Stuart Graham Now Flies Solo
     

Stuart Graham works at his desk in St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA. — Stuart Graham has overcome the unexpected death of a business partner and the near-unraveling of a great business plan.

Graham, president of Graham Brock Inc., co-founded the broadcast technical consulting firm in 1994 with Jeff Brock. The men were business partners until 2012 when the 51-year-old Brock died from cancer.

“It was like losing half of your life. It was very difficult. I tried to pick up the slack, and you just can’t do all of the work,” Graham said. “Together we could get a lot more work done than we could as two individuals. It was a huge loss not having him in the office to bounce things off.”

Graham, 66, credits fellow broadcast engineers and industry attorneys with getting him through the transition period following Brock’s death.

“I’m still not over missing [Jeff] and probably never will be,” Graham said. “But we did have to adjust the business practice a bit. Jeff did most of the TV work, so as a result we no longer do TV and auxiliary services work, such as STLs.”

Graham became sole owner of the consulting business following Brock’s death and the retirement in 2013 of another part-owner, Mary Matheny, the former office manager and treasurer. Graham now runs the business and has one employee, Cathy McKaty, receptionist and secretary.

The firm works with AM and FM broadcasters on channel allocations and applications for the FCC — “anything you want to get to the FCC and approved, including LPFM, translators, Method of Moments proofs and traditional proofs of AM directional antenna arrays,” he said.

Graham graduated from Auburn University with a Bachelor of Science degree and a major in aviation in 1971. He began his broadcast career after graduation aboard an aircraft carrier in the Navy as an announcer working in public affairs. After his military service concluded, Graham worked in commercial radio as an announcer, but chose the path to broadcast engineering when he realized he enjoyed fixing things more than being on air.

Graham’s broadcast engineering career path has kept him working mostly in the southeastern United States. He got his first radio chief engineer job in 1979 before becoming a contract engineer in Georgia and Florida in 1983.

AM DA EXPERTISE
One expertise he has developed over the years has been in tuning AM directional antennas, Graham said. “It can seem overwhelming to a lot of people, but I find that it all seems to fall into place.”

The late Jeff Brock, left, is shown with Stuart Graham and the girls’ softball team they coached in 2003.
Graham, according to the company’s website, is accomplished in tuning and operating directional antenna systems, including working with detuning re-radiating structures or considering those structures in the design of a directional AM station.

Right now, broadcasters are very interested in consolidating AM and FM sites, according to Graham; and most have a keen interest in translators and boosters. Broadcasters “in many cases are looking to sell their AMs, unless they have an FM translator for it already. Or they’re sometimes deleting AM directional operations for non-directional operations, which is less expensive and easier to maintain.”

Translator power levels may not be high — maximum effective radiated power for any FM translator is 250 watts, according to the FCC — but they can provide AMs with access to valuable FM spectrum and enhanced nighttime presence, he said.

Graham uses V-Soft Communications Software, an RF software and engineer consulting company owned by Doug Vernier, to search, identify and implement AM, FM and FM translator operations. “I have worked with Doug Vernier since the time of the Radio Shack Model 3 computers,” he said.

“Of course, new translator opportunities can only be requested within an FCC filing window, but existing translators that are underutilized can often be found.”

WORKING WITH THE FCC
Stuart Graham in 2003
Graham predicts the FCC will go forward with its proposed rulemaking to, among other things, allow AM stations to apply for new FM translators to rebroadcast their signals, possibly as soon as this year. He also supports a proposal to transition the AM band to TV analog Channels 5 and 6 spectrum.

He’s a firm believer that HD Radio technology on FM will succeed. Many of Graham’s clients are seeking FM translators to use as outlets for their multicast HD2 and HD3 signals. “The demand for translators is very high, but the supply is virtually nonexistent in large urban areas. If someone wants one in a more rural area, we usually can find either an existing translator for sale or one that we could possibly move in,” Graham said.

Graham said his consulting firm has been at the forefront of the push for FM translators. He performs a lot of work for Cumulus, which is “very interested” in translators. “I think [Cumulus] sees it as a means to get additional signals on the air and expand their advertising base.”

Jeff Brock, a “Brilliant Engineer”

Jeff Brock was a respected broadcast technical consultant who was vice president of Graham Brock Inc. for 18 years. Brock was only 51 when he passed away from cancer in October 2012.

According to the firm’s website, “Brock possessed an uncanny ability to recall call letters, transmitter information, class, etc., for nearly every station he dealt with.” He specialized in FM, LPFM, TV, DTV and broadcast microwave.

Brock had been partners in the firm with Stuart Graham since its founding in 1994. He had been active in youth sports and was an avid cyclist. After Brock’s passing, colleagues at the law firm of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth wrote on their blog: “Jeff was a warm, humble and sincere gentleman, with a wry sense of humor and a passionate love for the Atlanta Braves. A brilliant engineer, Jeff had a deft writing touch and an amazingly active, creative and encyclopedic mind.”

Graham works closely with the FCC and typically makes it to Washington several times a year to visit the agency and the communications attorneys he frequently uses.

“Working with the FCC is very relationship-driven. The FCC is easy to work with, for the most part, if you have a relationship with them. They are willing to help if they can. That really hasn’t changed much through the years,” he said.

Graham works mostly from his office on St. Simons Island, the largest of the Golden Isles set along Georgia’s southern Atlantic coast. It may seem an unlikely spot for a broadcast technical consulting firm, nestled alongside the countless condos and B&Bs; but Graham describes the location as “paradise” and a reason why he goes on the road these days only about a week out of the year. He lives with his wife Debbie; she works for the University of Georgia as a business consultant. The couple has a grown daughter, Lindsay.

According to the company’s website, Graham spends his free time tinkering with his “toys” like a Jeep, jet skis and a Harley. Graham remains an accomplished pilot and owns a 1957 Beechcraft Bonanza V-tail; at one time he flew himself to visit clients up and down the East Coast. “Having my own plane was a very big advantage at one point,” he said.

Graham has adhered to one business philosophy through the years. “I believe you should treat people fair and don’t discount their ideas because sometimes they are a lot smarter than you are. Treating people fair and respecting their opinions is how I operate my business and build relationships.”

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