The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Current events discussions relating to Broadcast Engineering
ChuckG
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by ChuckG »

I am constantly heckled by the older engineers for not remembering what I consider "reference book" materials which I would rather look up in a pocket reference or iPhone app than to memorize
That is so completely opposite my experience, those older than me have gone out of their way to be helpful, encouraging and supportive of any new folks entering the field. Sorry your experience hasn't been the same.

The rest of it..well, pretty much SOP. Hedge clippers one day, network analyzer the next. Spare parts, manuals... some stations are wonderful, others use the transmitter site as a giant dumpster.

The money has never been there in broadcast engineering as compared to other professions that require similar skill sets.
We do it because we enjoy it, for many it's what we'd do as a hobby, only with a paycheck. It's definitely become tougher...many stations no longer keep technical people on staff and collections has become an issue for some contractors.

It's pretty normal for the senor folks to make more money although I understand the frustration those below feel if there is no upward path. Most of us work well beyond normal retirement years.

You mentioned working for an "agency". What's that?
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Chuck Gennaro
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rich wood
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by rich wood »

When the owners have to get into the pit and change the tires, then some thing will change. Some are getting more involved, most are not. Yes, we have been sounding the alarm, but the tree has fallen in the woods, and no one heard it. All I can see and say, YOUR UP,, we are retiring and NO I do not want "part time" emergency work. Not that many years ago Harris ran an ad about a station that had run their transmitter into the ground and the owner was thrilled,, "Harris saved US" with a new emergency rig!! The manufacturers will send out a tech at $1,000 per day plus expenses.

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RGORJANCE
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by RGORJANCE »

Rich:

Enjoyed your comments, But it ain't looming, it's here.

Showing my age....my radio engineering career started in September of 1956, my first year in college. I have been stuck (my choice) in this position since then, except for the 4 years I dodged the draft board by enlisting in the Air Force. Still, even then I stayed stuck in it by visiting AFRTS stations when I could. Got right back in the broadcast saddle after getting out in Jan. of 65.

The decline of the engineers population has greatly accelerated in recent years. Wisconsin, as an example is rapidly losing us old guys real fast now due to retirement, and the sad part is that there doesn't seem to be any alarms going off. I only know of one younger guy getting into the struggle as a contract engineer. Currently he is getting swamped by more and more work, not only in Wisconsin,but other states as well. I warned him to recognize when to turn work down BEFORE he gets burned out. I do see that he is starting to see what I'm talking about.

I am still in the business at age 81.5. Many years ago while wearing the three piece sales suit, I heard that a fellow by the name of Ted Giles, at the tender age of over 80 plus was still working and installing transmitters. That was quite a shock to me. I wondered why he, at that age, was still doing stuff like that. I couldn't quite understand it. Now that is me........ooopppsss. Hmmmmmm, I still don't get it. :?

There may not be a fix for our collective future the way things are progressing. Like others have so eloquently stated, there seems to be a total disconnect across the industry to the trend we see. Who knows what is it going to be like in the next 5-10 years. (Only the Shadow Knows!).

Thanks for listening.

Fossil (with hardening arteries)

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Dale H. Cook
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by Dale H. Cook »

rich wood wrote:
Thu Jan 09, 2020 2:38 am
NO I do not want "part time" emergency work
For decades I have been on call 24/7 only for station clusters for whom I was a full time salaried engineer, and that ended six years ago. I have a couple of customers who pay me a rather minimal retainer. What that buys them is a guarantee I will work for them, but they can't drag me out of bed at 2:00 in the morning because I have the phone muted.

If I take on other work I bill at twice the rate that I charge my two customers who are under retainer. I take on such work only when a) it interests me and I feel like taking it on, b) the owner is known to pay his bills on time, and c) the owner is not crazy. There is one owner in the area who is crazy and for whom I will not work (no other qualified engineer in the region will work for him for the same reason even though he pays promptly). He does not believe that he needs to obey the Rules and Regs and in the last decade has been caught and fined three times by the Commission for violations such as running day power at night, EAS violations, and no public file.
Dale H. Cook, Contract Engineer, Roanoke/Lynchburg, VA
http://plymouthcolony.net/starcityeng/index.html

TPT
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by TPT »

I'm 71, my business partner will be 65 in the fall. We own three stations, he's management and sales, I take care of engineering (first phone from the '60's) and legal (JD 1974).

