The Radio Club of America holds its annual awards dinner on Friday, returning to New York City (at the Park Central Hotel) after a one-year hiatus in Washington, D.C. I won’t be attending this year, because I am leaving on vacation the next day and couldn’t work out the logistics. This disappoints me greatly — I always enjoy the event and was looking forward to the musings of this year’s keynote speaker, Marty Cooper, the father of the cellular phone. Last year at this time, Cooper wrote a whimsical personal history of radio communications for a special RCA section we published that was as entertaining as it was informative.

I spoke today with industry gadfly Elaine Walsh, who toils as an RCA board member when she’s not beating the drum for Kenwood and the Enterprise Wireless Alliance, amongst others. Walsh told me that the RCA will announce during the dinner the first official fundraising effort in the organization’s history. A subcommittee to the RCA’s finance committee already has been formed for this purpose.

The reason is quite simple. The RCA’s scholarship program is self-funding, and its investments aren’t performing as they once did as a result of the economic downturn from which the country is slowly recovering. “We’re like a lot of non-profits in this regard,” Walsh said. Each year, the RCA doles out $1,000 to deserving students who are selected by the engineering faculties at their schools. There are about a dozen named scholarships and, in a nod to the economic times, the RCA last year increased the endowment threshold to $20,000 from $10,000, because the lesser amount wasn’t generating enough investment income to cover a scholarship.

Now, the RCA is ramping up the effort. The first step will be to shine a spotlight on the RCA’s longstanding effort to engage young people in communications technology via the scholarship program. “The RCA has done great work every year, but it hasn’t done a very good job of letting people know about it,” Walsh said. “We’ve been doing this in the dark.”

Walsh stressed that the RCA’s scholarship program has received a great deal of financial support over the years, for which it is grateful. It just needs more right now. “Anyone who has been thinking about how they can make a difference or has been wondering how to honor a departing employee, I have a suggestion for them — start a scholarship,” she said.

Some may look at the scholarship amount of $1,000 — in the context of a college education that ranges from $80,000 to $100,000 these days — and shrug their shoulders. That would be a mistake, Walsh said. “It’s not a full ride, it’s not even a huge amount, but it is very helpful. A thousand dollars can mean the world to a college student.”

I couldn’t agree more. Even though it has been three decades, I still remember vividly those nights when I would scrounge around my dorm room in search of whatever coins I could find so that I could buy a fast-food meal, because my duties at the university’s television center caused me to miss yet another dinner in the cafeteria. At 6-foot, 160 pounds, I couldn’t afford to miss many meals. As someone who worked his way through school, I would have been grateful for a couple hundred bucks.

So, even though times still are tough, consider writing a check to the RCA. Who knows? You might be making it possible for the next Marty Cooper to attend college. Wouldn’t that be something?

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.