Dan Houg is the new president of the Association of Public Radio Engineers. He is also the chief engineer for Northern Community Radio in Minnesota. He’s had a rather unusual journey into radio broadcast engineering, yet he feels right at home.
TechBytes: You’re the new president of the Association of Public Radio Engineers, a high profile position in our business. Tell us who you are.
Dan Houg: I am 56 years old and until 2004 I had never walked into a radio station so I come into radio engineering late in life. However, as with many of us, I was an electronics hobbyist with a passion for restoration of tube guitar amplifiers and other vintage electronics, live sound reinforcement, and have the scars on my knuckles from various Fiat convertibles, motorcycles, and anything you could put gas in. It seems this background along with a willingness to ask questions was well-suited to radio engineering. In 2005, I built new studios for Northern Community Radio’s KAXE(FM) plant in Grand Rapids, Minn., and in 2012 built studios for KBXE(FM) in Bemidji, Minn along with a complete transmission plant. While an accomplishment, I wouldn’t have been able to do so without the generous knowledge and support of the online radio community of Pubtech as well as a great consultant, Gray Haertig. Prior to radio engineering, I worked 17 years for the Minnesota Department of Health as a regulator doing inspections and providing technical assistance for water quality issues.
TechBytes: What do you see is/are the major issue/issues confronting APRE and how will you take it/them on?
Houg: APRE’s primary product is the two day Public Radio Engineering Conference held in Las Vegas prior to the NAB Show though we are involved in policy direction with several other entities including SBE and FCC rulemaking. I think the major challenge for us, which is actually fun to work on, is keeping our finger on the pulse of the evolving radio station engineer as radio itself changes. In choosing course content, we must balance between the pull from our respective stations for the “bright and shiny” new feature/app/interaction requested by station staff and yet not forgoing the bread and butter of RF basics, plant infrastructure, STLs and disaster recovery.
TechBytes: What will be some of the priorities of the Houg administration at APRE?
Houg: As the new APRE president, my first priority is to do no harm! Past President Jobie Sprinkle and each before him have built up and left APRE in fantastic shape. We’ve got an excellent, functional working board of directors from diverse backgrounds but in 2016 all of the remaining founding members of APRE will roll off the board and APRE will function for the first time without their presence. It is a charge I take very seriously because of the strength and health of where we are at now. With incredible manufacturer sponsorship support of the Public Radio Engineering Conference, as well as smart site booking by Paxton Durham on our board, we are entering 2016 with cash reserves that will allow us to offer PREC scholarships for stations to send their engineer. As radio evolves, we also want to reach out to operations people for PREC as many of the roles of engineers and operations folk are melding.
TechBytes: What do you see is/are the major issue/issues confronting radio broadcast engineers in general?
Houg: I think today’s broadcast engineers face the challenge of being competent in a diverse skill set, which returns us to the evolution of the engineer. No longer can you just know RF well, you must also be an IT professional configuring each piece of equipment to co-exist on multiple LANs with proper security, remote access and failover ability. If you do possess the IT skill set, there are likely better paying jobs in the IT industry so I think stations themselves are challenged with finding that right person that can safely put their hands inside a 10,000 plate volt tube transmitter and yet still configure the email server or VPN.
TechBytes: You’re from a small market organization, what are the challenges in those markets that engineers in larger markets may not be aware of?
Houg: One of the largest differences I see between small and large market stations is the importance of fringe reception to smaller markets, which are typically rural and need to cover immense geographic areas for their listenership. The current radio schema is geared towards a metrocentric model of tight 60 dBu contours abutting each other, exacerbated by increased out of channel noise from HD Radio that has a dramatic effect on fringe reception. Additionally, small market stations simply do not have the capital to develop redundant infrastructure to the level seen in larger markets. This means there may not be a backup aux site, transmitter, or even a generator. The flip side of this is that our listenership is fiercely loyal to us and have a vested interest in supporting the station.