Products That Work, Out of the Box

The case in point involved FM transmitters from a familiar brand. He felt the information regarding menu screens was not well documented in the manuals and that better docs could have saved him five trips to the transmitter site recently.
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When you open that new exciter or other broadcast device, how much work, exactly, do you expect to have to do?

An engineer who asks not to be named writes me to say he sees an increasing trend toward under-documented equipment.

The case in point involved FM transmitters from a familiar brand. He felt the information regarding menu screens was not well documented in the manuals and that better docs could have saved him five trips to the transmitter site recently.

Unfortunately, he says, this isn't an isolated case. He feels it is a trend, one that leaves engineers to depend on technical support phone calls for even the most simple of problems.

"I know it is uncommon for equipment makers to send anything 'plug and play' anymore," he says. "But it is most disturbing to see the trend toward a constant dependence of their tech support people for simple troubleshooting.

"I never called any tech support number in my entire career until just a few years ago," he continued. "I have to admit some shame and embarrassment in doing so at the time. Not being able to figure something out on your own wasn't something I was used to."

These days, he says, not only are calls to tech support considered routine; they are nearly mandatory for even daily maintenance at times.

"I, for one, am not at all comfortable with this trend. Regarding the equipment I currently have installed, I want this practice to stop. I want to be self-reliant in my market and will strive to obtain all information available, or unavailable, for what I have. I am also instituting a policy that I will not purchase equipment that is under-documented in the future."

Adding grit to his sore: Back when his employer's contract for new transmitters was about to be awarded, he had really stuck his neck out for that brand for all its FM stations.

Plug, no play

Separately, he was frustrated during installation of a backup exciter.

"I decided it would be beneficial in the long run having the full capability of the transmitter built in. I set it all up with the company to do the field installation and upgrade (I am completely capable) and adamantly drove the point that I want this to be plug-and-play. And I meant it.

"They took my money, sent me a 'kit' with everything I needed and the all-important exciter. I made the changes and set everything up so it matched the factory docs and pictures. Nothing worked!

"Despite my demands that they set up the exciter, it did not work. And, I mean NOT work. It would not put out RF or even begin to function. Why? It needed to be 'set up' with my laptop computer, using information that is only available by calling tech support and begging to get someone who is not in a hurry to leave somewhere and is willing to help as long as required."

He spent a full day setting up software, which he feels could have been done in minutes at the factory, and found that none of what he was doing had been documented. He also encountered several "secret" menus that were not described in the materials he received.

Loyalty must be earned

In another incident involving a different major manufacturer, this engineer says he demanded that a new transmitter be tested and the whole system be run as a system at the factory.

"They said they did, and charged for it. No problem. I get the thing and hook it all up and start the computer and I get the 'Welcome to Windows setup' screen.

"They never ran the whole system as a unit, as they said they did. If they had, I would have booted up to an application, or at minimum, a Windows desktop, not the Windows startup and installation screen, the same one you see on every brand-new computer."

He had to install software, enter IP addresses and make several calls to tech support to set up things not documented, using a laptop, which he was trying to avoid.

"I was really angry with them," he says — presumably not the mindset a transmitter manufacturer would want to engender in a customer who is about to throw the switch on an expensive new product.

This engineer says companies that send him products that work out of the box will continue to get his business, and the others will not.

What do you think? Is his an isolated case? Or is the quality of documentation and tech support for major broadcast products not up to snuff?

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