The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Current events discussions relating to Broadcast Engineering
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Jim Sofonia
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Re: I'm out of here after 35 years

Post by Jim Sofonia » Mon Aug 29, 2016 2:24 pm

RGORJANCE wrote:Good luck with that! :lol:

I'm gonna be 78 next month. I predict you will start going bonkers within two weeks, or so, after you retire and long for the day when you can get back to the smell of molten solder. I know a lot of guys like us that are way up there in age that still like the work and will continue to stay active as long as possible. It beats the heck outta growing into the sofa while watching the Shopping Channel. Fossil
Jim Sofonia here formerly of WTCM. Yep, they called me in the office and "cut me loose" citing financial problems. My assistant of 15 years gets to stay. We have 9 stations in our group (two are AM directional) and spread out as they are 1 engineer can't keep up with all of it. I think they will have to hire another younger, cheaper assistant. Meanwhile this old man is out to pasture. Fossil you were definitely right about going bonkers. So I think I will still hang around here as long as I can contribute to the board, but changed to my real name. No more WTCM for me.

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Re: I'm out of here after 35 years

Post by ChuckG » Mon Aug 29, 2016 4:14 pm

Jim Sofonia wrote:
Jim Sofonia here formerly of WTCM. Yep, they called me in the office and "cut me loose" citing financial problems
If they think they have financial problems now, just wait until things stop working. Check your messages.
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Chuck Gennaro
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by KPJL FM » Tue Aug 30, 2016 7:22 am

Unless the 'younger' engineer has greater seniority with the company, they could be in violation of labor laws releasing anyone older than 55 due to financial reasons (reduction in force), without releasing the 'younger engineer at the same time. Title of duty does not excuse the company when the duties of both engineers are substantially similar.

Then again, you probably wouldn't want to go back to working for a company that would do that... :(
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Jim Sofonia
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by Jim Sofonia » Tue Aug 30, 2016 10:28 am

KPJL FM wrote:Unless the 'younger' engineer has greater seniority with the company, they could be in violation of labor laws releasing anyone older than 55 due to financial reasons (reduction in force), without releasing the 'younger engineer at the same time. Title of duty does not excuse the company when the duties of both engineers are substantially similar.

Then again, you probably wouldn't want to go back to working for a company that would do that... :(
I think you are right, but I'm not going to make any trouble against them. If they don't want me, I don't want them.

BigRed
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by BigRed » Sat Sep 10, 2016 7:48 am

KPJL FM wrote:Unless the 'younger' engineer has greater seniority with the company, they could be in violation of labor laws releasing anyone older than 55 due to financial reasons (reduction in force), without releasing the 'younger engineer at the same time. Title of duty does not excuse the company when the duties of both engineers are substantially similar.

Then again, you probably wouldn't want to go back to working for a company that would do that... :(
Yeah right . . .
Don't hold your breath. Went through this myself a few years back and actually consulted council. I was told that I might prevail if I spent more money for legal services than I had a prayer of recovering, and that would be many years down the road. Seems that the US Supreme Court GREATLY restricted individual rights so far as that "over 55" termination thing is concerned.

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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by BigRed » Sat Sep 10, 2016 8:00 am

You've got to be making some kind of twisted joke here, right? The marketplace is "regulating" that "need" and "availability" right now. If there actually was a shortage then there would be "Technical Help Wanted" ads everywhere, just like there used to be in the back pages of Radio World, TV Technology, Broadcast Engineering (whatever happened to THAT magazine? - never mind). And salaries would be moving up because of that perceived "shortage". We wouldn't be seeing technical staffs being cut.

So I can't fathom why anyone would encourage someone to enter this dying business on the technical side unless they really hated the person they were encouraging. But lets look at what's really up with the technical side of the business . . .

First, the over-the-air part of the business (RF transmission) IS dying. I've had TV clients in top 25 markets tell me it was OK to take the main transmitter site off the air (no back-up site either) during the middle of the afternoon; cable penetration, you know. Yes, the switchboard lights up when you do, but that's not the point; management's attitude about the over-the-air signal is the point. These days TV station management thinks that the transmitter only exists for its weight with re-transmission rights negotiations and must-carry enforcement. And with program content being what it is and a total disregard for on-air quality . . . (the same up-cuts and seconds of dead air that would have given an M/C operator a two week unpaid vacation a decade ago on first offense, a termination on the second, are routine these days), well, what do you expect ? ? ?

