60 years connecting Scouts – a glimpse behind the scenes.

BP knew….

The earliest documented involvement of Scouts with world-wide connections comes from the 1st Arundel Troop in Sussex, United Kingdom; they had their own amateur station “on the air” in 1911. The transmitter was of the spark variety and the 300-foot-long aerial used the local brewery chimney as a mast. The Troop had the call sign “XBS” and they had a receiving range of 800 miles.

Lord Baden-Powell’s comments were as follows – “Wireless has become a favourite hobby with boys of the right kind, and it is a valuable hobby for them, because it has a big future before it… I hope that Boy Scouts, at any rate, will make full use of this opportunity thus given them, and will by their good work and progress in efficiency repay such kind interest”. Little could he have known of what was to come…..

Jamboree On The Air (JOTA) starts in a snack bar.

In 1957, a World Scout Jamboree was held at Sutton Park in central England, with 35,000 Scouts from 62 countries attending. For the first time at any World Jamboree, local radio amateurs installed and operated a large radio station under the call sign GB3SP. Scouts and leaders were allowed to visit, as long as they stayed behind the little fence with the flower pots and kept the noise down.

Les Mitchel, G3BHK, (9 December 1923 – 6 October 2014), a British Scout leader at the time, writes: “I was very surprised by the number of overseas Scout radio amateurs attending the Jamboree and decided that some effort should be made to bring them all together. A notice in the Jamboree Newspaper resulted in daily coffee meetings during which we got to know each other and had a good rag chew. The meetings were actually held in a snack bar outside the Jamboree gate, as meeting in the GB3GP radio station would produce too much “background noise” for the operators.

Towards the end of the Jamboree we were all a little sad at our impending departure, and someone casually remarked that we might try to contact each other on the air. This then developed into the idea of trying to make contact on one specific day in order to concentrate our efforts, and I was asked to make the necessary arrangements”. Unknowingly, Les became the JOTA founding father.

On to the first JOTA event….

“When I subsequently gave this idea more detailed consideration”, writes Les, “there seemed to be a number of pitfalls. There were a few of us, and we were spread around the world.

Then the idea hit me – why not run the event for a whole weekend and ask all radio amateurs throughout the world with an interest in the Scout Movement to put their stations on the air and, at the same time, invite their local Scouts to join them. Visiting Scouts would be able to really take part themselves – thus adding much to the general interest. Even if the original “coffee meeting” Scout amateurs did fail to contact each other, it would not matter for there would be plenty of other Scout stations to talk to”. So, JOTA was born.

Then it got out of hand……

As the event continued to grow fast, the Boy Scouts World Bureau located in Ottawa, Canada at the time, was asked to help organize it. The director of administration, Leonard F Jarrett, VE3MYF, (31 March 1921- ) had some experience with radio and got the job. The event needed publicity and this was done using an annual participation card.

Len writes: “this first card was designed by a local volunteer as were, I believe, the next two. It was not until around 1961 that we started to “borrow” artwork from other JOTA organizers (notably Australia for a year or so, I believe). Later on, we started to ask various National Organizers to “volunteer” artwork”. Here are the roots of what is today the annual logo competition ! The event grew from a few hundred Scouts, to a few hundred-thousand Scouts and next to well over a million today.

JOTI joins

Just as you think you have seen it all, a new life-changing technology emerges, the Internet. Soon, local initiatives popped up that grew into a real Jamboree on the Internet, following the same concept that JOTA had used for decades. Gradually, more and more exchanges became possible over internet, that had not been there before. Combinations of internet possibilities with amateur radio to bridge long-distances soon emerged.

In 2013, the World Scout Committee decided to join JOTA and JOTI together into one big event. In fact, it is the largest annual youth event on the global calendar.

The future is open…..

The World JOTA-JOTI Team that coordinates the event, has set the first steps for a long-term outlook for the event. With elements that will focus on its educational value, its international character and its main task: “Connecting Scouts”. Join us next October.