I consider the most formative years of the broadcast industry to be from the early 1970s to the present. It was in this period of time we first saw the transition of listeners moving from the heritage AM powerhouses to what would be the dominant FM medium.
Being the best wasn't just about having the best programming. As the quality of FM receivers improved, so did the reality that the quality of the technical product needed to keep up and, thus, someone coined the phrase “listener-fatigue.” In the programming world, this had two connotations: 1) listeners would spend more time listening to you and not a competitor, and 2) random listeners would likely stop at your station just because it sounded so good and the ratings would follow.
I'm not sure if any of this is true, but it spawned a technical evolution that brought us improved transmitters, better antenna systems and the multiband audio processor. More recently, the evolution from analog to digital technologies has created the need for additional skill-sets for engineers and people involved with the operation of a facility.
There has been a shift in importance from an industry that felt success was measured directly as function of its programming (and more particularly its air personalities), to one where the technical product, whether resulting from improved on-air product or creating efficiencies that reduce costs, reigns supreme. Employees now need more skills and a broader base of knowledge than ever before. Acquiring and maintaining the skills specific to the various technologies is essential in the day-to-day activities of the engineering staff. But, it is also important not to forget that engineers are also managers; while perhaps not always possessing the title, they are typically the common hub that is required to interact and support the other business functions. An engineer is generally the project manager of a new facility or upgrade projects. It is not hard to see that investing in your best assets, your people, is not simply to help them progress as individuals, but will also help the company realize a significant return on its investment.
Proof of performance
When it comes to supporting network infrastructures, most major manufacturers of software and hardware prefer that problems be handled by people and companies that are certified in their product. From a manufacturer's point of view, a certification program provides two benefits: it reduces the number of specialists the company needs to employ directly to handle customer problems, saving substantial expense, and certification programs make the same manufacturers a lot of money with education programs and testing fees. What makes this even better for them is that the certification programs are continually changing to reflect new products and therefore require that certifications be periodically updated, which means plan on budgeting for the appropriate continuing education.
Microsoft offers a wide range of certifications for all of its product lines. While the majority of them are for people interested in programming and writing code, there are three I would recommend for personnel involved with maintaining the Windows-based networking platform or general office applications.
The Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) is perhaps one of the most useful certifications to possess. Within the MCSE program, there are several tracks that an engineer can pursue depending on a particular networking platform/version, i.e. Windows 2000, Windows 2000 Server. The core focus is on networking technologies along with system administration competence. Along with the specialization you will be required to select elective specialties, such as messaging or security. There are also upgrade paths you can take to stay current with new versions.
The Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) deals primarily with the administration of Windows-based network platforms and less emphasis on the networking knowledge, therefore the requirements are somewhat less than that of the MCSE.
The Microsoft Office specialist certifies proficiency with the suite of office products and the MS Project application. The certification requires the successful completion of tests for each of the individual products with the Office Suite, i.e. Word, Excel.
Cisco is the largest supplier of network routing equipment and high-end IP networking hardware. It offers a variety of certifications related to not only its own products, but it also provides a valuable foundation for advanced networking fundamentals. If you are involved with any networking infrastructure design or operation, these are valuable certifications to possess. The core certification programs that should be considered follow.
Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) is the entry level certification that provides a solid foundation of knowledge to install, configure and operate a variety of specialized IP router products for small networks.
Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) is the professional designation that builds on the CCNA and provides the additional skills that can be applied to large-scale network infrastructures.
If you are involved with the design and installation of structured cabling systems, particularly that related to networking, consider certification as a Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD). Offered by BICSI (www.bicsi.org), the RCDD designation has become the defacto certification for anyone involved with the design, installation and troubleshooting of any cable or wireless-based infrastructure. There are a variety of specialties within the program ranging from wireless design to outside plant cabling.
While not a technical certification, another program for people who are involved with the management of projects is the Project Management Professional (PMP) designation. This program is recognized, and in some cases required, by virtually all major companies where project management is an active part of their business. Certification requires a great deal of coursework and a test. There is also a prerequisite that the candidate possesses a minimum amount of project management experience, which for most engineers should be no problem to meet.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the certifications offered by our own SBE. These, after all, represent the core activities that you are involved with in your daily activities.
Employers need to consider the value added by having employees prepared for the ever increasing complexities of broadcast operations and provide incentive programs for educational reimbursements or grant time off for people that take the initiative. If you are work for a company that has yet to realize the benefit, seek the certifications that you feel are important. These are highly marketable certifications and I'm confident you will see your own "return on investment" in a short time.
McNamara is president of Applied Wireless, Elkins Park, PA.