The Society of Broadcast Engineers

The Society of Broadcast Engineers or SBE is an organization that is supposed to further the art of broadcast engineering.  Once upon a time I was a member, I attended meetings, got my Certified Senior Radio Engineer badge, I kept track of my professional development, and so on.  As the decay advanced, I realized that the SBE looks and sounds good, but actually does little.

What are the issues facing Broadcast Engineers these days:

  1. Too much work.  As consolidation changed the radio business, the engineering department was not immune to staff cuts.  Add to this the increasing dependence on automation and computers to program and run entire radio stations from studio to transmitter as additional responsibilities.
  2. Lack of maintenance budgets.  Particularly in this recession, money that should be spent on preventative maintenance is gone.  The result, more reactive maintenance, off air incidents and the like.
  3. Lack of pay for increased hours.  Goes with the above, more stations, more responsibilities, same or less pay and benefits.
  4. Lack of new talent in the radio engineering field.  There is money to be made if  you are a technical person, just don’t go into broadcasting.
  5. Lack of personal life.  Being on call 24/7 for 20 years has taken it’s toll.

So what has the SBE done to alleviate these problems?  Granted, most of them are management issues with the radio station staff, but has the SBE even tried to educate station owners and management.  How about helping engineers learn how to negotiate pay raises?  A better support network?  Perhaps, (gasp!) some type of organized labor?

I know the more work for same or less pay is almost universal and is a contentious issue among fellow engineers, so much so that many have left to pursue other careers.

Then again, perhaps the radio engineer is a dying breed.  Eventually, everything in a broadcast studio will be run by computers and distributed over the internet, so some type of computer guy could do the job.  Broadcast engineers will have to re-invent themselves to stay in the field because I think terrestrial radio’s days are numbered.  Eventually RF guys like myself could go work for the cellphone company, or go do something else.

A trip to the FM transmitter site

A few pictures from my last trip to one of our FM transmitter sites.  This is a mountain top site, in as much as a medium sized hill is a mountain around here.  This site has a 2.3 mile road through the woods that is almost impassable 3-4 months out of the year.

Previous engineers have walked up the hill with a tool box.  I can say this with all honesty; not me.  In the past they have also rented a helicopter, used a snow cat, snowmobiles or an ATV with snow tracks.  I’d do those things provided they are safe and insured.  As I get older (and wiser), I realize that the only person who going to look after my well being is me.

Anyway, the trip starts here, at the gate:

Gate to transmitter road
Gate to transmitter road

Then it goes up the hill:

Transmitter site access road
Transmitter site access road

Some sections are worse than others:

washed out road
washed out road

Along the way there are some nice views:

City reservior near transmitter site
City reservior near transmitter site

Finally, the gate to the tower farm:

Access gate to transmitter site
Access gate to transmitter site

There are two digital TV stations, several cell phone carriers, some government two way gear, some FM translators, Media Flow, and us at this site.  There are also some Ham radio repeaters off to the side in another building.  All in all, a pretty RF intense site.

The view from the top:

view looking north
view looking north

The reason why we came:

Transmitter room
Transmitter room

That is a 24 year old BE FM5B transmitter.  The back up is a Gates FM5G, which aren’t we glad we have a solid reliable transmitter selection for such a remote site.  Actually, we were supposed to put in a new Nautel V-10 here last year, but the money was spent on computers instead.  Oh well, good thing there will be no computer crashes when we go off the air.

A standard maintenance trip consists of meter readings, comparing the reading to the last set of readings, changing the air filters, checking the remote control and calibrating it to the transmitter, checking the tower light sensor, etc.

Normally, the backup transmitter would be run into the dummy load, but the backup transmitter no longer works.  Parts are not available to fix it, so we operate without a net.  One of the previous general managers asked if that keeps me awake at night, to which my answer was no, not at all.

Is internet radio really radio?

Technically speaking, no.  Here is how radio is defined in the dictionary:

ra⋅di⋅o

[rey-dee-oh]
-noun
1. wireless telegraphy or telephony: speeches broadcast by radio.
2. an apparatus for receiving or transmitting radio broadcasts.
3. a message transmitted by radio.

Therefore, the internet, something relying on wired connections for the transmission of data for the most part, is not radio.  A radio station that is streaming audio, is a different matter.

Aside from that technicality, there is something else that is important to note.  Internet broadcasters (AKA webcaster) lack some other key components that make a radio station a radio station;  A specific set of rules that govern their behavior.  Things like profanity, copyright infringement, slander, payola, plugola, syndication rights, advertising rules (things tobacco, alcohol) emergency information, public issues and so on.

A radio station license is granted in the public interest.  Time was that radio station were required to do a certain amount of public service broadcasting, things like the news, religious programs, community interest programs.  Many station still do this.  An internet broadcaster is under so such constraints.   Some would say that is better and it just might be.  However, when Tim Westergren says “don’t call it internet radio, just call it radio,” sir, you are wrong.