Same with AM radio. "Take the station down anytime you need to, we're not billing anything on it anyhow, just keeping it on the air to keep someone else from competing with us on the frequency". At least we still have FM. Except listener-ship will start to drop off there too if it hasn't already. My mid-20's kids don't listen to radio, they've got smartphones that stream music "if you're going to have to listen to "canned" stuff might as well be the stuff I want to listen to, and without the damned 30-minutes of mindless commercials every hour" they say. Same for news and weather. And the one gets traffic updates with far more useful data and accuracy than the not-local traffic reporters on the local TV and radio stations (the other kid doesn't drive, Uber works just fine, which is a whole 'nother story). But if you do want to listen to a "radio station" almost all are now "streamed" on the Internet. My guess is that as soon as the wireless companies start offering unlimited data (something that T-Mobile had just done) direct streaming via smartphone and "Bluetooth-ed" to the car radio will become the "norm".

Broadcast stations are continuing to prune technical staff like locusts taking a grain field these days, even the ones that know better. There's no need for an "Expense Only" item in the budget after all; especially when the competition doesn't have that line item. And with radio having been gutted by Wall Street machinations . . . (two of the biggest are trading like penny stocks now, Cumulus was something like 35-cents a share the other day, IHeart just over a buck; and yes, I know they both have high market caps) what else can you expect from the industry, overall?

And lets not forget the FCC's turning a blind eye (or maybe it's just been poked out by the wireless industry' lap dog called Congress) on broadcasting. Enforcement of the regulations of technical standards has become almost non-existent, the FCC is now doing the same to their enforcement division as the broadcasters are doing to their technical staffs. And the "Inspectors" that are out there don't seem to have a clue. (The couple that I encountered recently didn't know how to check RF power compliance on an AM station.) Maybe that's our own fault though. We sat silently by while it all happened, it was the "professional" thing to do. (Funny how doctors, lawyers, electricians, plumbers, and many other professionals stand up for their respective disciplines.)

Those of you that are still employed by someone might think all this is a bit overboard but what would happen if you lost your job? (And that could easily happen as witnessed by others on this thread; you're just a column of numbers on the expense side of a spreadsheet at the end of the day.) I know, many are getting offers of work here and there, for piecemeal jobs, but what if you REALLY had to put bread on the table with contract-only work? How about buying all that expensive equipment to get set up? And all the other little nickel and dime stuff? All to basically work a job that requires LOTS of driving time, with your vehicle, your availability 24/7/365 and the abuse of nickel-and-dime owners who think that you need to be at their beck and call but then think that you're a charity when it comes time to pay you (the big guys still have some of their own staffing, for now). And generally for an hourly rate that's less than a plumber's or an auto mechanic's, or any of the other previously mentioned professions.

So no, now that I think about it I wouldn't even recommend broadcast engineering to my worst enemy. There may be enough of the business left to support those of us that actually sat for the First Class exam, but there's not a prayer for anyone now starting out; not when a 9-5 IT job, a job for which training/certification is readily available (the apprenticeship system is REALLY all broadcasting has ever had other than the bogus FCC licensing, Bob Jones University aside) with a decent and steady paycheck, and in a reasonably clean environment, with much less hassle is FAR more available. (I don't think that IT people have to unclog toilets either, but I could be wrong about that?) If the industry wants to fix this problem it's now up the station ownership/management, the FCC (if it's something that falls under their jurisdiction) and the "marketplace"; not the skilled engineers that have already given their blood.

Don't hold your breath.

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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by Dale H. Cook » Sat Sep 10, 2016 9:01 am

BigRed wrote:... not when a 9-5 IT job, a job for which training/certification is readily available ...
Funny thing is that I have begun to mentor an IT guy with a 9-5 job. He is an amateur operator who, IIRC, got bitten by the broadcast engineering bug while working at his college radio station. He has sought out some of the best local radio engineers, has helped them out at times when they needed extra hands, and now does some engineering nights and weekends. I am introducing him to the care and feeding of DAs, starting with a simple two tower site that is close to the classic cardioid. I happened to have a spare copy of the 4th edition of the NAB Engineering Handbook which I have given to him so he can study the section by Carl E. Smith on DA theory and design and by Dixie B. McKey on DA care and maintenance. Although design number crunching and maintenance hardware have advanced greatly since the 4th edition was published those sections are still a good introduction.
Dale H. Cook, Contract Engineer, Roanoke/Lynchburg, VA
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by Deep Thought » Sat Sep 10, 2016 10:05 am

BigRed wrote:Maybe that's our own fault though. We sat silently by while it all happened, it was the "professional" thing to do.
This is primarily the fault of the SBE, which is more concerned with administering tests and giving out baubles few employers care about than actually representing broadcast engineering as a profession. As a "trade group" they are worthless.
Mark Mueller • Mueller Broadcast Design • La Grange, IL • http://www.muellerbroadcastdesign.com

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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by W2XJ » Sun Sep 11, 2016 2:09 pm

Really it is just evolution. Broadcast engineering as many know it evolved based on various changes in the business. 36 years ago I wore a suit and was a definite part of the management team. I designed and built custom equipment, had staff for basic on call and made transmitter visits primarily for quality assurance or installation of new equipment. My employer allowed me to buy one of the early CAD systems and other design tools along with the best test equipment. Now,I only do systems design and project management for those who can pay.