It's not 1975 anymore. Between the internet and the 1996 telecom act, the business has been crippled. Both of us suspect the government would be a lot happier with only one or two conglomerates controlling most media outlets, We see this in ever increasing regulatory fees, which deplete resources that could go to a better product. We see this in lax enforcement of Part 15.

However, this is an advertising business, and this is where small market stations are being crippled. We're in a rated market, but national and regional sales have shrunk probably 20% in the last ten years. When our first station signed on in the mid 80's we had JC Penny and Sears as advertisers. The Sears store in the mall was torn down this year. So expensive pieces of equipment--(like transmitters!) don't get replaced as often as they should.

So we will see fewer stations, most owned by big companies, with roving engineers keeping the transmitters on-air. While IT guys (like my IT guy who works for WWOne now) logging in from home to fix problems.

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kkiddkkidd
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by kkiddkkidd »

An engineering crisis has been here for several years...

Most everything that I see in engineering industry continues to indicate that WE as engineers are sometimes our own worst enemy...

Over the past 3 or 4 years (and increasing as time goes by), I have been receiving service requests from well outside my preferred work radius (about 80 miles / 2 hrs drive). For the AM grounding and tuning work I do, I have always gone where the work is but have tried (and failed) to keep most of my regular engineering clients within a 2 hr drive. I am now regularly traveling out over 250 miles to do basic engineering work.

I decided to accept some of the new work at premium rates and thus far have added about 10 new carefully picked clients to my base over the past 2 years. I try to get the DX stations to accumulate a couple of days work and then go and spend a few days taking care of a number of issues at the same time. Many of these stations have now installed new transmitters/automation/etc and at least some sort of backup for mission critical equipment.

Most of these new clients fall into 1 or more of these categories...

The station had no real engineering service for YEARS.
The station's engineer has died or retired.
The station's engineer has left the industry.
The station's engineer is a patcher and never really fixed anything.
The station's engineer was so bitter and surly that they couldn't deal with him anymore.
The station's engineer is years (or decades) behind the technology curve.
The station's engineer doesn't know nor care about FCC rules / requirements (IE, OPIF, periodic filings, EAS updates, day/night power changes, etc).
The station's engineer is incompetent.
They owe their engineer money and don't want to call him... (really).
The station's engineer has become too busy with large clients (or works full time for a group) to provide small market service.
Etc,
Etc,

I am about a month short of 58yo and nowhere near ready to retire but also not really looking to expand my client base much more. This week I received a call begging for help from a small station about 120 miles away. They didn't ask about hourly rates, or anything other than how quick could I be there. The station had been on the air for 4 years and has had problems since installation. I went to the site yesterday and in one day found and (with the help of a tower crew) fixed their years long struggle with almost daily VSWR trips, EAS and intermittent audio problems. The only real engineer that had ever been to the station was the day they installed the transmitter and antenna.

I honestly hope that radio as we know it, lasts as long as I am willing to work but for the minute, regular engineering work is booming... AM project work seems to be picking up but but is a mere shadow of what it was prior to 2008. With that said, I am debating with myself how much project work I am willing to do at my advanced age <g>...

Regards,
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Kevin C. Kidd CSRE/AMD
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http://www.amgroundsystems.com
KK Broadcast Engineering
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Deep Thought
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by Deep Thought »

kkiddkkidd wrote:
Thu Jan 09, 2020 9:53 am
I am debating with myself how much project work I am willing to do at my advanced age <g>...
I got on a plane to sunny but rather chilly southern California last Thursday. I've spent these 7 days re-tuning one four tower DA-2 and running partial proof on it, completing a Method of Moments proof and associated field measurements on a nearby three tower DA-2 and then came back to the first one to supervise the installation of three translator antennas and their transmission lines and isolation gear on one of the towers. Ran into an issue which will require me to return in a week or so.

