in Radio World late last year described broadcast engineers as “Gods
of the Machines.” How
true that is when, so few people know the microphone-to-antenna
technology in a broadcast facility. Back in the 1950s and
through the 1970s, Brown Institute and other schools taught
answers to FCC exam questions without teaching the science. The
requirement was to have qualified operators overseeing
directional AM radio stations. The FCC caught onto this scheme
and finally deregulated the requirement for First Class
operators to take transmitter and antenna readings.
Engineers trained by electronic schools have always needed help
understanding broadcast architecture. I was fortunate to learn
from my radio broadcast engineer father and engineers at nearby
stations. I would pester them with questions while absorbing
answers like a sponge. They were my mentors. That gave me the
knowledge and confidence to go out into the world of radio
Mentor/mentee is a teacher/student relationship of, in this
case, the practiced art of broadcast engineering. I say art
because it is more than electrons flowing through wires. The
engineer needs to fit all the pieces together to make a station
play. An expensive mistake makes for a hard lesson learned, but
one that can be avoided again by passing the story along.
World contributor and friend Buc Fitch said it right: “Mentoring
is the transfer of the love and practice of the craft while
internship is academically focused on learning the mechanics.”
As a mentor, I try to convey the spirit of broadcast
Walk the talk
As someone who likes to talk, I frequently shared knowledge with
others during my 60+ years of engineering stations. When
retirement was looming, I found two engineers who could work
into the role of radio broadcast engineering contractor. They
even paid me to do classes on how to measure AM antenna
resistance and do RF spectrum analyzer measurements. Now they
come to town to do work on the stations I engineered at one
time. That’s when I get a free lunch for offering advice.
Society of Broadcast Engineers started the SBE
Mentor program several
years ago to bring along those new to engineering. I signed up
and am now assigned to four mentees.
recent mentee is John Loven. He was hired away from the cellular
industry to be the engineer for 16 Hubbard Radio facilities in
central Minnesota. I built many and serviced all those
facilities over the years. What a great fit for a mentor and
mentee! John came with a background in microwave RF, but AM
antennas with coupling networks and phasors were somewhat of a
mystery to him. This was a great opportunity for me to be a
teacher and enjoy a great friendship along the way. In the
process, I’ve had to keep up with the latest broadcast
engineering technology. As the mentees face problems, I help
them and often learn from them while working out the answers. It
is not always easy for an analog RF guy like me.
In the beginning
It all starts when I find a mentee, or I am assigned one by the
SBE. The first act is to schedule a one-hour phone call or an
in-person meeting to talk about our strengths and weaknesses. We
get to know each other before any advice is given. In one
case, I found the mentee was not a good match and asked SBE for
a change. It is best to get off to a good start rather than
suffering with a problem. The mentee also signs my form saying
he or she won’t sue if something goes wrong with my free advice.
down rules at the first meeting. That includes 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Monday through Friday calls. Don’t call from a transmitter in
the middle of the night asking, “What do I do now?” Don’t expect
me to be always available. After all, even retired people have
schedules. That is even more important for mentors who are still
working for a living.
The first photo shows me explaining the engineering room at a
studio to John Loven. He needed to understand the basic plan
before proceeding with a change.
Mark Persons and John Loven
On the job
have been able to be with a mentee at a jobsite, I resist the
temptation to do the work. After all, the new person needs to
learn the job, even if he or she is slow to catch on. My biggest
problem is keeping hands off the equipment. After all, the best
approach is to explain how it is done and let the student learn
by mistakes, just as I did years ago. The second image shows a
hand drawing and conversation during coffee, explaining
intermodulation between two transmitters. It is the theory part
before a spectrum analyzer is pulled out for actual
Instruction over coffee
still a service bench at my place. I invited a mentee over with
a tower light controller that needed repair. I talked him
through troubleshooting and replacement of a failed resistor.
Again, he did the work. I just guided him along.
[Read More Tech Tips Here]
process, he learned troubleshooting techniques while I
instructed him on the best ways to do soldering. This made me
feel good that it took just one inexpensive component to restore
the equipment, rather than replacing the entire controller for
are times when a mentee will ask a question that is out of my
area of expertise. That’s when I go to my friends or a list of
the other SBE mentors to find one with the right qualifications.
I don’t act as the middle person, just pass the name and contact
information along. Then later I can hear how it came out.
I am not
saying that all those who help others should be members of the
Society of Broadcast Engineers. I am saying that the SBE has a
good program that works.
third photo, I was teaching others before the official SBE
program began. Mentoring is an excellent idea that is the right
thing to do. Amateur radio has had people like that since the
beginning. They are referred to as Elmers.
About that AM directional …
What did you say?
conscious of using buzz words, phrases and abbreviations that
outsiders would not know, such as STL, ICR, AoIP, RF circular
polarization, ground system, TPO, ERP, HAAT, composite audio and
SCA. The list goes on. Explaining these is all a part of the
teaching and learning process.
Society of Broadcast Engineers was a group of mostly men who got
together to share ideas. Now it appears to be a group of men and
women working, among other goals, to ensure the survival of the
profession. At last check, there are four SBE certified
schools. Bates Technical College is one of them in Tacoma, Wash.
SBE member Roland Robinson is one of two instructors teaching
the subject there. He says they start out with basic
electronics, soldering and test equipment. They go on to audio
and video, leading to system design and maintenance. Most
students learn television broadcasting, video production and
content delivery. Many quickly find themselves working at
television stations in the northwest after graduation. Some have
gone on to be radio broadcast engineers. SBE
certification exams are offered at the college as well. Roland
said there is even an amateur radio station at Bates for
students to use. It is a great tool for learning RF propagation
across all frequencies. See my article from 2021, “Alike,
But Not Alike: Broadcast vs. Ham Radio.”
Mentee Joe Offerdahl assembles an N connector.
things more, the Society of Broadcast Engineers also now has the Technical
Professional Training Program (TPTP)
that I recommend to mentees. This training package offers a
number of components to get new talent started in the field. At
$475 for a year, it is worth every penny.
broadcast engineering community needs to do its part by passing
along necessary knowledge to newbies so they can do the job.
Broadcast engineers should give back to the profession that
earned them a living.
more about the SBE
Mentor Program here.
Persons, WØMH is an SBE Certified Professional Broadcast
Engineer and is now retired after more than 60 years in radio
broadcast engineering, including 44 years in business. He
started by turning the dials of broadcast transmitters at age 11
and stays active by mentoring four radio broadcast engineers.
Mark is also a member of the National Radio Systems
Committee. His website is
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