Recent years have seen tremendous changes in IT
technology as applied to the radio and TV environments. Whether it’s AoIP for
radio or the “channel in a box” for TV, strategic planning and management of
information technology can be a wild ride.
suggests that IP networking is the foundation of today’s diverse aspects of
(Click to Enlarge)
RW tapped industry experts Wayne Pecena
and Gary Olson for insights into managing and keeping current with information
Pecena is assistant director of Educational Broadcast
Services in the Office of Information Technology at Texas A&M University.
He is responsible for broadcast technology implementation at KAMU(FM/TV) and is
approaching 40 years in the broadcast industry; he is a member of the national
board of directors of the Society of Broadcast Engineers and chair of its SBE
Education Committee, as well as a member
of the Public Broadcast Service Engineering Technical Advisory Committee.
Gary Olson is a
technology strategist in the information and communication media technology
industries. He is author of a new SBE course “The New Lifecycle of Media — IP
and File-based Workflows.” Both are frequent speakers on IT topics.
IT, of course, has gradually taken over the broadcast
plant. According to Pecena, the trend typically started in the accounting
department, then spread to program log generation and news scripts; now it is fully
integrated into the content side.
In radio we see AoIP plants with content delivered
in multiple formats to multiple platforms. In the TV environment, it is
implemented in multi-channel, multi-stream operations. Engineering tools have
evolved along with them. “It started out with remote control, and we’ve moved
way past that,” said Pecena. Olson notes as an example that the transition
began at ABC in early 2000, when it transitioned from a paper-based to
So broadcast engineers have needed an expanding level of IT
literacy. As the level of expertise needed for the job continues to
increase, the industry is responding, if slowly.
“When I began doing workshops for the SBE three years
ago,” Pecena said, “most attendees described themselves as being in the
beginning to intermediate levels. Now most attendees see themselves at the intermediate
level and seek more advanced IT knowledge. I still see very few in the advanced
category.” He adds that the shift is largely market-driven; even if one wanted
to, it would be hard to avoid IT concerns entirely, even in the RF environment.
The evolution of engineers to IT is “a mixed bag,” said Olson.
“Most of the traffic on SBE e-mail lists is centered on traditional
transmission systems, with less content about IP infrastructure or new
How should engineers build and maintain
IT skills? There are opportunities both formal and informal for education.
Pecena urges engineers not to get too hung up on the need
for formal programs, saying they should remember the value of informal
education, which “often occurs in conjunction with other events and is
experienced in the course of everyday life. It is often spontaneous.”
Formal education may be overly structured, time-consuming and
expensive. Pecena said the exam fee for a Cisco Certified Architect is $15,000.
He adds there is research to suggest that job performance over time is the
result of about 25 percent formal, and 75 percent informal education.
Meanwhile, many skills from the analog days retain their
value, Olson says, if with a twist. “Multiple audio editing tools, for example,
have been consolidated into a single package — Legos on a screen, if you will.
You still need to understand the basics of analog audio: editing, equalizing,
processing and filtering; but it works a bit differently in the desktop realm.
Therefore, the way you approach problems is different; yet many engineers lack
Both men said the SBE website provides a great deal of information.
SBE University offers online/on-demand courses, as well as live and recorded
webinars and other materials.
Tech as a tool
of IT management don’t have easy answers, even for experts. Strategic planning
“It is an ongoing
challenge,” said Pecena. “Keeping up with the changes is always difficult.
Also, making bad decisions or mistakes can put your career in jeopardy,
especially in this economy. The main focus should be how to use technology as a
tool to achieve business goals.” This problem, he adds, is not unique to
The best strategy for IT managers, he
believes, is to retain sight of the big picture. “Many managers get too focused
on the technology of IT, and forget that they are part of a business that
exists to make money or an organization that delivers a service. Keeping a true
business focus will better enable managers to define meaningful goals for their
Another sticky topic in both radio and
TV is metadata, a term that is used and abused, according to Olson.
“No one wants to talk about it, but you can’t monetize
metadata if you don’t use it well. It needs to be about information that is
meaningful to the end user. Once you do that, things get interesting.”
For both radio and TV, a challenge for managers is
keeping up with multiple platforms. Laptops, tablets, mobile phones and websites
require content with different standards, bit rates and protocols; and these
are in a continuous state of flux. For operations with smaller budgets, a
decision often has to be made regarding which platforms to support. Olson notes
that the way a station packages video for an LCD TV is different than the way
it’s done for cell phones.
Meanwhile, and in spite of the
attention on new platforms, Pecena notes that in most cases, the majority of
the revenue still comes from the RF side of things, but the future certainly
looks as the Internet.
And a further challenge facing technology managers in the public sector
is fundraising. Pecena notes that the days of open-door funding are gone. Managers
must seek out new and non-traditional funding sources.
“Ten years ago, you could break a large
project up into Phase I, II, III, etc., and be reasonably assured of grant
money at every step,” he said. “It seems very unlikely that those funding sources
or way of financing projects will come back.”
One of Pecena’s conclusions, when he speaks to broadcast
engineers, is that their jobs are surprisingly similar to those of IT managers.
Broadcast engineering has embraced an IT Infrastructure while IT engineering
has embraced audio and video content. Both jobs are highly tech-focused, and
they share a number of workplace traits, often including long hours, deadlines,
angry “clients” and a need to keep your education current.
He shows them a photo of an IT person
pulling his hair out while looking at a screen that says “System Failure” in
angry red letters. “Broadcast engineering and IT,” the caption reads. “Are they really