I'm 62 and am starting to ask myself that same question. Or more specifically how much more of it my knees are willing to do. :mrgreen:
Mark Mueller • Mueller Broadcast Design • La Grange, IL • http://www.muellerbroadcastdesign.com

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Slab Bulkhead
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by Slab Bulkhead »

I guess I am a mere baby at 41. :lol: However, I only do this as a side hustle or for the heck of it in the case of volunteering at an LPFM. The day job pays much better, so I intend to stick with that.
I have had a few of those "there's no one else around here we can get" calls but the best I can reply with is "I'll get to you when I can, if I can."

Nathaniel Steele
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by Nathaniel Steele »

I"ll be 40 this may.....most of the other engineers I have met are 20 years older than me, I've met a handful that are any younger than me, and know another handful that are around my age, and that is after working in 3 markets with a bit a bit of geography between them.

For the most part, the older guys have been great and always willing to help me learn and let me tag along to learn something or come to one of my sites to help me out (Actually I would say this applies to all ages). Maybe I've just been lucky. I can say I've met a few guys in the business that I would prefer to avoid the rest of my life if possible, and came in behind a bunch and cleaned up thier messes (some were working messes, others not so much). When the time cam for me to move on from the first two jobs, I had plenty of opportunities to choose from. my current emplyer was engineer-less for over a year after the last guy retired. I've done the contract thing too, I'm always happy to make a few extra bucks, but now I don't really need to do contract work to pay bills like the last time whem my pay was not very good (but they were very flexible and allowed me to do the contract work, and I had one very good retainer contract and could pick up 2-3 odd billable days a month from others.

But it does seem that in general pay is low compared to the expected 24/7/365 on call status and desired on-air uptime, and the vast array of skills needed. For example I am the IT dept, Engineering dept., building maintenance dept., and pretty much anything else they want done dept....

so it's easy to see why there aren't swarms of young people banging down the doors to apply for these jobs....

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Shane
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by Shane »

AM project work seems to be picking up but is a mere shadow of what it was prior to 2008.
This begs some stupid - on my part - questions.

Is the decline in AM work since 2008 due to economic conditions that began around that time? Or is it due to more AM stations having FM translators, which IIRC became a “thing” around that time? Does one count installing and/or maintaining an AM-on-FM translator as AM work or FM work? What is the cause of any perceivable upswing?

Back to the countdown: I really don’t see how the “crisis” is our - as engineers - problem. Someone commented above that it would all shake out and I’m inclined to agree, though in what form remains to be seen. I think TPT’s observation will be very close, meaning roving RF people and IT people working remotely. (My son is an IT guy who lives in the SE but works full-time remotely for an outfit in Calif.) Also, I’m primarily speaking to radio’s issues, not TV’s.

But having said that I do not think it is “our” problem, I have volunteered for the SBE Mentor Program. Interestingly, after about a year I have not yet been assigned a mentee which either speaks to the aforementioned lack of interest in the field or else my lack of much to offer!
Mike Shane, CBRE
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kkiddkkidd
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by kkiddkkidd »

Both...

Prior to the crash of 2007-8, I was doing at least 2 large projects per year and often a small project (single tower) almost monthly. I had a couple of large projects in the works prior to the crash and did them over the next couple of years but smaller improvement projects almost stopped. However, vandalism and theft was rampant for several years and repair work was quite busy. I can't think of many small upgrade / improvement project between 2008 and 2018. I probably didn't do more than 4 or 5 large upgrade / improvement projects in the same time period. What little project work there was, was usually related to damage or vandalism of the grounding and often paid for by insurance. Later on in the period, stations seemed to have money but were afraid to spend it. I greatly reduce advertising in the trade mags about 4 or 5 years ago and completely stopped about a year and a half ago. If people aren't spending money, no amount of advertising works...

And yes FM translators are suppressing spending on AM sites. FM translators helped revitalize AM owners but really hasn't done anything for AM. If anything, I am now seeing AM stations in the same general technical decline as they were thru the 80's into the 90's. Many (and maybe most) AM owners are content to keep AM's on the air at whatever coverage they can get with whatever power a broken TX will make into a broken antenna system just to keep the FM xlator on.

