[SBE] Engineering Myths and Monsters
A9xw at cs.com
A9xw at cs.com
Mon Mar 17 15:55:01 EDT 2008
Engineers as managers.
Few of us have made it to GM. Maybe it's because we are narrowly focused
on technology and not engineering management. Over the past 20 years we have
watched station staff cut by as much as 90%, even at the network level. Yes,
equipment is more reliable, some can't be serviced in house because of design or
software that we can't rewrite. But by and large, someone has to keep the
stuff working, if not by soldering in resistors or IC's, sending in the card to
be replaced, and figuring out which card to send in. But in the minds of some
managers, this relegates us to nothing more than fancy electronic janitors.
We're no different from the mechanic that no longer actually fixes a car piece by
piece, but replace entire assemblies, differentials, transmissions, motors,
rather than the ring gear, shifter valves, or grinds valves to seat properly.
Partly because manufacturers won't sell you a carriage part, only the entire
tape carriage, or only the entire lens not a lens part. Maybe because the
manufacturer wants a smaller inventory of larger items, vs. a large inventory of
lots of small items, some of which never get sold. Or it's cheaper to manufacture
the wheel hub with the ABS sensors and others items as a unit to avoid
But what have we done to expand our value to the station? I remember
removing 10 film chains and watching the telecine operators sit all day reading a
newspaper rather than proactively learning some other skill besides running
the missing child slide for 10 minutes a night. Did owners/managers get rid of
them because there was no more film or because the people were obsolete with no
currently useful skill sets? Should the owners have paid for them to learn
new skills, or should the TC ops have made an effort to learn something useful?
Both answers are right and wrong. If you think someone "owes" you something,
good luck. This is capitalism, not socialism.
Many engineers today have to be a lot more than parts solderers and board
swappers. I don't mean that FIM's and understanding of transmission systems
isn't important. But the engineer has to be more than technical. With small
staffs, or one person staffs, the time provided by not having to do a servo
alignment on the Quad machine after a head wheel replacement is time to spend on
improving plant efficiency. That means using our problem solving skills to make
systems improvements. Systems meaning both electronic and human
The GM may not know how to turn off the blinking 12:00 on his DVD recorder,
but that doesn't mean he can't get an appreciation of what the engineers do.
My GM not only knows where the transmitter is, but has been there to do a
phoner to get it back on. If yours doesn't, maybe you should invite the GM to the
site, and show them around. Let him know where the emergency information is,
and where to find the "normal" readings so if you are sick or on vacation he can
be talked through a restart, or someone else can. Invite him to bring the
pizza when you are doing an IOT replacement so he has a glimmer of why it isn't
like plugging in a tube in his Atwater Kent. You just demonstrated you are a
team player, interested in the future of the station, not an insecure nerd more
interested in territory protection. Does that make him and engineer? Heck no.
But the GM is now more aware and likely understanding of the necessity of
your experience and skills.
As many of us gray hairs with decades of experience, a lot of stuff we can do
in our sleep. We've pulled the 48-72 hours shifts to prove it. But rather
than complain about all the new duties that are being dumped on you, learn to
step up and do them with equal aplomb. Having been everything from DJ to station
owner, provides me with a wide skill set that can be used in sales,
programming, financial, accounting, legal, and other areas of the station. You don't
have to be the best transmitter RF person, or the best MC op, or the best tape
machine and monitor repair person to survive and grow. Being able to relate to
other departments in their lexicon, understanding their jobs enough to be able
to help them is often more important. If you can do it and not be obnoxious
or rude is even better. The owners/GM's want staff that are problem solvers,
not problems. If your only interest is technology, it may be better to work at
the manufacturer level than the station level, because technology is much
easier to manage today.
Setting up a multi-media facility takes skills to understand the
department goals for the web site, streaming capability, multi-channel acquisition and
transmission, and generating new revenue streams. My own station now has
significant revenue from tower rentals. That eases pressure, or provides funds to
help smooth out the peak and valley of sales and other income. This year we
did three times the live sports remotes of last year and with long term
contracts that allowed us to improve the production truck to a level where it has
become a revenue stream. Enough so that the hardware we "borrowed" from the
station is going to be replaced with new station hardware from the revenue.
We recently crossed the CC threshold and are mandated to have CC on all
local programming. We do a lot including daily news. We repurposed the
reference CC decoder to use as a CC encoder. News people while writing their prompter
scripts now add the VO's and the new prompter software provides both CC and
prompter data. So instead of outsourcing our CC requirements, at considerable
cost, or having it done live at some remote site via data link we do it
internally with no vendor costs. $4k vs $12k in one time costs, and no operational
cost. Avoiding a continuing cost is important to any station.
Does your station depend on local sales? Do you mention new businesses
you see opening, provide sales ideas? Do you phone in news tips if you see a
story while traveling about? Can you do a "phoner" from the scene to provide
first coverage? Having had prior on camera experience, I filled in as TV weather
man for weeks at a time. My pilot's training and interest in sciences paid off
for my station.
The list of opportunities to be of more value to your station, and thus
more appreciated by the boss are near endless. Show your initiative, move up or
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