Radio Merit Badge Counselor

Just got my official merit badge counselor card – I’m now an approved Boy Scouts of America merit badge counselor for the Radio Merit Badge!

Here’s an article from ARRL on teaching the Radio Merit Badge:

Larry Wolfgang, WR1B

Congratulations on being asked to teach the Radio Merit Badge for your local Troop. It can be a tall order, but also a lot of fun! First, be sure you have the latest requirements version. Either the latest Radio Merit Badge Pamphlet or a copy of the 1998 Requirements book will do. The MB Pamphlet has a lot of supporting information. (I assume you are a Scouter, and familiar with the BSA Merit Badge program.

I’ve been to two National Jamborees, where I served on the Radio Merit Badge staff, and at those two Jamborees, we’ve had over 500 total Scouts complete Radio Merit Badge. Can it be done? YES! Still, there are some tough spots. We use a hard-working team at the Jamborees, with each person covering a specific area of expertise. (And, of course, we work in shifts, so everyone has time to catch their breath and find a day to see what else is going on at the Jamboree!)

We typically divide the requirements into a couple of sections. “Theory” covers topics like how a radio works, propagation, the radio spectrum and so on. “Practical” covers components, test equipment, station grounding, etc. While the requirement to build something has been dropped, we still used a construction station as a final reward for completing all the requirements at the 97 Jamboree. The Scouts like to handle components, stuff a circuit board and learn to solder. That year we used a simple “blinky light” project, with a 555 timer and a coupled of LEDs, just for fun.

For the Broadcast Radio option, we try to coordinate with the “KBSA” broadcast station at the Jamboree. Some Scouts get to plan programs and go on the air. There is high demand for those on-the-air spots, though, so we try to steer them away from that. It is an option, however, and if a Scout really wants to learn about broadcast radio, they should be allowed to pursue that area. You may not want to cover that area, though, and may have to help them make contact with someone who can. (I would not feel qualified to teach that aspect of the Merit Badge.) At the Jamboree, we set up a Short-Wave listening area in our Merit Badge Midway tent. We supervise that area and provide evening listening hours. It is a popular option. For the ham radio option, we have directed them to the big K2BSA set up. In 97 the K2BSA demonstration staff was a great help in setting up “class times” for the merit badge, and taking the Scouts through those requirements. (As a side note, all the Radio Merit Badge Staff are part of the K2BSA staff, but we are dedicated to the Merit Badge Midway area. The rest of the K2BSA staff divides into shifts to keep the station going virtually around the clock. In 97, off duty operators put in the extra time to teach that part of the merit badge. Why do we have 40-some staff positions for Amateur Radio? We are busy, believe me!

Now some specifics. We prepare “flip charts” before the Jamboree. Each page of the flip chart outlines a topic to be covered, with drawings and short text explanations for the instructor to expand upon. This keeps people on track and focused on the material. There isn’t a lot of time to waste. You may actually have more time with the Scouts, but I still recommend something similar to help you stay focused. With the chart already done, you don’t have to take time writing and drawing on a board. (As a former teacher, I love to work on a blackboard or something similar, but the chart really works well.) While each staff member will vary the presentation a bit to suit their style, this also ensures that each of us covers the core material.

We usually have some components or materials to pass around to let the Scouts get their hands on something, and to examine it closely. This helps hold their attention.

After the “class presentation” we have the Scouts complete the written work and make drawings, then talk individually with a staff member to “explain,” “describe” or whatever else the requirement says. In other words, “sitting through my class doesn’t complete the requirements.” “The requirements tell you what you actually have to DO.”

I have also taught Radio Merit Badge at our local council’s “Merit-Badge-O-Ree.” This is a weekend campout with all day Saturday dedicated to various Merit Badges. It is sponsored by our local electric utility, and they allow us to use their training classroom facilities. Last fall another ham and I taught a morning and an afternoon course. It was really rushed, but about 20 or so Scouts completed the badge and some others earned partials. At that session, I taught the theory and practical parts, and the other ham (not a Scouter) taught the ham radio option. We did not cover either of the other two options. In that case, I prepared notes on overlays for an overhead projector. As I said earlier, being a teacher, I used the chalkboard for some explanations, but the overhead really made it go faster. Also for that, I developed a test with a variety of question types, such as fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, matching and short answer to test them on the material. By grading the tests, I could put a pass/fail criteria on their efforts to determine who earned the badge. I hope to develop that idea better for future use, and perhaps to streamline the process for the next National Jamboree.

I would recommend keeping the Merit Badge separate from a license class, unless you find out beforehand that all the Scouts who want Radio Merit Badge also want to earn a license. Use the Merit Badge to spark their interest and get them into a class. If it’s your local Troop, you may be able to set up a course over a longer time frame, and that would probably be more successful. Yes, we’ve also taught license classes and done testing at the Jamboree. At the last Jamboree we had classes during the day and in the evening, according to a schedule published at the start of the Jamboree. Students (yes there are quite a few adults take these classes) can attend any one of about three sessions that covered a specific section of material. That way if they couldn’t attend a particular class, it was easy to make it up. Again, we used a team. They had materials prepared ahead of time–for an overhead projector in this case–and used a variety of props.

My inclination is to use the ARRL Technician Video course for such a concentrated effort. The video is roughly 6 hours long, but you will need at least the same amount of additional time for discussion and to answer questions. Still, the “weekend cram course” is a reality with the video.

WOW! Is that enough? You had no idea what you were asking, did you? I hope I didn’t overload you with all this info. Really, it is intended to give you some ideas of what I have done when I’ve been involved with something similar, although on a rather larger scale, no doubt. I hope it is of some help. Good luck with the Scouts. And don’t forget to have FUN! I hope you will also be able to include a station, and do some demonstrations of various modes and on-the-air activities. Let me know how it works out.

Larry Wolfgang, WR1B
Senior Assistant Technical Editor