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SBE Fetes Busy Golden Anniversary

The years have rolled on, but priorities remain the same

A timeline depicts 50 years of major events and accomplishments of the SBE. Broadcast engineering can be a lonely profession. Whether it’s the chronological isolation of working on projects or tackling emergencies at hours when more sensible station staffers are at home or asleep, or the physical isolation of a remote transmitter site, or the metaphysical isolation of knowing that too often the work goes underappreciated and underpaid, radio and TV engineers need the boost that sometimes comes from comparing notes and sharing ideas with colleagues around the country.

That was the idea back in 1964 when John Battison proposed the organization that became the Society of Broadcast Engineers. As the group marks its 50th anniversary, it’s still a guiding principle.

The SBE’s anniversary year includes two big national gatherings. In April, members convened at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. On Oct. 8 they’ll hold their annual meeting in Verona, N.Y., as part of the annual expo sponsored by the SBE’s Chapter 22 in central New York.

In Las Vegas, the celebration included honors for the founders of the group. While Battison died in 2012 at age 96, his daughter and son-in-law were present for a tribute that included clips of a video interview, in which Battison talked about the SBE’s early days. Charter member Jim Wulliman, namesake of the SBE’s Educator of the Year award, was on hand to be recognized for his half-century with the society.

From the beginning, the SBE has been built on the work of local chapters that now number 114 worldwide. The first, though, was in Binghamton, N.Y. Founding member Gino Ricciardelli has been named SBE Fellow, an honor he’ll receive in person in Verona.

In its anniversary year, the SBE’s priorities are organized around education, certification and government relations.

James C. Wulliman, CPBE, Charter Member and SBE’s sixth president (1973 to 1975) addresses the crowd at the SBE 50th Anniversary Spring Membership Meeting. On the education front, the SBE administers the Ennes Educational Trust, which provides traveling seminars hosted by local SBE chapters as well as a full-day workshop that makes up the opening day of the engineering sessions at the NAB Show, co-produced by the NAB and the SBE. At its NAB Show gathering, the SBE recognized Ennes trustee Fred Baumgartner for his extensive work organizing Ennes seminars around the country for many years.

“The goal of SBE remains the same,” said President Joe Snelson, “the education of the broadcast engineer.”

Conscious of the graying of the field, SBE leaders are trying hard to bring younger engineers into the fold. The anniversary year includes a push for new members to bolster an existing membership of some 5,300 engineers in all 50 states and 29 countries.

The society has also been active in promoting management training for engineers. Its most recent Leadership Development Course was held Aug. 13–15 in Atlanta, sponsored by Turner Broadcasting.

The SBE’s certification program continues to expand to take in new areas that are part of the broadcast engineer’s skill set, including the recent addition of a certification in digital radio broadcasting.

SBE President Joe Snelson, CPBE 8-VSB, addresses the crowd during the Spring Membership Meeting. While the SBE’s headquarters are in Indianapolis, the group maintains an active voice in Washington by way of General Counsel Chris Imlay. In Las Vegas, he updated members on several policy issues the society is involved in, including the continued fight to save broadcasters’ use of a portion of the crowded 2 GHz spectrum for broadcast auxiliary service use. Despite increasing demand for the spectrum from military and broadband users, Imlay says the SBE has kept broadcasters in the mix.

“We’ve made the very, very best of a bad situation,” Imlay said.

The SBE’s 50th anniversary celebration will culminate in Verona with a national awards dinner. The event will recognize members who have made contributions to the society and the industry, including Engineer of the Year Jim Dalke of Seattle and Educator of the Year Norman Portillo of Baltimore. The dinner will wrap up with a keynote speech from Sam Matheny, new executive vice president and chief technology officer at the NAB.