The job description for those performing engineering services has been evolving since at least the 50s. Remote control eliminated transmitter supervision. Self operation eliminated most studio engineers. Eventually things got reduced to one person and then that person became responsible for multiple stations. Some of this is not new, though. In the early 70s I had several small stations not known for swift payments. At least in those days, an FCC first phone was still required so I collected weekly in advance. No payment and the license came down and the FCC notified. So none of this is anything new caused by deregulation. It started well before that and well before the SBE existed.

There are too many people in this field who just enable bad operators. I was asked to wash a car once so I gave that person the address and directions to a car wash. She protested and said that the person at her previous station did that for her and I said "go see him, then". Toilet backed up? Call a plumber or the landlord. This is all enabling bad behavior.

For some reason we see entire malls close in some parts of the country because the business was no longer there but we can not let a station that can not pay the bills fail.

I see the situation as either fail or evolve. Evolving means a new approach to engineering. Stations can be designed so they run with minimum of real technical intervention. The problem up until now is that too many stations were designed to protect someone's empire and often left undocumented. I ran into that even in the 70s. At one station the original Chief from 1921 was still involved as a 'consultant'. Over his 50+ year reign he evolved the facility into a 10KW undocumented death trap that only he understood. Fortunately, the station had a CP for a power increase and we brought in an integrator to build a new documented plant. I think that as we evolve into the future, a few specialists will design and build plants that require a lot less maintenance than what many today require and for day to day, a general purpose maintenance person is all that is required.

Like one one of my Aunts was fond of saying, "the god old days maybe old but they weren't often good".

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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by Shane » Sun Sep 11, 2016 9:01 pm

W2XJ, there is not a thing you wrote I don't agree with. Thank you for expressing it.

Many of the previous posts, too.

My perspective is a little different because I've had kind of a split career, starting with a ham license 50 years ago, and then a shift in interest and entry into the talent/programming/operations side. So, I wasn't in engineers' shoes back in the early 70's when I started out.

I kind of backed into engineering in the 90's. It turned out to be good job insurance for awhile.

Today, I'm back in Operations but with one foot on the engineering side and I assist the CE where I can. We've had some great Eureka! moments together trying to solve various problems, the latest being a remote control that had been only partially damaged by lightning, no smoke having been let out of the various boxes.

But we're both in our 60's. What happens after us is up to the company. If they decide to keep having a local engineer, they might well be able to steal one already doing the job for someone else. I don't envision one being trained up. There isn't enough time.

Time before our retirements and time to actually do the training. But I'm like G.H.W.Bush in one way: not good at the "vision" thing. There could be some "creative" solutions and I think we've seen some - or the makings of some - here in this thread.
Mike Shane, CBRE
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Jim Sofonia
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by Jim Sofonia » Mon Sep 12, 2016 3:06 pm

Well we lost another very good engineer. Jay Crawford of Cincinnati Public Radio passed away, I don't know the details yet, but the last time I talked to him for some help last Fall, he returned the call from his hospital bed. We had bought a station in Rodgers City Mi. he used to engineer. Even though it had been several years he was glad to help. Here is a short quote from the announcement and a link. Maybe some of you also knew him.
Crawford was legendary in the radio industry for his old school ability to fix any problem at a radio station. "He knew everyone in the broadcast industry, especially in Cincinnati, but his name and reputation extended well beyond the reaches of (Cincinnati radio signals)," says Don Danko, chief engineer at Cincinnati Public Radio for WVXU and WGUC.
http://wvxu.org/post/rip-jay-crawford-r ... r#stream/0

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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by ChuckG » Tue Sep 13, 2016 10:11 pm

BigRed wrote: So no, now that I think about it I wouldn't even recommend broadcast engineering to my worst enemy. There may be enough of the business left to support those of us that actually sat for the First Class exam, but there's not a prayer for anyone now starting out

This is why I put the state Broadcaster's ass'n's letters asking for engineering mentors in the trash. Not out of disrespect for them, the profession or any of the wonderful people currently employed in it. Simply out of compassion for the next generation who will find their jobs have evaporated about the time they buy a house and plan a family. There are several growth areas in technology. This is not one of them.
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by PID_Stop » Wed Sep 14, 2016 8:35 am

