If you don't like how things are, you have two choices: Live with it or change it. Back in 1961, John Battison, my long-time friend and former associate at Radio magazine, saw there were changes coming to the two leading broadcast technical societies, the Institute of Radio Engineers and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. The two groups were planning to merge, and Battison was concerned that the new organization would not have much to offer the station-level broadcast engineer.
John had a choice to make: Do nothing and accept whatever might happen, or speak up an initiate a change. He fortunately did the latter. At the time, John was the editor of Broadcast Engineering magazine, so he used the loudest platform he had at the time, the editor's page, to voice his concern and solicit action. John had hoped some broadcast engineers would step up and act on the idea.
The way the situation played out, there was interest in what John proposed, but like any project, someone needed to be the champion of the effort. After more than 18 months, John became that champion.
He continued to push the idea of a new organization. He originally proposed calling it the Institute of Broadcast Engineers. Over the months, he sent more then 5,000 letters to radio and TV engineers in the United States and Canada. In April 1963 he ran a membership application in Broadcast Engineering. The idea slowly continued to build interest.
On April 5, 1964, an organizational meeting was held during the National Association of Broadcasters convention at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago. About 100 broadcast engineers attended that meeting. Everyone agreed that a society targeted at broadcast engineers was needed, so they made it official. The first order of business was to change the name to the Society of Broadcast Engineers. (It was felt that the Institute of Broadcast Engineers (IBE) was too similar to IBEW, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.) The other item of business was to appoint John Battison to be the society's first president.
And that's how it all began. One person spoke up and made a change. Since that first meeting in 1964, the SBE has grown to more than 5,500 members and more than 114 chapters. There are SBE members in all 50 states, four U.S. territories and 25 other countries.
To mark this milestone, the SBE is planning a series of special events, activities and projects to be held throughout 2014. A special 50th anniversary logo was unveiled last month. The Society already has plans for a special event at the 2014 NAB Show as well.
As a past president of the organization, I'm proud of what the society has become and what it accomplishes. And I'm glad my friend spoke up so many years ago.