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Broadcast Engineers Duke It Out With Their IT Departments

Where miscommunication lies, problems arise

The lines between IT and broadcast engineering have been continuously blurred for quite some time. Yes, some broadcast equipment is a computer or networked appliance with a singular task; however, broadcast engineers must work with and ally themselves with the IT department, or problems can occur.

Broadcast equipment must be able to navigate through the firewalls and the engineer must have the broadcast equipment reside in an IP subnet separate from the office operations. Most remotes connect via IP,  along with any SNMP monitoring.

The IT department must understand the interdependence of broadcasting and IT — but this is not easy. I have worked for many companies where IT felt that they should be in control of anything with wires. This has led to many disasters and discrepancies.

Let’s relate some incidents. No names will be revealed to protect the innocent or guilty (you can decide).

Incident #1

One day, while a radio station was broadcasting a live remote, the live performance was abruptly cut short and reverted back to the studio. The in-studio staff jumped into action to keep the station on air, while the program director angrily called and told the engineer that the connection was dead. The location staff could not connect, the sales staff was blaming the broadcast engineer and the location staff did not know what to do.

Now, the broadcast engineer saw that no connection can be made. Oh no, what happened? Turns out a new firewall had been put into place and it ended up blocking connections to the codecs being used for the codecs! Why didn’t the IT department discuss this with the broadcast engineer? We will never know the answer to that question. (Yes. this is a true story!)

Incident #2

On what’s an average day in your average station, as the sales department is rearranging their offices (maybe that is what they do on Fridays), the broadcast engineer checks everything out for a smooth weekend. Saturday comes and the broadcast engineer gets a phone call. The studio reports that the automation is running very slow. The engineer grimaces and says to his family with a spotlight shining on him: “This is a job for the broadcast engineer!” He hops in his car and suddenly is stuck in 20 mile per hour traffic (yes this always happens when he goes in during off-hours).

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Eventually making it into the station — shouting expletives and wondering why he did not choose a better paying industry — the engineer became privy to the the issue. He does a ping test and sees the slow response. The traceroute takes forever. The network switches are lit like Christmas trees, even with minimal staff in the office. Suddenly, an epiphany: “Let’s reboot the switches!” This is not an easy task as it must be approved by the IT manager.

He makes a phone call and explains the situation to the IT manager, who then agrees that the switches should be rebooted and brought up one at a time. The IT manager says the broadcast engineer can handle it and there is no reason for him (the manager) to miss his dinner. Around 40 minutes later, all the switches are power cycled and the broadcast engineer is developing a new opinion of the IT manager. The broadcast engineer witnesses the studio working well again and says to himself “all is good.”

He goes home, and as midnight comes he once again gets the call that automation is slowing. Dragging himself to his vehicle, the engineer gets back into the car and drives to the station. Being midnight, he gets a parking space in front of the building! He thinks that the best thing that has happened this weekend is that he gets a good parking space. Entering into the station, the engineer is shown the issue at hand by the overnight operator. Totally puzzled, he calls a very annoyed IT manager and asks what he might suggest.

Unfortunately, the IT manager only kept inquiring if the broadcast engineer was aware of the time. The broadcast engineer is more than disgruntled. He knows things have to be running perfectly for Monday, and ignoring the issue is not an option. He decides to walk the facility to see if there is something new that he missed. He walks into the sales department and notices that all the desks are moved. He yells into the empty room “Now hold everything!” A few minutes later, running back into the studio, he checks that all is good. Realizing that it is well past 2:30 a.m., the engineer decides to call the IT manager, waking him up, just to say “it is fixed!”

“What was the issue?” asks the groggy IT guy. It seems that since nobody supervised the move of the desks in sales, one cable was plugged into two jacks, thus creating a loop. Why didn’t the IT manager supervise the move? Everything in a broadcast facility is a piece of a giant system. The broadcast engineer was not commended for finding and fixing the issue in the middle of the night. He was scolded for waking the IT manager. Alas.

I invite you to send in more stories about IT v. Broadcast Engineers.

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