ChuckG wrote:This is why I put the state Broadcaster's ass'n's letters asking for engineering mentors in the trash. Not out of disrespect for them, the profession or any of the wonderful people currently employed in it. Simply out of compassion for the next generation who will find their jobs have evaporated about the time they buy a house and plan a family. There are several growth areas in technology. This is not one of them.
I hear you... as a second generation engineer who is pushing 60, it's a really strange situation. I'm busier than ever, so there's no shortage of work to be done... but very few younger people are qualified, potentially qualified, or even interested in doing it. I worry that this could become a self-fulfilling problem: the technology becomes unsustainable for lack of people, while young people don't get trained because the technology appears to be dead-ending.

I don't know how to resolve this, but one thing I have been doing is building up a fairly comprehensive in-house web server with as much training content as I can find or generate, along with all of the manuals, system drawings, and other documentation on our facilities. Ideally, this should give new hires access to the information at their own speed and regardless of the shift they are working... and maybe one or two of our operators might take an interest in doing something more challenging. If nothing else, it's a good way to make some of what I've learned available in case I get run down by a cement mixer some morning (no idle threat -- there's a plant near my house, and those trucks pick up astonishing momentum going down the hill!).

-- Jeff

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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by BigRed » Sat Sep 17, 2016 3:18 pm

ChuckG wrote:
BigRed wrote: So no, now that I think about it I wouldn't even recommend broadcast engineering to my worst enemy. There may be enough of the business left to support those of us that actually sat for the First Class exam, but there's not a prayer for anyone now starting out

This is why I put the state Broadcaster's ass'n's letters asking for engineering mentors in the trash. Not out of disrespect for them, the profession or any of the wonderful people currently employed in it. Simply out of compassion for the next generation who will find their jobs have evaporated about the time they buy a house and plan a family. There are several growth areas in technology. This is not one of them.
Wait a minute . . . aren't the members of the state Broadcasters' Association, the ones pushing for "mentoring", the same ones that are in station management and refusing to hire on full time people let alone actually pay them a decent wage? I think I've seen a number of those types driving brand new cars past my 15-year old truck. Well, THEY'RE the ones making the problem and they want the same engineers that they're treating like paper towels (use 'em up and then throw them away) to fix the problem they've so selfishly created.

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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by BigRed » Sat Sep 17, 2016 3:32 pm

PID_Stop wrote:
ChuckG wrote:This is why I put the state Broadcaster's ass'n's letters asking for engineering mentors in the trash. Not out of disrespect for them, the profession or any of the wonderful people currently employed in it. Simply out of compassion for the next generation who will find their jobs have evaporated about the time they buy a house and plan a family. There are several growth areas in technology. This is not one of them.
I hear you... as a second generation engineer who is pushing 60, it's a really strange situation. I'm busier than ever, so there's no shortage of work to be done... but very few younger people are qualified, potentially qualified, or even interested in doing it. I worry that this could become a self-fulfilling problem: the technology becomes unsustainable for lack of people, while young people don't get trained because the technology appears to be dead-ending.

I don't know how to resolve this, but one thing I have been doing is building up a fairly comprehensive in-house web server with as much training content as I can find or generate, along with all of the manuals, system drawings, and other documentation on our facilities. Ideally, this should give new hires access to the information at their own speed and regardless of the shift they are working... and maybe one or two of our operators might take an interest in doing something more challenging. If nothing else, it's a good way to make some of what I've learned available in case I get run down by a cement mixer some morning (no idle threat -- there's a plant near my house, and those trucks pick up astonishing momentum going down the hill!).

-- Jeff
PID_Stop . . . That's a very noble gesture that takes one heck of a lot of work. But I remember back when I was working for a network O&O back in the salad days of the business. One very dedicated, very meticulous person in the Construction group (separate from Maintenance) of the O&O/Bureau created a "Standards Manual" with much detail regarding practices around the plant. It contained such mundane information as how some of the coding on the cable numbering system worked, cabling and connector color coding and pin-outs for things like audio patch bays and equipment fabricated "in-house" and how the "newfangled" voltage distribution system for audio was implemented (don't need no stinking 600-ohm termination resistors). It even contained a good tutorial on Never Twice the Same Color. It was keep on a shelf in the Maintenance department for all to consult. Then there was some labor "unpleasantness" and he left for greener pastures after things settled. About two weeks after his departure I fished his manual out of the trash. Less that a year later the Construction group was disbanded. Two weeks after that all their in-house documentation found its way to the dumpster, had to make room for some new walls. So I'm sorry to predict that your efforts will survive until the first HDD crash, or until you retire, if you can even contemplate doing so.

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