At some point in time, I anticipate that the FCC's relaxation of some of the AM rules may spur a burst of moves and changes that were heretofore impossible. In conjunction with that, there may be a burst of AM site repairing as co and adjacent channel movers find that a distant co-channel station is (and has been) running at 25% power (w/o an STA) for years and petitions the FCC to downgrade said broken station to match their crippled coverage.

Later,



Shane wrote:
Fri Jan 17, 2020 8:50 pm
This begs some stupid - on my part - questions.

Is the decline in AM work since 2008 due to economic conditions that began around that time? Or is it due to more AM stations having FM translators, which IIRC became a “thing” around that time? Does one count installing and/or maintaining an AM-on-FM translator as AM work or FM work? What is the cause of any perceivable upswing?

Back to the countdown: I really don’t see how the “crisis” is our - as engineers - problem. Someone commented above that it would all shake out and I’m inclined to agree, though in what form remains to be seen. I think TPT’s observation will be very close, meaning roving RF people and IT people working remotely. (My son is an IT guy who lives in the SE but works full-time remotely for an outfit in Calif.) Also, I’m primarily speaking to radio’s issues, not TV’s.

But having said that I do not think it is “our” problem, I have volunteered for the SBE Mentor Program. Interestingly, after about a year I have not yet been assigned a mentee which either speaks to the aforementioned lack of interest in the field or else my lack of much to offer!
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Kevin C. Kidd CSRE/AMD
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AM Ground Systems Company
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KK Broadcast Engineering
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by w9wi »

Shane wrote:
Fri Jan 17, 2020 8:50 pm
Also, I’m primarily speaking to radio’s issues, not TV’s.
TV's issues are pretty much similar. I think we're following radio's lead, just maybe 10-15 years behind.

I think we're going to continue to see staff engineers in TV, but I can envision a station having only one, one with only IT experience and the ability to physically swap the small amount of gear that's TV-specific. Video cables are beginning to disappear and that will accelerate. RF, we'll probably make radio's life harder by competing for the services of contract engineers. With the gradually increasing use of solid-state transmitters even for high-power UHF, I think any decent FM engineer would feel right at home inside a TV transmission plant. Modern transmitters are more reliable and have far fewer single points of failure. Failures are far less likely to be visible to the audience - far less urgent to repair.

In TV I think we're going to be seeing a race. A race between conversion to IT technologies and the retirement of the engineers who can handle the non-IT systems. I don't have any money on either horse.
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Doug Smith W9WI
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by w9wi »

What do you all think the chances are the FCC will, in the next 3-5 years, allow AM stations to silence the AM signal & operate only on the translator(s)?
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Deep Thought
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by Deep Thought »

w9wi wrote:
Sun Jan 19, 2020 8:14 am
What do you all think the chances are the FCC will, in the next 3-5 years, allow AM stations to silence the AM signal & operate only on the translator(s)?
Zero. The LPFM fanatics will make sure of that.
Mark Mueller • Mueller Broadcast Design • La Grange, IL • http://www.muellerbroadcastdesign.com

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kkiddkkidd
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Re: The Looming Engineering Age Crisis

Post by kkiddkkidd »

Although I agree with DT about the LPFM lobby and think 3-5yrs is too short of a time frame, I actually think that is what the all digital AM discussion is leading up to... Go full digital on the AM and keep the xlator OR turn it off and keep the xlator. Most small market AM's won't have money to go totally digital so off the AM goes...

There would have to be some sort of rule changes to give translators protection from full power modifications...

I have long been an advocate for small market AM's and really poo pooed anybody saying that every wide spot in the road doesn't need their own station but I am not so sure now. Too many small AM's are a pile of junk, have little to no income and few listeners. Some of these stations are more valuable to an upgrading co or adjacent channel competitor to purchase and turn off than if it keeps limping along.

Later,

Deep Thought wrote:
Sun Jan 19, 2020 2:25 pm
w9wi wrote:
Sun Jan 19, 2020 8:14 am
What do you all think the chances are the FCC will, in the next 3-5 years, allow AM stations to silence the AM signal & operate only on the translator(s)?
Zero. The LPFM fanatics will make sure of that.
--
Kevin C. Kidd CSRE/AMD
WD4RAT
AM Ground Systems Company
http://www.amgroundsystems.com
KK Broadcast Engineering
http://www.kkbc.com

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