On the Importance of Mentors

One of the best things about going to the NAB Show is running into old friends and colleagues you haven’t seen in a while April 13, 2017

One of the best things about going to the NAB Show is running into old friends and colleagues you haven’t seen in a while, maybe since last year. If you are particularly lucky, you could run in to a mentor — someone who’s both a friend and colleague.

We all have war stories — unless you just got into this business yesterday — and naturally, these tales are very timely. Other engineers understand their significance immediately. Mentor stories are more personal; you may not realize you even have one, or understand its significance until years after the fact.

When I started out in the business, I worked for a couple of consulting engineers who were doing everything they could to turn around a five-tower end-fire DA that never worked correctly. I was part of a valiant effort to forever fix this array, but after a certain amount of time and effort, all parties recognized we were tilting at a windmill that didn’t have any future. The license has long since been turned in and the land covered with expensive houses.

Problems, I learned, don’t always have easy solutions; in fact, sometimes none exist. Persistence is a great trait, but setbacks don’t always resolve like they do in a 30-minute TV show. I was able to apply what I learned about directional antennas later in my career, at least.

Mentors sometimes provide opportunities that you would not otherwise find. One day, one of my original mentors called me and said I was needed to work on an old AM transmitter down south of San Jose, Calif., where I grew up. The local engineer was having trouble with it, and could I go take a look? I said sure; after all, I didn’t work for the owner, and didn’t have to worry about being fired should I not get the old girl fixed, right? I headed out.

By the next day, when the transmitter still had not returned to the air, my mentors called me up. They could have said, Did you give up? Were you not able to figure it out? Instead, they offered some encouraging words, and I headed back down with the items I felt I needed to fix the rig. They were still confident. Later that day, I had it going again. (This isn’t a war story so I’ll skip the details.) It was my first transmitter fix in the field, and it felt great. I was on top of the world — at least ’til the next problem.

Now that I’ve been in the business for over 30 years I find myself in the role of mentor (at least, I like to think so). You see, my mentees may not realize it yet, but one day they will. I hope at that point in time they think back to a thing or two that I was able to teach them — the values of persistence, of patience, and perhaps most importantly, the need to instill confidence in someone to whom you’ve delegated a task or project.

You likely have your own mentor stories. This month’s edition is filled with articles that I know broadcast engineers are going to find interesting and hopefully enlightening. On our last page is the Wandering Engineer’s tribute to his own mentor. I hope you read it and take a moment to reflect on where your career has gone and those that helped you along the way.

Thanks for picking up the April edition of Radio magazine. If you happened to discover us while attending the NAB Show, welcome! I think you’ll like what you read, from cover to cover.

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