Amateur radio operators: Wear your smarts on your sleeve


With apologies to the Buggles, I’m happy to report that the radio star is alive and well.

Well, the ham radio star, at least. And now the BSA offers a special patch for licensed aficionados of amateur radio. The Amateur Radio Operator Rating Strip, above, shows others that you’re available for communication services for events, like Jamboree on the Air, and emergencies.

The requirements for the strip couldn’t be simpler: You must be a registered youth or adult member with a valid amateur radio license, of any class, issued by the Federal Communications Commission, known to you and me as the FCC.

That’s it. If you’re eligible, grab the $1.59 strip (Supply No. 617431) from the Boy Scout Supply Group at 800-­323-­0736 or The strip’s release date is Feb. 15, and you can’t preorder it. So mark your calendars to fire off an order the day after Valentine’s Day.

Amateur radio speak might be a foreign language to some, but this isn’t an interpreter strip and doesn’t go above the right pocket. Instead, sew the Amateur Radio Operator Rating Strip on your right sleeve, below the U.S. flag, patrol/den emblem, and a unit award, if you have one.

Radio communication isn’t new to Scouting, says Jim Wilson (K5ND), communications services director at the BSA. He shared some historical perspective with me this morning.

“Amateur radio has long been part of the STEM initiatives within Scouting, starting with the Wireless Merit Badge in 1914 and moving to the Radio Merit Badge in 1924,” Wilson says. “Nearly 100 years later, we now have the Amateur Radio Operator Rating Strip.”

Getting the strip is a no-brainer for anyone who already holds a valid amateur radio license, but Wilson is dreaming big. 

“The strip provides Scouts the motivation to move on from Radio merit badge to pass their amateur radio license exam and sew this patch onto their uniform, signifying their expertise and availability to serve communication needs within Scouting and their community,” he says.

In other words, things are looking good for the next generation of ham radio stars.

Looking Back and Abroad

Australia's amateur radio badge.

This rating strip is similar to the Amateur Radio Operator Badge offered as a proficiency badge by Scouts Australia (seen at right) as well as the recently introduced badge by Scouting Netherlands.

It follows in the footsteps of the Scout Radioman personal interest badge for Senior Scouts and Explorer Scouts that was offered by the Boy Scouts of America in the 1940s.

Related Posts

BSA dials in sponsorship deal with Icom America for amateur radio stations

Amateur radio fans: Have a Field Day!

Far out! Jamboree on the Air event crosses the final frontier

Radio-active JOTA participation reaches new heights

What Do You Think?

Are you getting this strip? How will you encourage Scouts in your pack, troop, team, or crew to go for it? Leave a comment below.

40 thoughts on “Amateur radio operators: Wear your smarts on your sleeve

  1. Thanks for bringing attention to this new patch, Bryan. Boy Scouts introduced me to ham radio back in 1981, on my first campout. I got licensed a few years later, and to this day remain active in the hobby.

    Thanks also for your recent coverage of Jamboree on the Air. You’re doing a great service to Scouting and the Amateur Radio service by promoting these opportunities.

    Deerfield, IL

  2. How far down on the right sleeve do adult scouters where the strip since we do not have patrol medallions to help us determine proper placement.

    • This is my interpretation of the guide and the information sheet announcing it. It notes the position of the new rating strip is for position 3 or 4. Let’s define position 1 = US flag, position 2 = patrol emblem, position 3 = quality unit award and position 4 as the position immediately below the position 3 patch. Place it in position 3 if no quality unit award is worn. If all you have on the right sleeve is the flag and no other patch then make room and leave a gap as if you would later add a patrol emblem and place the strip in position 3 as it would appear if a patrol emblem were sitting in its place.

  3. Can anyone suggest the best way to go about getting a HAM license? Both my son’s and I are interested, but I don’t know where to begin. I’m sure I can find a local group, but is there some type of study guide or something to go by?

      • What are the Fee’s for testing/licensing. I used to love CB’s and still do…too bad the uncouth and uncultured took over. Now it’s all f this and gd that. I don’t use that language and don’t want my kids to learn it. Maybe this way I can get back on the air without dealing with the rude and obnoxious.

    • One Technician class study guide which is very “youth-friendly” is the “Technician License Course” manual from This guide is written by ham/Scouter Stu Turner, W0STU, who wrote the August 2011 QST article: GeoFox Radiosport Rally” (page 58), highlighting the ham radio activities of a Scout troop in Colorado.

    • Not knowing your or your sons’ range of knowledge, it is hard to tell you where to start but here are a few thoughts:

      As a suggestion, try to find a local club and talk to a volunteer examiner., You will usually find a person or persons (some clubs have several volunteer examiners) that will not only help you with exam questions but clubs often have hand-me-down books that are still current enough to be useful, Depending on the closeness of a club, this may be the fastest way to get info and get going with a ham license. The importance of a volunteer examiner is that you don’t have to go to an FCC field office or some scheduled location for the exam as was done in the past.

