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Scouting Jamboree on the Air (JOTA)

10/08/2009

October 17 and 18 will mark the 52nd worldwide Scouting Jamboree on the Air (JOTA). Held the third full weekend in October each year, this is the premier operating event for Amateur Radio and Scouting around the world.

You might ask, "What do Scouting and Amateur Radio have in common?" According to QEX Editor and Staff Liaison to the ARRL ad hoc Scouting Committee Larry Wolfgang, WR1B, both are worldwide activities, both have public service and good will as important basic principles, both emphasize continued learning of new skills and both are really about having fun, doing things you enjoy: "What better way to expose young people to the joys of Amateur Radio than to give them the opportunity to contact other youth who are also involved in the Scouting program?"

Wolfgang said he has been participating in JOTA since the late 1960s, but he still enjoys talking with other Scouts and Scout leaders. "I especially enjoy watching a Cub Scout, Boy Scout or Girl Scout timidly taking the microphone and start to talk with the operator on the other end of the radio waves," he said. "When it is another Scout at the other end, the thrill seems even greater."

Wolfgang said that in the US, there are the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) -- although girls over the age of 14 can participate in the BSA Venture program -- but in most of the rest of the world, both boys and girls participate in Scouting as part of the same organization. The Jamboree on the Air is sponsored by the World Organization of the Scout Movement, so in the US both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are invited to participate.

"Most Amateur Radio operators have an interest in learning about new technology," Wolfgang said, "and Scouts also love to see technology in action. I have found that there are two things most likely to grab a Scout's attention when they visit one of my Amateur Radio stations. Many people are surprised that the first thing is a Morse code key or paddle. They immediately want to touch it and ask how it works. I frequently connect a paddle to a keyer and lay out a printed copy of the Morse code. Then I encourage the Scouts to try sending their name. The smiles are endless when I repeat a name after a Scout sends it."

Wolfgang said that the second "sure attention grabber" is anything with a computer: "Set up an APRS station, with a map display including other stations, and the Scouts will swarm to learn what it does. Have a computer decoding Morse or copying PSK-31 or RTTY, with the audio in the background, and the Scouts are sure to want to know what is going on. Take a few digital photos and load them into your slow scan TV program, and then exchange JOTA pictures with another SSTV station."

Wolfgang points out that Jamboree on the Air is not about demonstrating "gee-whiz gadgets" -- JOTA is about getting Scouts on the air, hopefully talking with other Scouts around the country and around the world (keeping in mind third party traffic agreements). "Set up a station that includes some nifty technology, but don't just show it off. Get the Scouts to sit down in front of the radio and/or computer and make a contact! Allow them to tune the radio looking for other JOTA stations. Teach them to use the phonetic alphabet and have them call CQ. 'CQ JOTA, CQ JOTA, this is Whiskey Alfa One Bravo Sierra Alfa, WA1BSA, listening for any JOTA station." Show them how to click on a PSK-31 signal and answer the other station's call. Before you know it, they will have a pile-up going and you will have a group of Scouts with the biggest smiles you have ever seen!"

JOTA is a time to show off some of Amateur Radio's technology in a fun way. On October 17 and 18, AMSAT-NA will dedicate the AO-51 QRP repeater for JOTA use. "All users are requested to give way to JOTA stations or QSOs with JOTA stations," said AMSAT-NA Vice President of Operations Drew Glasbrenner, KO4MA. "The frequencies used for this weekend will be 145.880 FM uplink and 435.150 FM downlink, no CTCSS tone required. The mode change should occur at ~0000 UTC on October 17 (Friday evening in the US) and run for approximately 48 hours." Glasbrenner told the ARRL that Scouts are welcome to send reports to him; photo files up to 5 megabytes total are also welcome for possible inclusion in an upcoming AMSAT Journal article.

But while JOTA is primarily an Amateur Radio activity, there is still one thing you can do on JOTA weekend that involves Amateur Radio off the air: foxhunting! "Besides the usual shack visits and QSOs," said ARRL Amateur Radio Direction Finding Coordinator Joe Moell, K0OV, "why not add hidden transmitter hunting -- also called foxhunting -- to your club's JOTA activities this year? Help the kids discharge some of their youthful energy while they learn more about radio signals, antennas and VHF propagation." Moell said that they will come to understand how hams help find the sources of radio interference, how researchers track "tagged" wildlife and how rescuers, including many hams, locate downed aircraft. "Perhaps you will discover a Scout or two with the extra amount of RDF talent that could make him or her into an international champion at the competitive sport of Amateur Radio Direction Finding," he said. "It's easy to make equipment for transmitter tracking on the 2 meter band with a handheld transceiver or scanner; Scouts can even do it themselves!" Get more information in this ARDF Update about JOTA on the ARRL Web site.

What are you waiting for? Find a Cub Scout Pack, Boy Scout Troop or local Girl Scout group and invite them to your station for some JOTA operating. Better yet, find out where there will be a Camporee, Activity Day or other event where Scouts will be gathered, and volunteer to bring a station and set up Field Day style. "If you like Field Day," Wolfgang said, "you are going to love JOTA!"



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