you ever heard it said, “Don’t ask anyone to do something you’re not willing to
that in mind, I would like to tell you about my first encounter with broadcast engineers,
shortly after I was hired as a secretary/receptionist at a small UHF station in
I was happy to have a job working in broadcasting, the reality of my responsibilities
was more complicated than I had imagined. I had eight bosses, representing eight
departments, all of whom barely talked to one another unless absolutely
Also, there was no money to spend, no overtime
pay and — guess what? — low morale. (I guess some things never change.)
However, there was one department that seemed to
have “fun,” mostly at my expense, and that was the engineering department.
The SBE, a family
Rumor had it that no one ever stayed in my position
very long, so therefore the engineers “had fun” by playing little pranks while
that person was there. Early on, I was asked to “please call extension 100.” Of
course, when I tried to do that, it wouldn’t work and they kept paging and
I paged the whole building
saying I couldn’t get extension 100. Then three engineers strolled into the
lobby laughing, and informed me that extension 100 was me!
Fortunately, they spared me the dead mouse in
the drawer trick, which was deemed the “final” joke for any soon-to-be-departing
All laughs aside, as time
went by, I noticed a special bond among this group of engineers. They were
always there for each other, and although they complained when they had to go
out at 2 a.m. to “fix” something that had knocked us off the air, they would
all have smiles on their faces the next day as they recounted what was wrong and
how they solved the problem. They enjoyed their jobs.
The engineer who affected my
career the most was an older guy named Larry. One evening, he was sitting in
the lobby stuffing envelopes, as I had seen him do many times before. I was
curious. Larry explained to me that he was preparing meeting notices for an
organization called the Society of Broadcast Engineers. He had no family but
considered the engineers in this SBE group to be his family.
He continued explaining to me that engineers
were a unique bunch, and therefore other station departments didn’t always know
exactly what they did or how to relate to them. He said that the SBE was made
up of these unique individuals, who were dedicated to helping each other.
Larry then told me that his boss, Doug, the director
of engineering at our station, also thought SBE was a great organization; so
valuable that he personally paid for all the station engineers to belong. This
was particularly interesting to me since the DOE was one of those eight bosses
I spoke about earlier.
It seemed the DOE had a tradition of not
introducing himself to the new secretary unless that person had been there more
than six months … after all, with the frequent turnover, why bother? Over the
next few months, Larry told me about the SBE certification program and how
proud he was to be a certified SBE member. Before I knew it, I had gotten past the
first six months and it seemed like I was there to stay.
Shortly thereafter, I finally did meet the
station’s chief. About a year into my tenure, the DOE called me on the phone. He
traveled a lot and was rarely in the office, but in this instance he told me he
wanted me to consider a new job. Boy, did I take that the wrong way!
It turned out that he knew of
a job at this organization called the SBE, and thought I might be a good match
to apply for the job and began work at SBE in 1991. While there, I began to
meet a lot of engineers who shared the same passion and dedication to their
jobs that I had seen from the engineers at the TV station — though mostly
without all the practical jokes.
At SBE, the more I recalled Larry’s pride in his
certification, the more I was drawn toward the certification program itself. I
was honored to become SBE’s certification director in 1996, upon the retirement
of WTMJ’s Jim Wulliman.
Jim’s final charge to me was to love the certification
program as much as he had. Certification continues to have a very high priority
within SBE, from the Board of Directors to the SBE Certification Committee and
its chairs, past and present, to the SBE staff, committees and chapters. Everyone
at SBE gives their time, support and passion in order to support this craft
called broadcast engineering.
Like all stories, there is an epilogue, and this
one is rather sad. My friend Larry, though a seasoned engineer, was fatally electrocuted
in a terrible transmitter accident. As I mentioned, he had no family; but the
engineer who was with him at the hospital, alongside of me, was Larry’s best
friend and a fellow SBE member.
Keeping engineers motivated
So where does your passion come from? I know
that some readers are looking forward to retirement, having dealt with so much
change over the years. But most of you still find the time to participate in
SBE and help mentor the next generation of engineers.
I’m now at the Wisconsin Broadcasters
Association and after six years here, I can say that President and CEO Michelle
Vetterkind, the WBA Board and its members also have a passion for broadcast engineering.
The WBA just completed the first year of the Media
Technology Institute, a program that offers practical instruction for
prospective, novice and working broadcast/media engineers.
Other initiatives include the WBA Engineering
Fellowship, the WBA Engineering Internship and a full day of technical sessions
offered at the yearly WBA Summer Conference, with an even more comprehensive
program at the fall Broadcasters Clinic.
There is no other regional show in the country that
provides a significant broadcast equipment exhibition along with three days of
technical training, with presentations featuring the Best of the Best in the
field of Broadcast Technology. (The 2012 Broadcasters Clinic was held Oct. 9–11
near Madison, Wis.) For more information, visit www.wi-broadcasters.org.
I sincerely hope you share my concern for the
future of our industry, because it is your passion and expertise that enables
us to continue and expand the work we are doing to preserve and expand the profession.
Linda Baun is vice president of the Wisconsin