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Radio World Article

March 14, 2012

Radio World Magazine
http://www.rwonline.com

Article:

Where Have All the Engineers Gone?

by Mark Persons


In 1960, Pete Seeger sang the lyrics, “Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing …” That song is running through my head now, but with a different question: “Where have all the engineers gone?”

I got into this business more than three decades ago. During my career, I witnessed the transition from full-time human engineers based at radio stations to the “plug and play” era of today.

Who will pick up the tools of the trade? iStockphoto/Dmitri Bruskov

Radio broadcast engineering can be a tough business. You’re generally expected to be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, over the course of your entire career. Working day and night with my wife, Paula, often meant cancelling family gatherings in favor of getting a transmitter running again. But it’s also a satisfying and challenging occupation, which kept me on my toes for 33 years.

BEYOND SOLDER

I now work in the shop fixing equipment that stations send me, enjoying the lack of calls about repairs at 3 a.m. But now that I play a different role in the engineering world, I wonder what happened to all the new engineers out there, the ones who should take my place. Why are there so few?

Unfortunately, the industry (including myself) has not done a good job of attracting and training young blood in the radio engineering profession — though the Society of Broadcast Engineers is trying, commendably.

We are in an unusual business where equipment is manufactured in relatively small numbers, so the cost is high and gear usually doesn’t fall into the “throwaway” category. When a $70,000 transmitter goes down, there is not always factory tech support to point the way.

Any young engineer must possess electronics training so he or she can understand what a circuit is supposed to do and how to troubleshoot it down to the component level when it is not working right. More and more these days, I’ve observed a lack of such training from technical schools — perhaps because many college-educated engineers are focused on designing equipment now.

Recently I was at a cell site that is co-located with an FM broadcast transmitter. I was having trouble with my soldering iron and asked a cell repairman to loan me his iron, but he told me, “We don’t have soldering irons because none of our work requires soldering.”

Wow, was I surprised. I wear out soldering irons because they get so much use on the job.

It is true that radio studios are moving over to IP audio, which falls more into the domain of IT people, but transmitters and antennas still need broadcast engineers to install and maintain. Today’s engineers need to do both IT and maintenance, or the station must have two people to fill those roles.

I have been getting calls from IT people who are struggling with transmitters that are beyond their level of education or understanding. Those people often do not have the Ohm’s Law basic knowledge to help them think through component level troubleshooting problems. Any upcoming radio broadcast engineer needs to recognize this and train accordingly to be equipped mentally to deal with this when it occurs.

We older engineers need to help by mentoring the young ones to bring up their level of expertise in electronic problem solving. It is the right thing to do.

Comment on this or any article. Write to radioworld@nbmedia.com.


July 9, 2012 e-mail:  letters in this latest issue of RW (received just today here in isolated and far distant Avon) in response to your article on the diminishing engineering community were legend, erudite, persuasive ... not to mention 'right on'.   Congrats on a job well done.  Charles in Avon, Connecticut.

May 29, 2012 e-mail:  Mark, I just read your article "Where Have All The Engineers Gone?" and it literally brought a tear to my eye.  I too am one of those now-gone broadcast engineers that among other positions spent 30 years in television from the era when it was Metromedia until Fox put out the engineers in favor of almost total automation under the control of IT-- not broadcasters.  I sometimes feel as if I was one of the last of a dying breed.   As far as I can tell, most engineers have been fired and replaced by outside contractors who will charge by the repair rather than being a day to day "cost of doing business."  Expertise means nothing to the "suits" and "bean counters" in NYC and elsewhere.  Thanks again for a great article.   Bill in Saugus, California.

May 21, 2012 e-mail:   I have been enjoying your articles in Radio World.  You last article (this article) was right on target.  Danny in Eldorado, Texas.

May 21, 2012 e-mail:  Mark, Good article in Radio World on "Where have all the engineers gone?"  Fred in Lima Ohio.

May 21, 2012 e-mail Hi, Enjoyed you article in RW about "Where Have All the Engineers Gone?"  Walt, somewhere in Arizona.

May 18, 2012 e-mail Hi Mark,  Good article and right on the mark!  Bill in Bemidji, Minnesota.

May 17, 2012 e-mail Good Morning Mark:  I enjoyed your latest article in Radio World.   That's a good question.  It's kind of scary when you think of the local IT guy poking around in the RF section of the transmitter!  That would be like me working on the engine in my vehicle...an accident waiting to happen.  I guess I never really thought about the fact that an engineer might not own a soldering iron...but I guess that's the way it is in this day of plug-and-play.  Maynard in Madison, Minnesota

May 17, 2012 e-mail Hi Mark, I just wanted to say I appreciated your commentary this week in Radio World.  You made me stop to realize that engineering is really evolving to a module-swap operation, and the number of engineers who have the skills to dig into equipment, understand it, and repair it, is diminishing.  Mentoring new engineers would be a good thing, but the combination of economics and equipment design does make it an uphill battle.  John in Washington, DC.

May 9, 2012 e-mail:  Yo Mark,  I always look for your articles in Radio World and they never disappoint.  Your article addresses a common radio station question these days when ever I get a call asking me who they can call to fix a transmitter.  Jerry in Olympia, Washington.


See you down the road. I'll leave the soldering iron on for you.

Mark Persons, WØMH, is certified by the Society of Broadcast Engineers as a Certified Professional Broadcast Engineer with 33 years experience.

From the Radio World, May 9, 2012 issue: http://www.radioworld.com/article/where-have-all-the-engineers-gone/213475   Back to the "Articles Page"
 

     Questions?  Email Mark Persons:  teki@mwpersons.com      

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