One in a series of occasional articles profiling regional conferences and trade shows.
“Either go big or go home.” That mantra drives much of American culture, and it’s one reason many of us make the annual trek to Las Vegas for the NAB Show. But sometimes smaller is beautiful too. State and regional trade shows have their advantages.
The 62nd annual Broadcasters Clinic of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association is one such opportunity, and it remains among the nation’s most respected engineering conferences. In recent years, the clinic has drawn approximately 300 attendees from 22 states, including participants from as far away as Alaska; since its debut, it has been recognized seven times with a regional conference award from the Society of Broadcast Engineers.
RW spoke with Linda Baun, vice president of WBA, about what will be happening at this year’s event, which takes place Oct. 16–18 at the Madison Marriott West in Middleton, Wis. Sessions on the first day focus on radio, the second on both radio and TV, and the third day is all about television. More than 22 sessions are scheduled, featuring at least 15 speakers. The Upper Midwest SBE Meeting is concurrent.
The Broadcasters Clinic has quite a history, dating to 1956. The list of presenters over the years reads like a Who’s Who of broadcasting and engineering: Leonard Hedlund, Dennis Williams, Don Markley, John Battison, John Ryan, Tom Bolger and many others.
Yet this event has had only three chairs. Beginning in 1975 and continuing for more than 30 years, Don Borchert spearheaded the Midwest Regional Broadcast Clinic under the auspices of the University of Wisconsin-Extension and, then in 1994, the WBA.
Borchert’s broadcast engineering career spanned six decades and began in 1950, including service to Lee Broadcasting in Minnesota and Iowa, as well as RCA Broadcast in Chicago. In 1968, he became director of engineering for WHA Radio & TV in Madison, a position he held for the next quarter century; during that time he was chief engineering consultant for the construction of two significant broadcast facilities: Vilas Hall, the UW-Madison Communications and Broadcast Center, and the massive 1,423-foot candelabra-style tower shared by broadcasters in Madison.
In 2003, the Society of Broadcast Engineers named him Educator of the Year; in 2006 he was inducted into the Wisconsin Broadcasters Hall of Fame. He died in 2010.
The second chair, Leonard Charles, had served on the Clinic Committee for many years and led the event from 2010 to 2017. He has served on the Technology Committee as well as the Next Generation Broadcast Platform Committee at the NAB and was a member of the Wisconsin Emergency Communications Committee. Among many honors, he has twice been named Engineer of the Year by SBE and was the 2013 recipient of the NAB Service to Broadcast Engineering Award. He was inducted into the Wisconsin Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2017.
Upon Charles’ retirement, Kent Aschenbrenner became the chair of the Broadcasters Clinic Committee, so this is his first Broadcasters Clinic as chair. Aschenbrenner has been a TV and radio broadcast professional for 41 years. Based at WTMJ in his hometown of Milwaukee, he oversees Scripps’ spectrum repack at 17 stations and nine LP displaced stations. His responsibility for 34 radio stations is winding down due to the sale of Scripps radio assets. With degrees from Milwaukee Area Technical College and the Milwaukee School of Engineering, he serves on the NAB TV Technology Committee and is a proud holder of an FCC First Class Radio-Telephone License.
Sessions are selected by a committee that meets twice a year to review submissions, Baun said. “Most of the members are engineers from Illinois and Wisconsin, and topics are selected that are relevant to area radio and TV.”
For example, Don Backus will lead one about liquid-cooled transmitters. Ask radio engineers what they know about this and they might tell you they’re something the television guys need to deal with. Others might recall them as an historical footnote from the 1940s, when high-power AM and shortwave sites often had a cooling pond and fountain in front of the transmitter building to chill those enormous tubes.
“Modern liquid cooling is a closed-loop system, it’s quite reliable and boring and there are no fountains,” says Backus, who is account manager, radio transmitters for RSA Broadcast & Media. He says today’s liquid cooling is easy to install, economical to operate and requires less maintenance than air-cooled transmitters.
“Instead of sizing multi-ton air conditioning systems, with liquid cooling the excess heat is drawn outside without blowers, fans and ductwork, and because liquid cooled is more efficient, there’s less excess heat to deal with.”
Other advantages are a smaller footprint, with a 40 kW unit easily fitting into seven square feet of floor space. Following installation, the station can expect increased reliability and significant savings on its electric bill. Backus notes that many of the installation steps are different. “On the other hand, successful implementation usually requires less work, albeit different tasks, than installing an air cooled transmitter.
In another session, David Layer, vice president of advanced engineering for the National Association of Broadcasters, will provide a “Radio Technology Update.”
“I purposely offered a broad title because NAB is doing a tremendous amount of work in the radio technology area right now and I am eager to share a glimpse of this with the audience,” he said. The technologies he will discuss include hybrid radio implementation and deployment, voice control for radio receivers and all-digital radio for AM and FM. “I am also planning to talk about some of the innovative work being done by Pilot, NAB’s innovation initiative, as well as the NAB automotive initiative.”
Other sample sessions of interest to radio include “HD Radio, Past, Present and Future” with Jeff Welton of Nautel; “New FM Processing Technology Brings Studio Quality Audio to the Receiver,” with Jeff Keith of Wheatstone; “Broadcast Equipment Virtualization Is Here Now,” with Alex Hartman of Optimized Media Group and Kirk Harnack of the Telos Alliance; “Reducing FM Combining Costs Using Efficient Configurations” with Sean Edwards of Shively Labs; and “DC Legal Issues for Engineers” with David Oxenford of Wilkinson Barker Knauer.
The trade show portion of the event will include more than 70 vendors; exclusive exhibit time is set aside each day.
Baun emphasizes certain advantages of a regional or state show. “In addition to the local seminar topics, there’s a more relaxed atmosphere where you can have lengthy conversations with exhibitors and presenters on a one-to-one basis. There are also more opportunities for networking with other local engineers.”
Find info about the event at www.wi-broadcasters.org/events/.