Amateur radio society upgrading Smokey repeater

The amateur radio repeater Smokey north of Williams Lake will be receiving upgrades. - Photo submitted
The amateur radio repeater Smokey north of Williams Lake will be receiving upgrades.
— image credit: Photo submitted

The Smokey amateur radio repeater site located 15 kilometers north of Williams Lake is receiving some much-needed upgrades, said Cariboo Chilcotin Amateur Radio Society president Dr. Mike Smialowski.

“As soon as you drive west out of Williams Lake and go over the hill and underneath the telephone lines you have no cell service,” Smialowski said. “Last summer a person got lost south of Charlotte Lake and the only repeater that would get into the area was our amateur radio repeater.”

Funding for the equipment came from the Cariboo Regional District (CRD) in the amount of $1,500 and the Williams Lake Log Haulers Association who donated $2,500.

CRD Area F director Joan Sorley said the society received the grant because it is providing a service that is essential to emergency communications.

“It benefits the entire area, that’s why we contributed,” she said.

The new equipment on the communications rack consists of two new Yaesu Fusion DR-1X repeaters and an RLC club deluxe II repeater controller, Smialowski told the Tribune from his home in Tatlayoko Lake.

“The Fusion repeaters are state-of-the-art analogue and digital capable repeaters. The link controller will enable up to six communication links as well as a telephone interconnect with voice prompts.”

Smokey was chosen for the upgrade because it is the central hub of the communication network, Smailowski said, noting within the network there are 10 repeaters.

From the Smokey repeater, radio users can connect with repeaters at Potato East, Timothy, Lyme, Vedan, Puntzi, Little Kappan, Sapeye, Esler and Deer Ridge.

“So if someone in Charlotte Lake wants to talk to someone in Williams Lake, their radio signal will go to the repeater up on Little Kappan near Anahim Lake and that radio signal gets bounced to Puntzi, from Puntzi to Vedan, from Vedan to Smokey,” Smialowski explained. “Because the repeaters are up high they are in line of sight with the radios below them. The radio signals will travel a long way if all they have to go through is air.”

Similar to  party line on telephones, a radio operator who tunes into one repeater can hear conversations from all of the other repeaters, he added.

In the past, the society acquired older equipment from various agencies that society members fixed up and installed at sites in the region.

“It all has to be hauled out to wherever the site is and usually they are not easy to get to,” Smialowski said. “Then we have to build a little house or shack for it to go in. Along with bringing in cables, batteries and solar panels, it is a big job.”

Older equipment tends to break down, which is one of the reasons the society wanted to buy new equipment.

“If Smokey goes down, a lot of the network will go down as well, so that’s why we decided to attack it first,” he said.

Smialowski moved to Tatlayoko Lake in 2005 and worked as the area’s doctor up until he retired in 2014.

He has been involved with the amateur radio society ever since he arrived.

“One of our members is a retired technician who used to work with forestry and serviced all their repeaters in the area and another one is still working and is a radio technician for highways,” he said. “They are very knowledgeable about setting up and maintaining repeater systems.”

The society also maintains Central Cariboo Search and Rescue and West Chilcotin Search and Rescue’s radio repeaters, he said.

Cell phones have made a big dent into amateur radio because it is so easy to pick up a phone, however,  Smialowski said there are lots of areas that don’t have cell service and that is why the society puts a lot of work into maintaining the system.

A licensed amateur radio operator since 1990, Smialowski encourages anyone interested to take the exam to obtain their license or for more information check out the society’s website at

Amateur radio licenses are free to obtain and they are good for life with no yearly fee.

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