Wanted: Broadcast Gypsies

Sometimes, while we’re good with the status quo — ownerships and goals change and so must we July 24, 2017

Every NAB Show has its surprises. It’s Wednesday night, and Julie is handing out her business card with a wrapped piece of candy attached.

I am hoping to hear David Layer call out my name and win “the” radio at the Ham reception, but this is maybe better.

Shows open and shows close. Broadcast engineering is show business, providing the fundamental and primordial rubrics we live by.

Admittedly, there are some very long-running shows. We all know a few broadcast engineers who came into the business at some station or started with a manufacturer and are “lifers” — those who work an entire lifetime in one place. For broadcast engineers, that can be seven decades.

The odds are monstrously slender, so the stories behind these matchless careers are just that — exceptional. Keep in mind, a mere nine decades ago, broadcasting was struggling to make a go of it; radio receivers weren’t exactly rolling off the assembly line, and A and B+ batteries were heavy, expensive and short lived.

However, most of us are broadcast gypsies. We change markets and employers; sometimes to grow and find better recompense, sometimes because, while we’re good with the status quo — ownerships and goals change and so must we.

As we swap hats, we eventually find that we know a lot of people in a lot of places. We don’t need LinkedIn, though it does have its purposes. When we meet on a mountain, at a trade show or at an SBE meeting, we speak of the movements of our fellow broadcast engineers and compare our paths, discovering they often cross.

If we need help at any level, we can find someone in any place who is pleased and honored to help another member of the broadcast engineering family. There may be one or two degrees of separation between any of us, but in the end, there’s really no separation at all.

No wonder we’re apprehensive about who will follow us. We can make any well-meaning, over-reaching, towel-ringing mother-in-law look amateurish.

But let’s make one thing absolutely clear: It is not our job to replace ourselves. We do not violate the laws of business any more than we violate the laws of physics. We are special, but not in that way.

Broadcasters need all matters of staff. The mix of talent, technical, administrative, management, sales and on-and-on workforce... all crazy enough to want to be in this wacky corner of show business, despite other perfectly good professions coveting our skillsets (many more respectable and better paying). That’s why broadcasting is a lot more interesting than a fast food restaurant — although, as a business, a restaurant is more similar to broadcasting than it is different.

However, this passion is a lot more pleasurable for people with our obsession. Broadcasters, even conservative ones, work with a more diverse universe of people than almost any other business. Even Broadway barely gives us a run for our money when it comes to bizarre and outlandish personalities. With only one life to live, I wouldn’t want to miss out on this one.

It’s the folks with the license and investment who need to agonize over where all of their workforce components come from. It’s their job to put together all the pieces.

For a long time, broadcast engineering supply outstripped demand as the industry consolidated, as the pie was cut smaller and as the technology improved faster than natural attrition.

So when Julie Milius, a recruiter for Salem Communicatiobns, is working the line of broadcast engineers waiting to get into the traditional Wednesday night ham radio reception at NAB Show, it means something.

First, Julie is one sharp recruiter — there’s no more target-rich environment than here. Second, when you hire recruiters (I’ll bet you’ve seen a rise in recruitment, too) it’s a very good sign of the industry’s health. That leads to increasing incentives and even investment in training and growth opportunities. If broadcasters do that, we’ll get the next generation of broadcast gypsies.

The Wandering Engineer is an industry stalwart who has been in broadcasting since the days of Marconi and Tesla. He gives his thoughts on the current state of broadcast engineering and the broadcast engineer.

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