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Persons. "I Never Had a Plan B."

by Paul McLane, editor Radio World, and Mark Persons
Radio World Article
November 25,

Recipient of lifetime achievement award is a mentor and inveterate storyteller

 Prior to this autumn, only nine people had received a lifetime achievement award from the Society of Broadcast Engineers.  Mark Persons is the tenth.  The award was presented to Persons during an SBE online membership meeting and reward ceremony.  Radio World is proud that Mark is a longtime contributor and valued member of the RW family.  We asked him to share thought and memories of his career.

Mark Persons

This story starts in the mid-1920s when my father, Charles B. Persons, became a radio broadcast engineer at age seventeen at WEBC Radio in Duluth, MN…the only station in town.  It grew to become part of a seven-station network before he left to build our own WELY in Ely, Minnesota, in 1954.  It was a great time for me to learn electronics, Ohm’s Law, turn knobs on the 250-watt AM transmitter and build Heathkit equipment at age seven.  That station was later owned by well-known CBS journalist Charles Kuralt. 


I became a radio amateur in 1963, the year before our family built and owned KVBR Radio in Brainerd, MN.  At age seventeen, it was a natural for me to wire the transmitter and studios with the latest innovation…cartridge tape decks.  There was never a question about my future.  Broadcast engineering was not just a job, it was a lifestyle.


Three years later, I found little interest in college which taught nothing about electronics.  I enlisted in the U.S. Army and taught electronic repair at Fort Monmouth, NJ.  Then it was off to Vietnam to do high-tech electronic repair.  The plan was to fulfill the obligation to our country so I could go back to broadcast engineering in 1969. 


Work ramped up in the 1970s when engineers were let go from radio stations because the FCC no longer required them.  Soon I was a full-time independent radio broadcast engineer building twelve new stations and repairing countless others.  Good test equipment helped solve the problem of a noticeable hearing loss from my service in Vietnam. 


"There was never a question about my future.  Broadcast engineering was not a job.  It was a lifestyle."


Coming from a family ownership situation, I treated each station as if it were my own.  The attachment was personal because the work was mostly for clients who believed in engineering.  A message on our telephone recorder said, “I am out working on one of America’s great radio stations.”


My wife Paula came into the business full time after working as a legal secretary.  She has a keen sense of character and it paid off.  Her job was to run the office, freeing me to go out in the field 60 hours a week at forty or more clients.  Once I was almost hit head-on by a drunk driver at 2 am but went in a ditch instead.


I never wanted to own a station.  The challenge of installing, troubleshooting and repairing equipment was more than enough.  It is a great feeling to get all electrons flowing in the same direction, so to speak.



Along the way, two engineers tried to get into our “territory” by promising lower prices.  They never asked.  We might have given them a few stations.  In the end, the clients came back to us for dependable results.


We lost less than $4000 to bad debts over the years.  I remember two times when a customer was slow to pay and then called looking to send me to a transmitter right away.  Paula’s response was, “You are no longer a customer!”  That day I drove right by his downed transmitter while coming back from another project and did not stop.  That resulted in denting our reputation a bit, but we stuck by our principles.  As Paula said, “We are not a bank that loans money.”


My first AM directional was a five-tower array in 1982 at Hibbing, MN.  It was built from parts, including a custom phasor controller.  The phasor was, and still is, a room in a building with an eight-foot high aluminum wall with inductors, capacitors and contactors on the backside.   Coupling units were built open-panel style at each tower.  The client liked this so much that he had me build a three-tower array in Cape Coral, FL and a three-tower in Carmel Valley, CA.  All 10KW stations.  He gave me the freedom to design and build what I thought was best for each job.


Then there were more than forty CQUAM AM stereo installations.  One of them was at the Cape Coral station, which introduced the “Oldies” format in 1986.  It placed second in the Arbitron after being on the air only six weeks.