      Clubs will also have suggestions for first station equipment Some club members may either have some equipment that they would not mind loaning for a quick start or they may know some ham or company that has equipment for sale. Also, read reviews of older radios. Many radios that are 20 and 30 years old are still very functional.

      There are a few companies that still offer kits where building experience is something to brag about and, usually, as a result you have a radio that you understand and know how to keep working. There are some that are very affordable while others rival the price of a modern transceiver and also have comparable features and capabilities. There are many who started with kits such as Heathkits and they are still out there, for sale.

      I got interested in Ham Radio with an early 50’s copy of Radio and TV Experimenter. However, in the late 50’s, I bought a Boys Life magazine while living in Brazil and built a plug-in coil, regenerative receiver. This is what gave me the desire to build kits. Kit building is great for learning how radio communications works and you can download some PDF files for transceivers on the market that are great about teaching how the radio works, how to put it on the air and even to how to build the antenna for the radio. Just picking up an old Heathkit transceiver manual and reading the section about how the radio works is great for the beginning and more advanced learner.

      It is great to hear about youngsters (including you?) who want to get into Ham Radio. It is the foundation for experience that you often find in the background of many good electrical/electronic engineers and is a fun hobby for life.

      Bob KK5R

    • Scott, send me an email and I will be glad to help you with obtaining a ham license. I am now hosting a Scout-focused Technician class training program – consisting of self-paced self-study and a one-day class prior to taking the exam. I’d love to have you and your sons join our class.

  4. Venturing Crew 80, call sign W3BSA, I’m sure will be purchasing a bulk order of these to present to our Crew members as they pass their Technician class Amateur Radio License exam and become FCC Licensed Amateur Radio Operators. This is one additional thing we can do to encourage interested young men and ladies, since we are a co-ed Crew, to get their licenses.

  5. This is great. In order to keep amateur radio strong for future generations, more needs to be done to introduce kids to the hobby. This is a step in the right direction.

  6. I’ve been a licensed “HAM” (Amateur Radio Operator) callsign KA6FLF for more than 35 years. I’ve been involved with Search & Rescue, Emergency & Tactical Communications, etc. and even relaxed talking to HAMs in another country. This is indeed a very diverse hobby and this HAM is only too happy to help or never to busy to answer a question asked by a Scout… A very 73…

  7. Pingback: Amateur Radio Operator Rating Strip Introduced | Scout Wire

  8. It is a great initiative. It remains a challenge to get young people interested in ham radio, and even more difficult to keep them involved and active. The US is fortunate in probably having the largest ham population of any country. In South Africa not many Scout groups are actively involved in ham radio, but during the recent Senior Scout Adventure in the Cederberg (mountain range in South Africa), a special ham radio programme was presented by the South Africa Radio League.

    I am involved with the Voortrekkers, another youth organisation, and we are also actively promoting ham radio amongst young people. Keep up the good work! 73 from South Africa, the Scouts and Voortrekkers.

  9. Pingback: Amateur radio operators: Wear your smarts on your sleeve « KH6JRM's Amateur Radio Blog

  10. Great news for Scouts/Scouters and hams. This – along with the Morse interpreter strip – just adds to the “presence” hams are getting in Scouts now. BTW – I saw somewhere about the explosion of Radio MB over the last five years. I swear I saw something like 40k + awarded last eyar. If that’s true; ham radio might get the boost it needs to proliferate in the 2010’s! 73’s – Dave, W9DPY – ASM T365 Round Rock, TX

  11. I called their phone number. they stated it will be on the website Monday. However, it is available for phone orders now. 1-800-323-0736

  12. This is very cool…glad to see Ham Radio making a comeback in Scouting..This and the morse interpreter strip is a nice recognition for the effort of scouts becoming hams. I am an old time Boys Life Radio Club Member from back in the 50’s and 60’s. It would be nice to revive that club..
    I notices that Radio is not one of the badges tied in with the NOVA awards…too bad, lots of science and physics associated with the Radio badge

      • Hi Jim…thanks for the update….
        When our radio club sponsored a JOTA station for a local troop a couple of years ago I had a 100 of those cards printed up along with the original BLRC membership certificate. We had the kids fill the cards out and send them to the stations we contacted and gave each kid a certificate. Here’s what was really cool…it was troop 599

        • I would think that obtaining a Technician Class Amateur Radio license would be a measure of credit for a NOVA award. de K9XT

  13. Hi Brian, the Radio Merit Badge offers three options: amateur radio, broadcast radio, and shortwave listening. So, we already have an amateur radio merit badge.

    Jim, K5ND

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