Lane Wilson has a habit of drawing attention to himself on camping trips.
While others are sitting by the fire, Wilson will climb a tree searching for a clear line of sight. “I’ll set an antenna 120 feet in a tree and people ask me how I get it up there.”
Wilson is president of the West Kootenay Amateur Radio Club, which according to its website has been running for more than 50 years. The club operates three two-way radio repeaters in Nelson, Crawford Bay and Slocan Ridge that offer coverage of Nelson, Castlegar, Kootenay Lake and north to Kaslo and Lardeau.
Little chatter happens over the radios. Instead, the network primarily serves as a backup in case of events such as storms that may knock out power. Search and rescue teams typically have their own networks, but Wilson said those are vulnerable due to their reliance on the internet.
“A lot of the typical radio networks are starting to employ more internet [and] telephone connections. If that doesn’t work, there will be some difficulties,” said Wilson.
Tha club’s network, however, is in need of upgrades. Wilson said Saturday the club is beginning to fundraise and apply for grants to cover an approximately $100,000 in repairs to failing equipment over the next five years.
Wilson said new batteries and solar panels are needed, and he wants the local network to expand its reach to Duncan Lake, Creston and Cranbrook. Currently operators can connect with people in the Okanagan, but Wilson said there are still technical difficulties that make broadcasts unreliable.
Wilson isn’t alone in his love for amateur radio, which has been practised since Guglielmo Marconi’s first radio transmission in 1901.
At Saturday’s meeting, members identified themselves with their own call signs, or individual transmitter signal designations — Wilson’s, for example, is VE7IHL. There are over 80,000 licensed call signs in Canada and over 822,000 in the United States, according to hamdata.com.
Wilson said the point of the radios is that they are there when all else fails.
“You have to practise this stuff so if an emergency comes, you will be prepared.”