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This Month in SBE History: Engineers Learn Leadership Skills

This Month in SBE History: Engineers Learn Leadership Skills

Aug 1, 2014 4:52 PM, Chriss Scherer, CBPE CBNT

The station engineer is someone with a wealth of knowledge about all the technical aspects of the station operation. But the chief engineer is also typically a member of the station management team. The skill and knowledge of electronics, RF, data and IT are important to the engineer”s job, but so are the skills needed to be an effective manager.

The Society of Broadcast Engineers Leadership Development Course is one of the cornerstones of the SBE”s education efforts. But while the SBE is behind the course today, it started as an endeavor of the National Association of Broadcasters.

The SBE has presented the SBE Leadership Development Course since 1997. The NAB sponsored the course from 1965 to 1995. This intense course is designed for broadcast engineers who have or aspire to have management responsibilities. Today the SBE offers the course in cooperation with instructor Rodney Vandeveer, a professional leadership and management trainer and a professor of organizational leadership and supervision at Purdue University.

In 1963, the idea for the course was set by NAB Science and Technology Vice President George Bartlett. Bartlett contacted Robert Flanders, the director of engineering at WRTV-TV in Indianapolis, to be involved. Flanders would later serve as president of the SBE from 1971 to 1973. Bartlett and Flanders saw a need to train engineers in management skills because too many of them failed after being promoted to those positions. They were good engineers but not necessarily adept at people and management skills.

The story goes that Bartlett travelled to Indianapolis and the two of them began driving to Chicago to visit the University of Chicago and potentially other schools to see if there would be interest in partnering with the NAB to start a management course for broadcast engineers. When they reached Lafayette, Ind., Flanders suggested they stop at Purdue to see what might be available. They didn”t need to travel any farther.

Dick Cupka, a faculty member at Purdue, was a first instructor of the course. He taught it until passing the reins to Vandeveer, who taught his first course in 2011.

The NAB stopped running the course in 1995. After a year off, the SBE Executive Committee investigated taking the course over. Chuck Kelly (then past president of the SBE) and board member Tom Weber were graduates of the course and lead the effort to bring it under the SBE. They contacted Cupka and brought him on board as well.

The course has been taught in various locations over the years. It started at Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., then was held at Notre Dame and other locations. When the SBE took it over, the course was held in Indianapolis for several years. When Turner Broadcasting was interested in sending several employees, the class was held in Atlanta. The class attendance has grown in time. The most recent three classes had 25 or 26 students. As an SBE educational offering, 208 students have attended the course. Since the course”s inception, more than 1,100 have attended.

Scherer is a contract engineer and recording engineer in Kansas City, and former editor of Radio magazine.