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    Profile photo of Airchecker
    Airchecker
    Keymaster

    It’s nearly that time of year again. You know what I’m talking about; it’s time once again for the annual pilgrimage of lots of engineering-type folks and a bunch of their management out to Las Vegas for the next NAB Show. As we prepare for the event this year, we’re all no doubt looking forward to drool over the latest new technology, meet up with our old friends and make some new ones as we share war stories and plans to upgrade gear.

    Sherrod Munday

    It’s no secret that broadcasting faces a growing list of competitors:

    ● Pandora-type services
    ● Digital downloads
    ● Streaming video-on-demand OTT providers like Netflix and Hulu
    ● Government regulations
    ● Generational shifts to social media sources of news and entertainment

    Like a furtive figure lurking in shadowy dark streets, though, is a threat sometimes mentioned among engineers, but often overlooked by broadcast management. While industry pundits, NAB panelists and public prognosticators debate what to do about external threats, they often miss the single biggest internal weakness and its effects, to which any career broadcast engineer will attest.

    WEAKNESS WITHIN

    That shadowy figure is sneaking up on the industry, often recognizable by three characteristics: He seems to know how to design and fix anything. He’s getting older. And he doesn’t seem to have many peers or apprentices.

    Who is he? He’s the disappearing engineer.

    Consider: Without someone who knows current broadcast technology, can your operation compete successfully and stay up to date into the future? Can you make money if your transmitter is down and you don’t have someone to fix it? Can your station warn the public of an emergency when the newfangled IP-based STL (which a consultant said would save the company a bunch of money) starts dropping Ethernet packets and your engineer doesn’t know how to fix it — or even where to start looking?

    A DAUNTING TRIFECTA

    The coming crisis in broadcasting is a daunting trifecta:

    1. Current engineers lacking skills to work with modern IP-centric broadcasting infrastructure
    2. Older engineers approaching retirement
    3. Lack of qualified younger people interested in entering broadcast engineering

    For all the benefits that the internet protocol offers to broadcasters, it requires a new set of knowledge and troubleshooting skills that many legacy broadcast engineers don’t historically hold.

    Those skills can make employees more valuable — if they master them. But some really great broadcast engineers just can’t grasp the new technologies or learn them fast enough (or find enough time) to keep up. Worse yet, some engineers simply don’t want to learn anything new and would rather instead just relive their analog glory days (while loudly proclaiming analog’s virtues and dismissing anything digital).

    Don’t expect your IT department or millennial office IT “dude” to provide the solution to this problem, though. How many of us have heard IT personnel emphatically state that they aren’t going to support computers or anything else that pertains to on-air broadcast equipment? Does your IT department try to handle the always-on 24×7 broadcast department’s on-air IT needs just like a normal office worker’s complaint about a flaky mouse (“put in a work order!”)? Or worse yet, how many of us have had an arrogant and completely ignorant IT department come in and take us off the air by asserting their ownership and management rights over anything that talks IP?

    It’s time everyone realizes that all broadcast engineering positions should — and already do — require hybridized skill sets encompassing both conventional engineering and IT practices, and that those two departments must overlap greatly.

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