by John L. Bartholomew, N7JY
Over the years my use of amateur radio has come in handy in a variety of situations, even ones that you would not ordinarily expect. Some of these can border on the bizarre.
One incident that comes to mind when I remember radio and the BSA (Boy Scouts of America) is the time that we had to "wire for sound" the scout who was to play the part of the chief during a ceremony that we did at a District Camporee.
Those of you who were scouts will probably recognize this situation, and may have been in one like this yourself. For the rest of you, some explanations are in order.
Each spring, the local group of Boy Scout troops get together for a camporee. For one weekend, about twenty-five or thirty troops will camp in one area, compete at scout skills, and generally have a good time. The main event is the Saturday evening campfire where awards are given for the best performance in these skill events, such as knot tying, fire building (sometimes without matches), knife and axe skills, and so forth. The final event of the campfire is the Order of the Arrow "calling out" ceremony.
The Order of the Arrow, or O.A. for short, is the honor camping society of the Boy Scouts of America. Their members are chosen largely by those who are NOT members of the O.A., which makes it rather unique in societies of this type. The members of the O.A. (often called Arrowmen) are those who are themselves skilled campers and who are willing to put aside their own advancements in order to help others.
(The big secret here is that by helping others, you are yourself gaining in knowledge and skill, and thus advancement comes easier, but don't tell the scouts that!)
Indian lore plays a big part in the O.A. and the calling out ceremony is done by what is called a "ritual team" or "rit-team" for short. This is the final event at the campfire, and the event is eagerly anticipated by everyone, most of all those who are hoping that they will be called out for induction into this honor society.
For weeks or months, there have been elections by secret ballot held in the individual troops, with only the O.A. and the troop scoutmaster knowing the results as to who will be called out. It is a time of great anticipation.
With this knowledge, let us proceed to the story.
On Saturday afternoon, we got word that the rit team was, for some reason or another, busy and would not show up at the camporee to conduct the call-out that evening. There are a lot of lines in the ceremony, and the spoken parts have to be memorized by those playing the parts. But the entire rit team had gone "on strike"; so we had to improvise.
Now some of the speaking parts are harder than others, but the chief has the hardest part of all, and the most lines. And the Arrowman who was called on to play that part didn't know them all. Not that he didn't try, because he did. But that wasn't good enough. So, ham radio to the rescue!
It so happened that there were several hams at the camporee, and three of us (Dean WA6KYC, John, KA6IJN and I, N7JY) came up with a plan. Most of us had our HT's available; and I had a lightweight headset and one of the other guys had an earphone. So the chief got the headset under his war bonnet, and one of the others on the rit-team got the earphone. Both of them had an HT on their belt, hidden under the clothing or regalia that they would wear.
At the back of the seating area, we had a table where the sound equipment was set up. When you get groups as large as ours, a PA system is really a big help, and that is one of the things that I did each year for awhile. The fellow who supplied the equipment on loan to me is also a ham (Dick, K6KCY). That's where our prompters set up their operations. What we did was to read the lines, one at a time over the radio, and the Arrowman would repeat them.
When the ceremony was opened up, everything worked fine. The earphone and the headphones were in place, no one could see them, and no one was the wiser in the audience.
But the scouts were afraid that the batteries would run down, and they would be left "alone" out in front of everyone, not knowing what to say. We had assured them that the batteries were fully charged (I'd put a fresh pack on my HT) and to just leave it on. Everything would be ok.
They turned the HT off.
Naturally, when they went back after the calling out of the names, we thought that they had left the radios alone as we had asked them to do. What had happened was that they had turned the HT's back on, but since they were squelched, they didn't know how loud to turn the volume and they got them way too loud! Ouch! Every time we would radio the lines to them, they would jump, especially the chief! It was so loud that others could hear the words, and some of the youngest scouts present were saying that it must be the Great Spirit telling the chief what to say!
But, we got through the campfire ok, and the ceremony worked out well enough, and as the campfire closed, everyone dispersed to their campsites.
We all had a pretty good laugh about it, because even though the Arrowman in question knew that he wasn't supposed to mess with the radio, he had done so anyway.
And occasionally I wonder if the words of the Great Spirit are still echoing in his ears today!
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