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Next-Gen Engineers: Dominic Mendicino

"I have grown up in a technology-driven world that can literally change daily; I have never known anything else"

“Engineers seem to play the part of full on miracle worker at times, and it’s essential to have a clear head to be able to execute well under pressure.”Name: Dominic Mendicino, 27
Company/Title: CBS Radio Chicago, Remote Broadcast Engineer
City: Chicago

This is one in an occasional series highlighting engineers in their 20s and 30s, men and women who are building the “next generation” of technology leaders.

Radio World: How did you get into radio/broadcast engineering?
Dominic Mendicino: Prior to being hired at CBS Radio Chicago, I freelanced as an audio engineer within the production industry. I have traveled the world (Paraguay, India and Kenya) recording and mixing location audio for film, toured the country with major label artists mixing live sound, installed and maintained audio systems in venues around Chicago, and spent 7 years in recording studios all around Chicago recording and mixing various musical acts.

For 7 years, I would take the bus from one side of Chicago to the other — without a vehicle, it was the only way to get to the recording studio where I primarily worked. With a commute that lasted roughly an hour and a half each way, I typically arrived at 3 p.m. and left at 3 a.m., sometimes later into the next day. Artists don’t necessarily like to work during the day, and I was always at the mercy of their schedule.

As I opened the door to the control room upon my arrival, the smell of cigarette smoke would be the first to greet me, followed by “Mimi” the studio cat and then the studio owner. I would take a seat in that black rolling chair in front of the recording console, fire up a Pro Tools session, and start working with one goal in mind: to hear a song I mixed on the radio. I had always envisioned how amazing that moment would feel, and I chased that goal every time I stepped foot into a recording studio.

This is what ultimately led me to the radio broadcast industry. I have always had a fascination with the ability to get information to the masses, and the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are listening to the same song or voice at the exact same time absolutely amazes me.

I realized I had virtually no connections in the radio industry, so I decided to go to CBS Radio’s job board multiple times a day, every single day, until I found an engineering position I was qualified for.

Since coming aboard at CBS Radio Chicago, I have been able to utilize all of the skills I have learned in my previous experiences, and have been completely submersed into a whole new world of engineering that I can’t get enough of.

RW: How do you think your age affects your approach to your job? Or do you think it doesn’t have an impact on how you work?
DM: There are two ways I feel I should answer this question.

The first involves the way that I work. I have grown up in a technology-driven world that can literally change daily; I have never known anything else. This has conditioned me to not only be able to adapt quickly and embrace change, but to anticipate and actually look for new and more effective ways of getting a job done.

Secondly, my youth in the radio broadcast industry has put me in a unique position and absolutely affects how I approach my job every day. I am surrounded by a wealth of knowledge in engineers whose combined years of experience can more than quadruple my age, let alone the length of my career.

I have the most valuable resource right in front of me, and that is the people to learn from. I take advantage of this fact as much as I possibly can, even if it means being the annoying “kid” that tags along with an experienced engineer to soak up whatever information they are willing to divulge.

While a lot of my generation’s engineering work force has gravitated towards app building and web-based platforms, I am fascinated about learning the art and skill it takes to maintain such things as an AM radio transmitter. I have a lot to learn and have only scratched the surface. In a time where some may find it difficult to deal with IT-based technology, I have a learning curve in the opposite direction. I am leaning on these engineers to learn the fundamentals of AM and FM radio transmission that they have already mastered.

RW: What do you see as the most important industry trend affecting broadcast engineering today?
DM: The lack of young broadcast engineers coming up in the industry today. As the broadcast engineering population ages, it’s only natural that a younger generation will soon take the reins. When I take a look around, it’s difficult to see young engineers anywhere, let alone enough to close the gap the older generation is leaving behind. This may lead into an even more specialized field in the future with fewer engineers working on more and more sites.

I also see the broadcast engineer becoming more of an all-encompassing profession, integrating more with IT and all other aspects of technical operations.

For example, here at CBS Radio, the building, running and maintaining of performance stages have been a big trend across our company. These venues have been taken on the broadcast engineering departments and involve full-fledged video switching systems, camera robotics, production lighting, multitrack audio recording and mixing, and live video streaming on the web, and a whole lot more. This expands the broadcast engineer’s skills beyond the traditional scope of the profession, and the responsibilities of the department and reach seem to be growing.

RW: What advice would you give to other young engineers or to aspiring engineers?
DM: Get your hands on everything you can imagine that’s even remotely related to the field. I can’t tell you how much my past has helped me excel beyond my years in the broadcast engineering world not only technically, but it has also prepared my mindset to not be afraid of getting my hands dirty on things I know very little about. All the years of curiously tearing apart electronics, rebuilding recording studios, and soldering seemingly millions of cables have all played a key role in my ability to learn and learn efficiently.

The other piece of advice I can give is to find a professional in the industry whom you can latch onto and learn from. There is no school, paperwork or website that can even come close to a mentor’s knowledge. Especially in an industry where most of the professionals have decades of experience and have seen the way radio has evolved over the years. I am fortunate to have more than one in Chicago.

RW: What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned from an industry mentor?
DM: Sam Cappas, our regional director of engineers, always tells me, “Never let them see you sweat.” This is a profession [in which the] main responsibility is to make sure everything works and works well. Problems arise on a daily basis, and that is one of the primary reasons we have jobs. When something inevitably goes wrong, it’s important to stay levelheaded and focused on the issues at hand, while everyone else around may seem like they are losing their minds.

Engineers seem to play the part of full-on miracle worker at times, and it’s essential to have a clear head to be able to execute well under pressure.

Read more stories in our series here.

Do you know a younger engineer you’d like to nominate for the series? Are you a broadcast engineer in your 20s or 30s? We’d like to hear from you. Email Emily Reigart at [email protected].