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Today’s Best Reads and Some Great Oldies

In a query of engineers, several familiar, cherished titles came up again and again. But we also received surprising and astute recommendations for any CE who has a staff to manage as well as facilities to maintain.

Radio engineers are nothing if not traditionalists. This becomes clear when you ask them to recommend engineering books they can’t live without.

In a query of engineers, several familiar, cherished titles came up again and again. But we also received surprising and astute recommendations for any CE who has a staff to manage as well as facilities to maintain.

No dummies

The various annual versions of the “Radio Amateur’s Handbook” received the most mentions of necessary literature on the engineer’s desk.

Doug Fearn, an independent handcrafter of audio equipment and a former chief engineer, says, “Not only did I learn electronics from that book, but the old editions are superb examples of how to explain things clearly.”

Andy Butler, senior director for systems engineering at PBS and a former president of SBE, also recommends the handbook, calling it “the best, most comprehensive, cheapest guide to technology you will ever need.”

The book is now called “The ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications” and is published by the Amateur Radio Relay League with a retail price of $44.95 in softcover, $59.95 in hardcover. Both come with a CD-ROM that allows the reader to search the text by keyword.

On the flipside is a useful suggestion for engineers who also function as managers.

Ted Nahil, regional sales manager for ERI, recommends titles from the “For Dummies” collection of Wiley Publishing: “Every engineer these days should read and book or two on management techniques and negotiating, and should have an understanding of budgeting and finance issues facing the industry.”

Nahil recommends “Negotiating for Dummies,” “Accounting for Dummies” and “Managing for Dummies.” The price range generally runs from $19.99 to $24.99.

He also suggest IT books from the series such as “Networking for Dummies” and “TCP/IP for Dummies.”

Butler points to some heavy hitters in IT and design including “Networking: The Complete Reference” by Craig Zacker.

“If you have a networking question, the answer is in this one somewhere.” The book was published by McGraw-Hill and is easy to find at various online bookstores, where it lists for about $30.


(click thumbnail)Graphic from “Electronics and Radio Engineering” by Frederick Emmons Terman.Some engineers prefer old-school literature.

John Bisset, RW’s Workbench author and a regional sales manager for Broadcast Electronics, recommends “AM-FM Broadcasting: Equipment, Operations and Maintenance” by Harold Ennes, published by Harold W. Sams in 1974. It weighs in at a hefty 800 pages and covers a variety of topics.

Bisset says some of the content is out of date and said it will be more helpful if you are repairing any old cart machines you have on hand than a solid-state transmitter. But he loves the book for its “good, applicable knowledge.” SBE reportedly has considered reprinting it, but for now look to online resources, which price the book at $75 for new condition to $45 for like-new.

Cris Alexander, another RW contributor and the director of engineering for Crawford Broadcasting in Denver, also recommends the oldies.

Some of his recommendations would be interesting to dig up. At this writing, “Electronics and Radio Engineering” by Frederick Emmons Terman could be had on if you had $270 to spend — and that’s for a paperback. It was written in 1932 and went through three editions up through 1937.

Alexander also recommends you look at Institute of Radio Engineers papers on antenna propagation and design written in the early days of the industry, when engineers were first putting theory into practice.

“Believe it or not, the stuff in many of these old papers and books is still correct. They figured out a lot of stuff back in the ‘30s and ‘40s that remains valid today.”

A more recent and affordable reference recommended by several engineers is “Directional Antennas Made Simple” by Jack Layton. It can be had from the SBE bookstore for $59.95; society members get a discount.


By contrast, quite a few engineers say they rely almost entirely on the Internet for the latest information, saying it’s more up to date than physically published material.

Bob Gonsett, editor of the CGC Communicator newsletter, recommends to keep current on FCC rules; that site is compiled by Harold Hallikainen, another RW contributor.

Systems engineering consultant David Bialik checks out Web sites like and the Tower of the Week site at, where he also gets his Northeast Radio Watch news.

Sites like Wikipedia and Google are the starting points for some. Conrad Trautmann, engineering executive at Westwood One, says, “I can search for pinouts on a particular model two-way radio for instance, and it’s always available wherever I am.”

Books on the history and overall radio business were also recommended.

“Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio” by Tom Lewis made multiple lists; it’s a great history primer for those just getting into radio, providing the story of Edwin Armstrong, Lee De Forest and their work to start radio as a means of providing service, as well as David Sarnoff’s efforts to design radio that turns a profit.

If you think the cutthroat nature of commercial radio is a recent phenomenon, read this. “Empire” is published by HarperCollins and debuted in 1991. The Ken Burns PBS special is available on DVD.

For drama, Bisset also recommends a used bookstore find, “D.J.” He calls it a slice of life in an early 1970s New York City radio station, where a small-town jock has made the leap to the largest market in the nation.

“It includes backstabbing co-workers, groupies, drugs and overindulgence that eventually brings the star down.” Bisset says it came out in 1971; at this writing, a copy was available on eBay for 25 cents.

More recent is “Something in the Air: Radio, Rock, and the Revolution That Shaped a Generation” by Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher. He pegs the effects of consolidation and writes knowledgably about the birth of music radio and the changes that came when radio adapted to competition from the widespread introduction of television.

The book serves as a well-researched history of radio’s glory years, progressive rock radio as art, and the massive changes brought about by relaxation of ownership limits. “Something in the Air” is published by Random House and retails for $27.95.

Which engineering or radio books can you not live without? Tell us at [email protected].