Never satisfied, I modified equipment, then designed and built many electronic gadgets used in stations.  That evolved into designing products for manufacture such as the Programmer 3A Live Assist Program Controller and the Max-Tel Remote Broadcast Telephone, which was later updated to be the Max-Z and ZII. 


I have always enjoyed telling stories.  Some 188 of my articles have been published, mostly in Radio World.  Then there is the popular Tech Tips section on my website where free answers are given to radio broadcast engineering problems.


"I never wanted to own a station.  The challenge of installing, troubleshooting and repairing equipment was more than enough.


We retired when I was 70 and mentored two engineers to take over the territory.  There was no charge except a for few hours of classroom training to bring them up to speed on measuring AM impedance etc.  Then the SBE mentor program added two mentees in other parts of the country.  I became a member of the NRSC (National Radio Systems Committee) AM Improvement Working Group.  It is all volunteer work and feels good to continue to be a part of the broadcast industry that I grew up and prospered in. 


The plan is to keep writing articles for Radio World in the quest of spreading knowledge to broadcast engineers everywhere.  Radio has a great future and needs good engineers to keep it going. 


Regarding the SBE Lifetime Achievement Award, I had no intention of seeking that or any other accolade.  Life just worked out that way while keeping the “families” of stations the best they can be.  Paula says she will bury me next to a transmitter when the time comes. 


Comment on this or any article. Write to  The John H. Battison Award for Lifetime Achievement recognizes and pays tribute to individuals for their dedication, lifeling achievement and outstanding contribution to broadcast engineering, according to the society.  Prior recipients are Benjamine Wolfe and James Wulliman (1995), Philo and Emma Farnsworth (1997), Morris Blum (1998), Richard Rudman (2002), Richard Burden (2005), John Battisojn (2006) and Terry Baun (2010).   You can watch the replay of the membership meeting and awards ceremonies on the SBE TouTube channel.

Mark Persons, W0MH is an SBE Certified Professional Broadcast Engineer and was named SBE Engineer of the Year in 2018. Mark is now retired after more than 40 years in business.  His website is

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Email Comments:

12-15-2020:  Hey Mark, Great bio in Radio World! No one deserves it more.  So glad to hear that you are enjoying retirement and still keeping your hand in the pot.  Daniel Braverman, President Radio Systems, Inc, Philadephia, Pennsylvania.

12-14-2020:  Very Nice Article.  Hi Mark:  Just read your article in RadioWorld.  Very nice!  Congratulations, again, on the Lifetime Achievement award!!  Your career path is one that we can all envy.  You did what you love to do (and you’re darned good at it!!).  Enjoy your retirement.  Stay positive – TEST NEGATIVE!  Scott Schmeling,  New Ulm, Minnesota.

12-11-2020:  Mark, Congratulations on the SBE lifetime achievement award.  Dan Karg, K0TI in Woodbury, Minnesota.

12-10-2020:  Dear Mark, I want to congratulate you on becoming the 10th person to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Broadcast Engineers.  You have been an inspiration to me as you have to countless others in this field.  Thanks for all the help and inspiration you have given me over the years.  I hope you're enjoying retirement, and I hope you and Paula have a Merry Christmas and Happy new year!  Sincerely, Al Gilbertson, Sioux Falls, SD.

12-09-2020:  Mark, Congratulations on winning the John H. Battison Award for Lifetime Achievement!  And you are only the 10th recipient of it!  Mike Davison, Town Square Televison, Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.  

12-07-2020:  Mark, Congrats on the Society of Broadcast Engineers Lifetime Achievement Award.  73s,  David Ehehalt, Mount Freedom, New Jersey.  N2DAE.  

12-04-2020:  CONGATULATIONS.  I just read the article in the November 25, 2020, Radio World.  I am proud to have worked with you and Paula.  Glad to see you all are doing well and enjoying retirement.  Take good care.  Eva Schaeffer, Kintronic Labs, Bluff City, Tennessee.


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