Trends in Terrestrial Broadcasting, II

Things seem to be relatively quite these days, no earth shattering developments, no big news stories, etc.  My work load consists of mostly driving to one location and cleaning things up, then driving to another location and cleaning more things up.  Nothing really new to write about.  However, industry wide, there have been some developments of note:

  1. More AM HD radio only testing out in Seattle.  We hear that these tests are phenomenal but have yet to see any data.  The HD Radio proponents keep pushing for an all digital transition.  To that I say good, let those stations (AM and FM) that want to transition to all digital do so, provided they conform to the analog channel bandwidths and do not cause interference to analog stations.  It should also be an either/or decision: Either transmit in all digital format or revert to analog only format, no more interference causing hybrid analog digital.
  2. BMW depreciates AM radio in some models.  It seems the all electric car generates too much electric noise to facilitate AM reception.  My question; are these mobile noise generators going to cause reception problems for other vehicles too?  What if I want to hear the traffic on 880 or 1010 and one of these things roles by?  There are larger implications here and the FCC should be concerned with this.
  3. General Motors pauses the HD Radio uptake in some models.  No real reasons given, but more emphasis on LTE in the dashboard is noted.  We are reassured by iBquity that this trend is only temporary.
  4. Anxiously awaiting this year’s engineering salary survey.  For science, of course.  Here is last year’s survey.
  5. Clear Channel is no more!  They have gone out of business and a new company, iHeart Media, has taken over.  Things will be much better now, I can feel it.
  6. John Anderson finds a chilly reception at the last NAB confab: An Unwelcome Guest at the NAB radio show. This is not surprising but kind of sad. John has been a reasonable critic of IBOC and wrote a book titled: Radio’s Digital Dilemma.
  7. Not too much going on with the AM revitalization.  Tom King of Kintronics notes that the fault is in our receivers.
  8. Government shortwave broadcasters continue to sign off permanently.  Radio Exterior de Espana ceases operations.
  9. European long wave and medium wave stations are also throwing the big switch; Atlantic 252 (long wave), as well as German long wave stations on 153, 177,  and 207 KHz, medium wave stations 549, 756, 1269, and 1422 KHz also are signing off.  Those 9 KHz channel spacings look strange don’t they.  What fate awaits US AM radio stations?
  10. I am reading Glenn Greenwald’s book, No Place to Hide.  I knew this, you should know it too.

 

Why SBE certifications should matter, but often don’t

Industry certifications are good tools to gauge an person’s knowledge and experience. Often times, potential employers look for specific industry certs like CCNA, CCNP, Comp TIA A+ or MCSE as conditions of hire.  In highly technical fields, these are reasonable benchmarks.

what-does

In the field of Broadcast Engineering, a CCNA or a MCSE are nice, but do not cover the RF, audio or video skill sets.  True that more and more content transmission is migrating to IP networks, the initial input is still analog.  I have seen the most savvy IT guys utterly baffled by professional audio and/or video requirements.  A tube transmitter?  That is a special animal that can exact a high price from careless maintenance personnel, up to and including death.  That type of situation is clearly not covered by a CCNA or a MCSE.

The typical Broadcast Engineer straddles both worlds; IT and RF.  On any given day, s/he may be working on the computer automation system, or at the transmitter site fixing a transmitter.  Thus, we are jacks of all trades, master of none.  The finer points of configuring MS Active Directory may be beyond a Broadcast Engineer’s understanding.  Same with the tuning up an AM directional antenna.  At a typical broadcast facility, these projects do not happen very often and experts can be hired to complete this work as needed.  Having a specific industry certification for Broadcast Engineers makes a great deal of sense.

The reason SBE certifications often do not matter is that most station managers and owners have no idea what a Broadcast Engineer actually does.  It is an unfortunate situation when a non-technical manager has no idea where their subordinate is or what they are doing.  It is not simply a matter of accounting for time either.  Almost every station or cluster manager that I have ever known came from a sales background.  To many of them, engineering is a black art.  Working in such environments is a study in frustration especially when engineering is seen as a liability on the balance sheet; somewhere far below sales and promotions but slightly above the cost of garbage collection.  When these types of managers are in a hiring process and a candidate presents them with a set of letters following their name, who knows what they actually mean?  What hiring managers do know is this; more experience means more salary.

