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‘What You Need to Know to Do the Job’

It’s a whomper, all right.

(click thumbnail)This sample from the table of contents shows the breadth of topics and authors.It’s a whomper, all right.

A whomper is something big enough to be called a whopper and heavy enough to go whomp when it lands on your desk (at least according to me).

The Tenth Edition of the “NAB Engineering Handbook” qualifies. This is the first edition in eight years and its release, delayed a year by the scope of work and time required, was a highlight of the recent convention.

The book is an industry classic, marketed as the definitive guide to broadcast engineering for radio and television, and past editions have lived up to the billing.

A joint publishing effort of NAB and Focal Press, the new version provides detailed information for novices and experts about the entire broadcast chain; it is a compilation of the work of 126 authors. The book (with searchable CD) fills out 104 chapters in 2,150 pages, or 35 percent more than the Ninth Edition; it retails for $199 and sells for a bit less via the NAB Store ( and for association members.

NAB named Ed Williams, retired from PBS, as editor-in-chief, with Graham Jones, David Layer and Tom Osenkowsky serving as associate editors.

At PBS Williams was involved in digital television broadcasting transition issues for public broadcasting stations. Jones is director of communications engineering at NAB, where he works on advanced television issues and standards. Layer is director of advanced engineering in the Science and Technology Department of NAB. Osenkowsky is a broadcast engineering consultant.

The four told me they wanted to make this edition special, updating all its chapters rather then carrying over information from previous editions.

“The scope of the handbook project was to address all current technologies that broadcast engineers encounter in their daily activities,” Osenkowsky said. “The station that has a computer automation system, standby tube transmitter and solid-state digitally controlled transmitter has a technology span exceeding half a century. The goal was to adequately address all of these technologies, emphasizing the present.

“Solid state has replaced tubes in transmitters. Computers have replaced reel and cart machines. Satellites have replaced telephone landlines,” he continued. “Much has changed over the years.”

Osenkowsky is an RW contributor, and while RW is not involved in the handbook, I’m proud of how many of our writers appear, including Skip Pizzi, Ty Ford, Mike Starling, John Lyons, Cris Alexander and Harold Hallikainen, not to mention the many suppliers and industry newsmakers whose names you’ll recognize from our industry news coverage.

The editors did most of their work via e-mail and FTP file transfers, including correspondence, drafts of chapters, editorial work and the hundreds of photos, drawings, graphs, maps and charts. Fittingly, I used e-mail to learn more about this project. Williams, Jones and Layer replied as a group. Here are excerpts:

Why should engineers be interested?

Radio broadcast engineers should be especially interested in the Tenth Edition because of the substantial updating of existing chapters and multiple new chapters devoted to radio station production, automation, program acquisition, digital transmission and the emphasis on digital technologies throughout the broadcast chain.

The Tenth Edition is a major overhaul of the previous editions mainly because of the emphasis on digital technology and IT-based systems. Our motto was to provide “what the broadcast engineer needs to know to do the job.” We think we achieved that objective.

Is it affordable for most engineers?

Emphatically, yes. If a broadcast engineer uses the handbook to solve just one major problem or provided a solution to an engineering issue, then the book will have paid for itself, perhaps many times over.

By spending some time reading related chapters in addition to those of particular interest to a broadcast engineer, the additional knowledge will be instrumental in improving the standing of individuals and advancing careers.

When was the project started?

Initial work began by NAB staff late in 2004. The editor-in-chief was on board by December. Many of the authors were contacted, contracted and began writing in 2005 and 2006.

Because most of the authors had day jobs, yet we wanted their expertise, it was necessary to allow enough time for them to do the work in their “spare” time. Final editorial versions were determined late in 2006, final editing completed in early 2007 and the book was printed in time for the NAB2007 convention.

What was the hardest part?

Working with 126 authors — some chapters had more than one author and some wrote more than one chapter — with different writing styles to produce 104 chapters that required several rounds of editing and review. Dealing with engineers who were experts in their subject and wrote things to be understood while not always grammatically correct or with appropriate style. [Ed. Note: Tell me about it.]

Also, the publisher’s copyeditors needed considerable oversight, as they were dealing with unfamiliar subjects and sometimes changed the meaning of the author while trying to improve the grammar and style. Another challenge was maintaining a high quality of graphics for the figures while working with a thousands images in many different formats.

What trends or new content do you find most notable for radio?

The digital technology sea change in nearly every facet of broadcasting. We added 24 new chapters to the Tenth Edition and removed or consolidated seven from the Ninth Edition.

New chapters for radio include NRSC Analog and Digital Standards; Worldwide Standards for Digital Radio; Planning Radio Transmitter Facilities; FM RF Transmission Lines; AM & FM IBOC Transmission Systems and Equipment; Audio & Video Over IP Networks and Internet Broadcasting; Tower Lighting and Monitoring; STL Systems for AM-FM-TV; and Managing Workplace and Environmental Hazards, in addition to those already radio-specific chapters.

How did you decide who would write? Were they paid?

When practical we asked the authors of the Ninth Edition to update their chapters. If that was not possible we obtained new authors to update or rewrite a specific chapter.

There are so many new technologies, we found we needed many new chapters. We looked for experts that we knew ourselves or, based on their reputations or publications, just called them up and asked. Most seemed flattered to be considered as an author for the “NAB Engineering Handbook.”

Each received an honorarium and a copy of the handbook.

How do you keep the content unbiased?

All authors were retained as individuals, not as company representatives. We asked authors associated with vendors to include all relevant technologies including those from other manufacturers, although mention and examples of products from their own companies was allowed as examples of current implementations. We sometimes offered suggestions to authors on subject areas we felt needed development.

This policy worked well and any occasional bias was picked up and corrected by the editors.

In addition, broadcast engineers are a pretty savvy group and can determine for themselves what is needed. Reading a chapter is only the first step in a learning process that leads to making a technical product decision. It is up to the engineer to conduct additional research as may be needed.

The handbook is a comprehensive and easy-to-read resource that provides the broadcast engineer with the basic knowledge of a subject.

We’ll write more about the handbook in future coverage. I welcome your comments and reviews of this engineering resource as well. Write to me at[email protected].