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The New IT Director Versus the Old Broadcast Engineer

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CreativeCOW presents The New IT Director Versus the Old Broadcast Engineer -- Broadcasting Editorial


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Long ago, from the earliest days of media, it was recognized that there needed to be people who performed the technical workings of the studio. Aside from the inventors and photographers who tinkered with and were able to tweak cameras, the advent of radio brought the need for a true engineer who understood the inner-workings of electricity and the analog signal it could carry. This was to be a person who could read an oscilloscope and interpret frequency patterns. It was all vacuum tubes and miracles in those days.

"I started in 1972 repairing vacuum tube gear at the RCA Institutes TV Studio School, so I have seen it all," states Keith Andoos, speaking as a broadcast engineer of the past. "Change is inevitable, and broadcast technology is no longer a 'mystery' to the rest of the corporation. In other words, it is no longer 'a license to print money.'"

Today, broadcast and sound engineers install, set-up, calibrate, operate and repair electronic equipment used to transmit radio and television programs, regulating the signal for clarity and strength, monitoring the array of sounds for radio and both colors and sounds for television transmissions. While a license is not required in the U.S. to practice as a broadcast engineer, these positions usually require a degree (Associates, Bachelors or Masters Degrees, typically) in one or more fields, such as: electrical engineering, telecommunications, computer information systems, computer science or computer engineering.

A relatively new position that has cropped-up in the industry is the information technology (IT) director. The IT director manages the information technology side for a business or organization, developing and applying the various policies and goals for the IT department. Performing feasibility studies to decide upon the best use of technical resources, the IT director evaluates the business requirements of all the departments, determining whether a new information system or upgrades to existing hardware/software components would make a sound technical investment. In essence, a good IT director would know which of the information-handling equipment is best-suited for applications within their company and would have enough knowledge about that equipment to manipulate it fully. An IT director organizes the information systems managers under them and reports to the chief information officer (CIO).

Isn't there a "happy medium?" Say, a mixture of both broadcast engineering and information technology? Yes, there is.

Usually a hybrid engineer, a combination of the broadcast engineer of old and the IT director of new, provides the blend of knowledge and expertise necessary to perform the duties for today's specialized media markets. "There are few who have a solid and complete understanding of the other side," notes John Humphrey, an old-style broadcast engineer. "The question seems to be: 'Will they learn video faster/better than we can learn IT systems?' The first person to be a true 'hybrid' ... wins!" This is an observation that is truly remarkable, when considering that even an IT director should have the digital part down while maintaining a hold on analog systems. There would be no argument that a hybrid engineer is the perfect fit to replace the type of technician that has been depended-on for decades.

But not everyone in the field of broadcast engineers feels this way. For example, as the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Trade Shows try to combine the best of both IT and old broadcast engineering worlds, some believe it has trifled with its true origins. "NAB is no longer a Broadcast Expo," claims Bob Griffiths, a broadcast engineer. "The Broadcaster has been broadsided by the computer et al genre. May we rest in peace."

Don't hang that wreath just yet. There is a cut-off of people who were lucky enough to catch the tail-end of the old-school broadcast engineering training and transcend into the new digital age. While the industry has definitely made a huge turn towards information technology, it is the sentiment that the typical IT director has no clue what they are doing when it comes to the wisdom from the past. In order to survive in this new world of broadcast engineering, the new dawn needs a sort of hybrid engineer, touching upon both IT and audio/video engineering areas.

Many companies (advertising agencies, in-house production departments, even television stations) believe that they can survive with just an IT person. They all learn the hard way; if they are stubborn, the end product will truly suffer and it's obvious when that happens. TRUE STORY! - There was once an IT guy (a CTO of a huge corporation) who thought that the video router was a "router" as in "IP Router!" Where was the broadcast engineering know-how that he so desperately needed?

"I think there is a fundamental difference between 'IT' guys and 'Broadcast Engineers,'" opines Robert Getsla, obviously of the old ways. "Probably the easiest way to describe that difference is to ask a prospect if '5 Nines' is 'good Enough?' The answer is, only if over 5-minutes of outage per year is acceptable. For many in the Broadcast world, 5 minutes per year is not acceptable."

Luckily, there are enough future-sighted broadcast engineers who, knowing a good thing when they see it, jump on the band wagon to improve their job security by also training in the IT side.

"I have to agree that IT and broadcast engineering are merging, albeit at a slow pace," observes Shane Pechacek, an old-type broadcast engineer who is making the transition to the new IT arena. "I started as a production systems engineer; then, about 4 years into it, I saw that equipment was changing to use more commodity hardware rather than proprietary, and were becoming more IT based. I just finished my degree in software architecture and I can say I am really glad I went that route. I am now the only one in our company that knows both the broadcast and IT side and it makes my job A LOT EASIER being able to do that. Right now, a consultant was hired to look at how the industry is moving in technology and whether or not to merge the IT and broadcast departments (both our director of IT and engineering are retiring soon). Hard to say right now what they are going to do, but it kind of makes sense to start making that transition now rather than later."

The consensus seems to be that the broadcast engineer must adapt to the new world the way it stands or go the way of the dinosaurs. The IT director must have an ample background in analog theory as well as its digital counterpart of the future. They must be a mixture or hybrid of both in order to survive. Only this new position will continue in the vast global marketplace of today and tomorrow.







