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‘This Is Where We Communicate Stuff’

A new intranet site created by Cumulus Broadcasting is for the use of its technical staff.

(click thumbnail)Bad engineering examples. A new intranet site created by Cumulus Broadcasting is for the use of its technical staff.

The company has 67 markets with at least one engineer in each, not counting corporate engineers and Webmasters. Gary Kline, VP of engineering and IT, has wanted something like this for a couple of years. He would watch his people at conventions and noticed something: Yes, they learned; they looked at products; they heard seminar presentations. But what they really loved was talking with fellow engineers about solutions and problems.

Cumulus at one time had operated a newsgroup for the exchange of technical information, but it faded from use before the company moved to Atlanta. Kline decided recently that a new private site would be a great way to replicate the convention experience and give staff a place to share audio and video files, documents, thoughts and questions. The site includes information on facility projects, lists of used or spare equipment and tips about particular models or vendors.

‘A mini NAB’

This is, of course, not a revolutionary concept; but I like that Kline continues to search for ways to help his staff do their jobs and have some fun at the same time. I also like that he calls me to tell me about it. When it comes to “talking up” the engineering department, Gary gets it.

He told me the goal of the site is not to supplant online listservs or trade publications but to provide an environment specific to Cumulus. This takes a load off corporate engineering, which sometimes must answer repetitive e-mail and phone questions; and it might make a new employee feel more comfortable about asking a question without inviting the lengthy and heated diatribes that sometimes erupt on public lists.

Kline rattles off examples of possible topics: “Were there any outages yesterday? What are the new policies? Does our traffic system support Microsoft Vista? What is Cumulus policy on that? Are we or are we not taking down e-mail tomorrow night for maintenance? Are we or are we not renewing McAfee (antivirus software), and what are the new codes? What’s the internal company phone list?”

Users can instruct the system to e-mail them when a particular type of audio processor is listed by a Cumulus employee as available. There are discussion boards, photo pages and document libraries, IT resources and links to favored vendors.

“We have a section with contacts for every engineer in the company. We have passwords for every vendor. What is our Dell account number so we can get employee pricing? What’s our latest Sarbanes or IT policy, where do I find that PDF? These are not the things you find in publications.”

It’s hard to put a cost tag on this project. Cumulus was able to repurpose a server, and it already has powerful Internet access and a data center equipped with UPS and security. It is using Microsoft SharePoint software to create its intranet; Kline says corporate managers like SharePoint enough to use it to manage internal sales training as well.

The system allows various levels of access. In some areas, only certain users can add or delete content; in others, any member can post. The system also ties into the Microsoft Active Directory that Cumulus uses to handle e-mail and music scheduling. The site server is in Cumulus’ data center in downtown Atlanta along with many of the group’s other servers.

One page is just for photos of HD Radio installations, another shares photos from conventions. With his usual impishness — this, after all, is a boss who treated engineers to a “day of beauty” during NAB a year or two ago — Kline also invites photos of bad transmitter facilities and engineering “worst nightmares.”

And he’s thinking of asking his engineers to dig up their old air checks. Many were on the air at one time or another, so he would like to do an “American Idol” thing and have corporate PDs vote for the “best on-air engineer.”

Response to the site has been very good since it went live in December, Kline said. “It’s like a mini week at the NAB, but it goes every week of the year.”