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I’m an Engineer, Not a Bricklayer!

For too many years, engineers have included the title of plumber, electrician, even exterminator when it comes to our day-to-day duties.

For too many years, engineers have included the title of plumber, electrician, even exterminator when it comes to our day-to-day duties.

I’m not sure how it began, and to be fair, I was just as guilty as a chief, doing almost everything the GM asked – moving desks, unstopping the toilet, changing light bulbs. We’ve all been there. Maybe some of us still are.

To be fair, in my case, the GM would always help, and he’d get the other managers (PD, SM, OM) to lend a hand as well. You don’t mind expanding your skill set when you’re not the only one doing the unpleasant job.

Nowadays, there’s little camaraderie, it seems. The chief is directed to handle the problem. End of discussion.

That’s the point at which you need to call in the professionals. Toilet overflowing? Call the plumber. A hundred boxes of bumper stickers arriving that need to be carried up two flights of stairs? Call Manpower and hire a couple of day laborers. You can supervise them, but don’t get stuck doing the work yourself.

The key to delegating is to have resources readily at hand. Visit with your local Manpower or day-labor company. Find out what’s available. Put together a resource list of plumbers, air-conditioning repair services, exterminators, and develop relationships with them.

When I worked with a country format, most of these service companies listened to the station. I’d drop off a few of the station T-shirts when the account was established. Yes, some even were willing to trade their services.

The key is that we were front-of-mind, and they’d take good care of us because the liked the station. Use your resources to work for you.

(click thumbnail)Fig. 1
As a CE, you probably can fix the plumbing or handle changes to the electric system. The caveat here is that you are not licensed to do this.

So you wire up the new transmitter. If something happens that invites an insurance claim, you’d better believe the insurance company will investigate any reason to deny the claim. Electrical wiring installed by an unlicensed individual could open you up to all kinds of liability.

Fig. 1 shows a couple of Square D disconnects that most engineers could install. The smart engineer will leave this kind of work to the licensed electrician.

This is doubly important for contract engineers. Unless you hold a valid electrician’s license, don’t even think of saving your client a buck by doing the job yourself. If a catastrophe strikes, you can rest assured the “savings” will be forgotten, and your whole business could be at risk.

. . .

Fig. 2 reminds us that this liability extends even to hanging speakers.

In this studio, prepared by Radio One in Washington, they hired the building renovation contractor to mount the speakers. (Note in the figure how the cables were enclosed in a flexible black split-sheath to keep the unsightly wires from view.)

(click thumbnail)Fig. 2
Having a speaker fall can really spoil your day. Again, it’s not that you can’t do it – we all can – but whether it’s worth the liability to you.

At an SBE meeting recently, a group of engineers and I discussed why we are so willing to go the extra mile, save the boss the cost of a licensed electrician, even foolishly climb towers to change a bulb. No one had a concrete answer, but we all agreed hindsight was 20/20 and we’d done some pretty stupid things in our careers. All of this to save the station, the boss, someone – other than ourselves – some money.

I worked with a very wise director of engineering who chastised me for not turning in receipts from Radio Shack or the electronic wholesaler.

It was only a couple of bucks, I reasoned. He told me that until my name was on the corporate documents as part owner of the station, I was cheating myself. Wise advice, and I learned to break that habit, I hope you will too.

This is especially true for contract engineers. You are not running a charity. Dismissing debt, giving away your advise, not charging for parts just perpetuates the attitude that your services are not worth something, and you can be taken advantage of.

So we’re going to let the professionals handle the problem from now on, right? Bill Smith is a telecom technician with National Grid Service Co. in Brockton, Mass. He offers advice along this line.

Bill read what we’ve discussed in Workbench about handling rodent problems at the transmitter site. Bill’s advice, if you decide to clean up this problem, be sure to wear gloves, Tyvek coveralls, face protection and respiratory protection. Bill cautions that rodents carry such nasty things as Hantavirus. No radio station is worth risking your life over such an illness.

In the case of National Grid, a large electric utility serving New York and New England, they have a significant rodent problem in both their substations and radio sites. Company policy is to hire an outside contractor, experienced in handling these problems, to clean up the site. After the extermination, the technicians will go in and attempt to secure the site from rodents.

The issue of disease holds true not only for rodents but birds and other wild animals that may inhabit your site. Perhaps the best way to assess any situation that deviates from your technical duties as an engineer is to ask, “Will performing this task endanger me or put me at risk?” If the answer is yes, grab that phone and call a professional.

. . .

I mention that contract engineers shouldn’t treat their business as a charity. Look to the major transmitter manufacturers if you want an example of running a successful business. They don’t apologize for the rates their field service technicians command, nor should you.

As for parts, they buy a part but realize it may sit on their shelf for a couple of years. To sell it for what they paid for it two years ago would quickly bring the company to its knees.

Just as you invest money in bank, bond or stock, you expect your investment to grow. Storing parts on a shelf is an investment, too. It also explains why the $5 chip is sold for $10. It may sit on the shelf for several years.

Even the best stocking efforts by manufacturers can be thwarted by parts discontinuance. For example, high-voltage rectifier stacks that are no longer in a manufacturer’s supply may be found at or call (732) 938-4499. This company stocks a variety of parts that are useful in repairing transmitters.

Submissions for this column are encouraged, and qualify for SBE recertification credit. Fax your submission to (703) 323-8044 or send e-mail to [email protected]