ve had three Scouts ask me to be their Radio Merit Badge counselor and one has already earned his badge!

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