At the end of our 2015 Salary Survey (the results of which are in the October issue), we provided a place for respondents to comment. While the topics varied, there was one subject that stood out: the need to get younger people in the broadcast engineering industry.
Here are some of the more telling comments:
• Being able to bring in and train an assistant to pay forward and prepare the properties for my eventual retirement
• Find more young people interested in broadcast engineering and convincing companies to hire them before all of us “experienced” guys are not around to mentor them
• Would be nice to be able to mentor younger folks that want to get into this business
• We need more young engineers. Many of us are close to retirement!
There were more, but clearly, many engineers are concerned that there is no next generation who will carry the radio-engineering torch. What can be done to mitigate this problem?
Let’s look at how three younger engineers broke into the business. Consider this: Maybe the future engineers are already there, but you just haven’t taken notice.
UP THROUGH THE RANKS
Jason Ornellas is the director of engineering for CBS RADIO in Sacramento — KHTK(AM), KNCI(FM), KSFM(FM), KYMX(FM) and KZZO(FM).
“While I was at the University of Indianapolis working for a non-com [88.7 WICR(FM)], they needed someone for remotes. After a few months, I was hired as the ‘broadcast technician’ and became responsible for live broadcasts, and I was put in charge of all the studios,” Ornellas said of his entry into broadcast engineering.
“I built my first studio ever, which is still in service today. We used the Axia SmartSurfaces Consoles and AudioVault for Automation. It was truly a learning experience building my first digital studio. I remember that I used to sit in the TOC at the college station and just make wires for practice, draw signal flow charts and what not.”
CHASING A DIFFERENT DREAM
Horace Wong is a staff engineer for Entercom Communications in San Francisco — KOIT(FM), KBLX(FM), KGMZ(FM), KUFX(FM) and KRBQ(FM). He started out working in the promotions department at KYLD(FM).
“I was always told that I have that ‘radio voice.’ That really propelled me into the industry. However, my goal was never to be on the engineering side. I happened to land in engineering after an opening became available, and I realized my career goal to be on-air wasn’t moving in the direction I had hoped.”
Wong got hired to take on remote broadcasts for Wild 94-9, and his technical background was enough to begin.
“I did a lot of custom car audio installations prior to getting into radio — and engineering was like that, but on another level. The idea that I could build a custom studio to my own design was exciting. The equipment that I could work with was more exciting than making a custom subwoofer box. I’ve always liked working behind the scenes. In the eyes of listeners, radio is all about the jocks — but in the eyes of everyone in the industry, the engineers make it all happen. That was the attraction for me.”
FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE BIZ
Kari Elswick is a staff engineer for iHeartMedia in Los Angeles, which includes KIIS(FM), KBIG(FM), KOST(FM), KRRL(FM), KYSR(FM), KFI(AM), KLAC(AM) and KEIB(AM). She also started out in a different department.
“I have no background in engineering or electronics, other than working with our standard equipment for years. I started as a promotions intern at WTFX in Louisville and just fell in love with the business and the type of people it attracts. I’d worked for Clear Channel [now iHeartMedia] for 14 years in almost every department when I moved to Los Angeles. I got stuck as a board-op on the FMs for a while; but since I get bored when I’m not learning anything new or doing anything productive, I started pestering the engineer [whose office was by the studio] for things to do to kill time during my board shifts — and it just escalated from there.”
Elswick, Wong and Ornellas have all moved around the country for their work.
“I’m really thankful for the experience traveling provides because most markets just do things one way — their way,” said Elswick. “Being exposed to different approaches helps me come up with alternative solutions to issues I encounter here in Los Angeles.”
Wong is slightly more philosophical. “There are three other markets that are ‘bigger and better’ than San Francisco. That notion has been with me since I started engineering. In order to be the best, I’d have to make it in the best — so when an opportunity to work in New York came up, I’ll admit that moving was an easy decision.” Another, even better opening was presented to Wong about three years later, and he came back to the west coast.
Like Wong, Ornellas has moved coast-to-coast twice. “I left San Francisco for New Jersey as I felt it was the right move at the time to take the next step in my career. Now looking back, I realize it was absolutely the best decision. The hands-on experience I gained throughout all our projects — as well as Mother Nature’s disasters with Hurricane Irene, snow storms and Hurricane Sandy — prepared me well for future disasters.”
This is perhaps the most important question: What advice would you give to engineers looking to bring others into the fold?
“Be prepared to take a step back and teach,” said Ornellas. “Engineering has certainly changed since I started and will continue to do so. Have new staff dig right in, take notes and ask questions. If they want to do the work or take the job — that is already a step in the right direction.”
Wong had this message: “Older engineers need to realize that when they say something — or explain something — that the younger ones are listening. Your knowledge is more valuable than anything else. What you say is likely not available in books or on the Internet.”
Elswick said, “Most engineers aren’t approachable, and some can kind of be protective of knowledge, which I always found weird. I’ve had engineers in other markets, when asked how to do something, treat you like you’re stupid and then just do it for you. I bet if you polled your board ops right now there are many that want to do more and are interested in learning.”
“When I started, I had a lot of people that were a wealth of knowledge,” said Wong. “The idea that I would be as smart as them was never a possibility. I soaked in as much information as they had for me and made my own way. I knew with time and experience I would succeed, but I still never thought, at the beginning, that this would be my career path. My first boss was my best mentor: He was patient, informative, a good teacher, open to my ideas and trusted me.”
From Elswick: “If you’d told me a year ago that in the near future I’d understand wiring, a behemoth routing system, how to build a studio, or that I’d be learning — and understanding — basic physics, I would have laughed really, really hard. But it turns out I really enjoy this stuff, all of it. It’s a challenge, and I’ve gained skills that carry over outside of radio.”
And finally, Ornellas: “I’ve been lucky everywhere I’ve been, from iHeartMedia San Francisco [Clear Channel when I was there] giving me my first full-time gig as a station engineer to Greater Media where I got my first chief engineer job. I’ve been fortunate enough to have great people help me along those stops. I continue growing within CBS RADIO as part of their engineering department.”
Perhaps the next generation of broadcast engineers is already here; you just need to recognize them, and give them a chance to succeed.
Radio magazine wants to know about the next generation of upcoming engineering talent. Help us tell their stories. Do you know of a young engineer whose story we can share with readers? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.