In order for SBE certifications to mean anything, the SBE itself needs to do a better job promoting its certification program to owners and non-technical managers.  This can be done through working with the NAB and other trade associations that broadcasters belong to.  Part of the reason why so few new people are coming into the Broadcast Engineering field is because career paths are ill-defined, promotion and advancement opportunities are limited, salaries are stagnant, and better opportunities are found in other technical fields.  A better understanding of Broadcast Engineering skill set would be helpful to non-technical managers, sort of a “Explain it like I am five,” (ELI5) type seminar.

New Broadcast Engineer

The new engineer
The new engineer (banana for scale)

Update and bump: The many great comments about the SBE certifications got me thinking about what a Broadcast Engineer actually does. I remember typing something about it quite some time ago, thus, I dredged up this old post originally from August 8, 2009 out of the archive.

Enjoy:

The other day, the NTR (Non-Traditional Revenue) person came to me and said “Great news!  We hired a new web guy, he knows all about engineering too!”

Really?

So I spoke to the new Web Master/Broadcast Engineer for a bit.  As it turns out, he knows how to do things like reboot the XDS satellite receiver, reboot an Audiovault server, he has been to a transmitter site a few times to take meter readings.  I suppose these days, that is what counts as being a broadcast engineer.  Someone with this level of experience could get by for a bit until something really bad happened.

Sadly, I think (my former employer) upper management and ownership believes that this guy could do my (old) job.  To them, I am an employee number, with a salary and benefits package worth X.  If they can replace me with someone that makes <X, that would represent savings.  Plug that guy into this spot, everything will go on as it did before.

I don’t think they understand exactly what a Broadcast Engineer does.  On any given day, I may:

  • Program an automation computer
  • Change the battery on a backup generator
  • Change the battery bank in an 18 KVA UPS
  • Clean a transmitter
  • Aim a satellite dish
  • Trouble shoot a DS-1 Circuit
  • Trouble shoot a T-1 MUX
  • Repair a microwave transmitter or receiver
  • Take a set of monitor points
  • Repair a tower light flasher circuit
  • Install a console (analog, digital, IP routing, TDM routing)
  • Repair a CD player
  • Trouble shoot a transmitter RF module
  • PM a generator
  • Work with a tower crew to place an antenna on a tower
  • Install an RF connector on 3 inch transmission line
  • Wire an air conditioning unit at a transmitter site
  • Repair lightning damaged ATU
  • Trouble shoot an AC unit
  • Aim an STL antenna
  • Repair an RPU transmitter
  • Design a computer network
  • Trouble shoot and repair a FM transmitter
  • Wire a new rack room
  • Coordinate a complex format change
  • Install a translator
  • Program and wire a new satellite receiver
  • Wire a transmitter remote control
  • Hike to a transmitter site to after a natural disaster
  • Trouble shoot an audio hum
  • Pass an FCC inspection
  • Install and program an EAS unit
  • Wire a new studio
  • Design a tower light monitor circuit
  • Fix a studio phone system
  • Install an audio router
  • Match an AM transmitter to a new tower
  • Wire an ethernet patch panel
  • Program a wireless access point
  • Install an IP router
  • Manage a new tower project
  • Install a new transmitter
  • Re-install an old transmitter
  • Make NRSC measurements on an AM transmitter
  • Repair a corrupt OS
  • Replace a hard drive
  • Reboot a server
  • Fix a reel to reel machine
  • Install a computer program
  • Clean a console
  • Pass an inspection by the fire marshal

To name a few.  In other words, there are a lot of complex systems at a multi station radio facility.  Some of this can be learned at various schools and colleges.  A lot of it is experience.  There is no substitute for an experienced veteran broadcaster who has seen almost everything and can think on his or her feet.

I have had this discussion with the market manager, and he gets it.  I know that he understands who knows more about the ins and outs of all of our studio and transmitter sites.  Things like, where is the water shutoff, the handle is broken off of the toilet on the second floor.  Of course, I know it is down stairs in the furnace room next to the fire sprinkler system.

I know where the skeletons are buried.  I have the inside numbers for the utility companies and the phone company.  I know the code enforcement officer for most of the municipalities where we own buildings and property.

Yet, the only thing they see is X.