Effective Communication

Communications men, US Navy WWII Pacific Theater
Communications men, US Navy WWII Pacific Theater

In almost every broadcast company I have ever worked for, there is always some communications dysfunction between management and the technical staff. It is perhaps, inevitable given the different cultures. Most managers come from a sales background, where everything is negotiable. The engineering field is fixed in the physical world, where everything has two states; right/wrong, on/off, true/false, functional/non-functional, etc.  Try to negotiate with a non-functional transmitter, let me know how that works.

Engineering eggheads often couch their conversations in technical terms which tend to confuse the uninitiated.  While those terms are technically correct, if I said “Радио генератор инвалида.”  You’d say “Huh?” and rightly so.   If the receiving  party does not understand the terms used, it is ineffective communication.

The other mistake I often see, which irritates me beyond reason, is long rambling e-mails or other documents that fail to come to the point, directly or otherwise.  Time is a precious commodity, waisting other people’s time with long needless diatribes is ineffective communications.  Likely, the recipient will not read the entire thing anyway.  If a person gains a reputation for generating huge amounts of superfluous verbiage, then it only becomes so much background noise to be filtered out.  When I was in the service, I went to a class called “Message Drafting.”  This was back in the day when everything was sent via radio.  The gist is to get the complete idea across to the recipient with as few words as possible.  Think: “ENEMY ON ISLAND. ISSUE IN DOUBT.”  Clear and concise, six words paints the picture.

The key to effective communications is to know your audience.  If you are writing a white paper for a bunch of MIT graduates, use all the appropriate technical terms.  More often than not, however, as a broadcast engineer, our intended audience is more likely station management and/or ownership.  Their backgrounds may be sales and finance.

In order to get those technical ideas into the heads that matter, a good method is to use the lowest common denominator.  If the general manager is a former used car salesman, car analogies might work.  The transmitter has 200,000 miles on it, the tower is rusting out like a ’72 Pinto, and so on.  Almost anything at a transmitter site can be compared to a vehicle in some way.  Find out what the manager’s background is then figure out what language he or she speaks and use it.  You may say, “But he is the manager, it is up to him (or her) to understand this stuff.”  You are not incorrect, but that is not how the world works.

Secondly, use brevity in communications.  Managers are busy, engineering is but one aspect of the radio station’s operations.  If written, provide a summary first, then expound upon it in follow up paragraphs if required.  If you are in a meeting, give a brief presentation then wait for questions.  Always have a high ballpark figure in mind when the inevitable “How much?” question comes along.

Don’t assume that the manager will follow through with your ideas up the chain of command, always follow up a few days later.  If it is important, continue to ask, in a friendly way, if there is any progress on the issue.

There are so many ways to communicate these days that failure to communicate is almost unfathomable.  One additional thought, if you find yourself out of the loop, find a way to get back in or you’ll find yourself looking for a new job.

AM HD update and other ideas

Looks like the AM HD Radio™ juggernaut continues… To sink under it’s own technical faults that is. According to the list the number of AM stations running IBOC in the US is now down to 233 stations from a high water mark of 290 or so.  That represents a total of  just 4.8% (233 IBOC/4782 Total stations) of all US AM radio stations.  On a related note, Bob Savage of WYSL 1040, Rochester, NY has a good idea:

I’ve always said – if you want to see surprising new life in the AM band, s**t-can the stupid irrelevant NRSC pre-emphasis filter and allow stations to run to 15 kHz during daylight hours and 10 kHz nighttime.  Mandate C-QUAM in all receiver and receiver devices.

It will sound better than HD, be more robust, and cause far fewer problems.  Plus it wouldn’t obsolete a single radio out there, while making a whole bunch of them sound a whole bunch better.

It is so simple in concept, so easy to implement, with almost no expense to AM stations.  Again, Mr. Savage:

Most software-based processors have com ports which can be addressed by a remote control system like Sine Systems, so when the power gets reduced at evening pattern change, the bandpass can be changed at the same time…..vice-versa at sunup.  No biggie.

For older setups a simple outboard relay and rolloff network could accomplish the same thing.  It’s a little more complex but again, not a big deal.

Wow.  Facepalm.

Wish somebody had though of that a few years ago, it might have save several million dollars and we’d have a different AM band today.

There are a few shoe horned AM stations around here that might be adversely effected by 15 KHz daytime bandwidth, but those are few and far between.  By and large, most stations are spaced correctly where this could really work and work well.  It certainly would not generate the chaos that AM HD Radio™ has.

Top ten free Android apps that every broadcast engineer needs

I have been using my Android phone for about 7 months now.  During that period of time, I have found many useful applications and some not so useful ones.  This is a great time saver for technical people.  This list is by no means complete, I did not include any manufacturing or supplier applications like Digikey.  These are tools for the most part.  They are the applications that I have found that have made my life easier.  I focused on the free applications rather than endorse any paid applications.

This is a list of apps that I found most useful for radio engineering:

  1. VNC Android. Great remote computer control application that will work with almost any version of VNC server.   For logging into servers and workstations to fix things remotely, great time/sleep/gas saver.
  2. ElectroDroid. App has many electrical engineering calculators; Reactance, voltage divider, resistor ratio, resistor series-parallel, capacitor charge, ohm’s law, resistor of LED, LM317, voltage drop, and battery life.  Also includes resistor color codes, SMD resistor color codes, inductor color codes, various pin outs, wire ampacity tables.
  3. Metrics Converter.  A general units converter for metric to standard measurements.
  4. WiFi Analyzer.  Cool application that has a WiFi spectrum analyzer, shows all WiFi channels, signal strengths and router name.  Can show an * for open networks.
  5. Kreac Calculator. A full featured scentific calculator, includes all trig functions, roots, pi, log, e, ln, 1/x, etc.  Very handy for some quick figuring on the fly.
  6. RecForge audio recorder.  Can record .wav, .mp3 or .ogg in 8,11,22 or 44 KHz mono or stereo.  The audio can be stored in different folders and emailed.  Great for quick recordings that can be emailed back to the news room or studio.  Sound quality is as good as the microphone on the device.  My HTC mic sounds pretty good.
  7. Google maps.  Great for finding things, satellite views, etc. Use Itouchmap via web browser to find coordinates of a location by taping a map.
  8. Flashlight.  Self explanatory, three levels, good for emergency use, but I’d not use it regularly as a work light, it runs the battery down too quickly.
  9. Audalyzer.  Small audio analyzer that works pretty well.  If something more is needed, professional versions are available for around $5.00.
  10. Radar now.  Uses GPS location to generate moving weather radar picture.  This has come in handy when doing tower work during thunderstorm season.  Good for pulling tower crews or reassuring tower crews as needed.

Those are the free apps, there are many, many more available from the app store.  As far as iPhone apps go, I just don’t know because I have never owned one.