Comments

Re: The New IT Director Versus the Old Broadcast Engineer
by Richard McLeland-Wieser
I was on production side and have great respect for b/c engineers. Funny story. My 1st job was master control director. (God I hated that job... 28:30 of boredom followed by 1:30 of terror. If you worked MC you know what I mean). I was trained by by engineer. As I sat in front of big grass valley and bank of monitors I noticed 2 odd machine with a green glow and wiggly lines that somehow moved with the video. "What is that?" I asked. The Engineer replied, "that is none of your f**king business." I discovered it was a waveform/vectorscope and he knowing and me not knowing was his job security.

Richard McLeland Wieser
+1
Re: The New IT Director Versus the Old Broadcast Engineer
by Richard McLeland Wieser
It's not only BC Engineers that are threatened species. Plenty of "analogs" on the production side fail to recognize technology has changed distribution patterns. Freelancers fail to pitch webcasters and then wonder why phone no longer rings.
Re: The New IT Director Versus the Old Broadcast Engineer
by Joe Barta IV
The knowledge I gained from the engineers in my broadcast days come into play everyday in my life as a videographer and post-production editor. Thank you for spending the time to teach me how to read a scope. I also thank God for the young Hybrid I work with now. I couldn't work a day without him.

The flow of production is always changing. Pick a point in the stream, jump in, and enjoy the ride.

Bars & Tone
SALUTE!
Re: The New IT Director Versus the Old Broadcast Engineer
by Bob Zelin
I enjoyed this article very much. I started out as an audio guy in 1977. I observed over the years, that all the "old guys" never wanted to learn anything new. This is how I received so many opportunities over the years. I knew nothing about computers up until the AVID came out, and I learned about them with open arms. I observed all the "broadcast engineers" (of which I was one)hated anything to do with computers - they thought that linear on line was "the only way to go". Being 56 years old, and being an "expert" in shared storage systems today, I find it funny to see the "young kids" of 30 becomming old timers (I use FCP - I can't use anything else") - and I find it even MORE funny to see the "IT experts" who learned Windows 2008 Server, and can't learn anything else. They won't learn Mac networking, they know nothing about Linux, and they think that Windows 7 sucks. It's the same mindset, just a different era. Old folk (my age) just don't want to learn new tricks. I don't know why. I love all this new stuff - I think the evolution of all these products is amazing.

Bob Zelin

+1
Re: The New IT Director Versus the Old Broadcast Engineer
by Brian Pistone
I am involved in this type of progress in the field of education.

The change involves the shifting role of a teacher. Rather than lecture then test, teachers have the option to produce annotated and media rich video content that links from their websites as homework (effectively replacing the lecture), then tackle projects in the classroom that use the information learned in the videos to make a useful real world product (which also gets shared on the web!). The term is called flipping your classroom. (#flippedclassroom). It changes the effective use of time in the classroom.

This is changing the role of the teacher, similar to the hybrid production engineer/IT engineer/ninja, teachers need skills in video production workflow and web development to flip their classroom.

I happen to teach communication technology classes, which teaches students skills in audio and video production. We have students create tutorial videos, podcasts and all sorts of constant programming for our websites (11 years worth of “The Renegade Moring Show” can be found on our website http://shawneetv.com ). Our workflow changes every year with the advent of faster and better technologies.

In my 6 years in education we’ve gone through different camera workflows from mini DV to AVCHD on SD cards and also DVCPRO-HD on P2 cards. This year we are moving from DVCAM capture on our multi-camera shoots to SDI conversion and 10bit HD/SD-SDI Atomos field recording with solid-state drives and an onboard monitor. We’ll probably use the DVCAM decks as backup, but the goal is to streamline workflow with a more effective use of time.

And to quote Dune: "Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken."
Frank Herbert
Re: The New IT Director Versus the Old Broadcast Engineer
by Ryan Salazar
Roger,

I started "playing" in radio and television (but mostly radio) when I was around 12 years old. That was 1988, so I was on the tail-end of the tube era. My stepfather owned a business that advertised on a local Detroit radio station and of course I got the opportunity to PLAY! That started it all.

Anyway, I ended up meeting all sorts of old-school engineers and at the same time witnessed the dawning of the digital age. I'm so happy (and grateful) to have been in the middle of that change. I see myself as a true (and proud to be) hybrid.

I specifically wrote this article to express my frustration with corporations and the "IT-only" guys of the world NOT understanding our little universe. The foundation of audio and video engineering still needs to be applied to much of what is done today and ignoring it will cause all sorts of issues for broadcasters. So, my heart is ALL in this one. :)
@Ryan Salazar
by Brian Pistone
I also agree that there should be a command over old-school engineering and digital engineering. I started out as an audio engineer in 1998. I rolled some tape in various sessions, experienced ADATs phase out and learned mostly digital recording techniques. You still had to have experience with analog signal flow. Sometimes it has a certain "sound" and you should roll tape. Sometimes you need a speedy edit, or different processing and digital makes sense.
Re: The New IT Director Versus the Old Broadcast Engineer
by Roger K. Bennett
I am of the old school starting with tubes. As a Freshman in high school I wrote a paper on the invention of the transistor by Bell Labs. At 17 I got a First Phone and had a job while still in high schools as the local station got gigged for not having a First License on staff.

I have lived in several states and enjoyed Radio all my life. My Wife thinks radio people are nuts? I could have had a career elsewhere and retired...now with 50+ years in the business I was forced to resign.

I transitioned into computers in the 80's and have done IT as well as learned to build and repair PC'S

The business has changed from the days of AM only and the FM's were on to Keep the Muzak franchise going

Comments welcome


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