Linda Baun Have you ever heard it said, “Don’t ask anyone to do something you’re not willing to do yourself?”
With 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 central Indiana.
While 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 necessary.
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 paging.
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 secretary.
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 for them.
I decided 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 Broadcasters Association.