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Staffing the station

Staffing the station

Dec 1, 2000 12:00 PM, Barry Thomas

Broadcast engineers are becoming more difficult to find. The demands and requirements for the modern radio engineer are more stringent, and the discipline itself is broader than ever before. Chances are that you have been faced with unfortunate and uncomfortable challenges in qualifying an applicant. There are several issues to consider.

What will it cost? If you’re replacing a person or creating a new technical position, the salary should be set when the budget is cast. If you’re budgeting for the position, make sure you’re in line with the proper pay scale. Use the BE Radio Salary Survey as a reference, but make sure your budget will reflect the prevailing rates in your market.

To justify a salary budget, outline the benefits of this person to the station(s). Station managers are often uncomfortable with technical people and become suspicious of growing numbers, but they understand that it takes people to fulfill the promises that sales and promotions departments make. Explain how the job vacancy will affect the station and the manager’s ultimate success. To put it bluntly, many managers don’t want to hear what the person will do, but rather what the person will do for them.

Often, engineering salaries are an attractive place for a general manager to cut back, which always amazes me. The entire engineering department makes up no more than five to seven percent of a typical station’s budget. Personnel changes will usually affect a small percentage of the typical engineering budget. It seems to me there are much more effective, less damaging places to reduce costs.

Where to look Finding available, qualified individuals (that haven’t defected to cellular and wireless) is most difficult when a specific skill set is needed. If you have attended local SBE chapter meetings or are active with other engineers in town, you probably have a good idea who may be looking and what talent is available. Be prepared to expand your search if there is no locally available talent.

Post the position and run help-wanted ads to comply with affirmative action, but make these efforts count. A classified ad in BE Radio will provide more qualified responses than a newspaper ad. Also announce your opening on e-mail list servers, like the those at Broadcast.Net, and nation-wide e-mail newsletters. Make use of the SBE Jobline ( These actions will yield many applicants with skill sets closer to your needs. When you post these notices, don’t forget the station’s EEO plan. It’s not just legally prudent, it’s good business and should provide you with a balanced field of applicants.

Look at the mergers, moves, and changes in your area. Ownership changes often modify or eliminate an engineering job. Mine for talent with these changes. With the change of regime, many engineers prefer to start anew. This may seem predatory in nature, but when faced with having to make a new start, many people would rather do so in new surroundings.

If you still don’t have the kind of applicant you need, the SBE Member Directory lists local chapters and the chairman in each chapter. Call the chairmen in markets of similar size and ask for their suggestions. Chapter chairmen are often the most-connected engineers in the market. Using this technique, I have found all kinds of job information, made new friends and learned some things in the process.

If you can afford the time investment, do the industry a favor and grow your own engineer. There may be a promotions person or weekend part-timer who has shown some engineering interest.

I’ve always found that a well-worded, short note posted on community college and university bulletin boards is effective. Younger staff members can provide some insight and may be enlisted to help post notices. This approach has resulted in a surprising number of applicants that include a few real stars. The biggest challenge is focus. Combat this by providing clear instructions and expectations for the job for which a person is being paid. If the person is determined to get on the air, he or she will do it. I’ve had a few technical people work on the air as well. In these cases, I’ve enjoyed the benefit of a first-hand account on studio technical problems.

The pro-audio world is another source of technical talent. Music store repair techs can be very sharp. Most stores also have a bulletin board for local postings for bands and instruments. This is another good spot for a technical person want ad. Sound men, roadies, and repair techs are often some of the best technical discoveries.

On to the interview You should have a written job description for the position. Be as specific as possible, but keep the description fairly short. This will help you remember all the components of the job and the skill sets you’re looking for. Write down the minimum technical requirements. Make a list of questions that need to be asked. Ask questions that are not answered with a yes or no to draw out more information.

You’re looking for experience, interpersonal skills and communications ability. Ask about specific items from the applicant’s resume. The more an applicant discusses his specific experiences, the better. It is important to listen. There will be awkward silence at times, particularly if you don’t have enough questions prepared or you’ve allowed the applicant to get away with a short answer.

SBE certification offers an easy means to qualify the basic skill level of a broadcast engineer. It is also a real-world test. I encourage you to make use of this resource and rely on this certification as an objective indicator of skills. The interview environment is too emotionally charged and tense to expect an applicant to accurately depict his or her ability. Listening to the applicant’s answers and following up with the provided references will give you a better overall picture of ability.

If you are fortunate, you’ll have the problem of choosing between several qualified people. This decision often lies more with how you think the person will interact with your environment than with any objective measure. A successful employee is more a result of an environmental fit than technical skill. Good luck building your staff and growing the industry.