Me with 1980s-1990s WCAR General Manager, Jack Bailey at a station event.
One of the paths to pursue that reflects an Engineer's success is proving to ALL of the staff that you REALLY are all the same (even if you're not!). You collect a paycheck from the same source but you also work in radio, and for the most part, everyone who works in radio does so because they WANT TO.
Also, when you come in to the station to work your "magic" (and that is what some people on staff consider it), you're better off leading people to think you're a "regular guy" (or girl) the next time a crisis situation arrives and you have to be less-than-friendly, for whatever reason. You'll have many who are both supportive, sympathetic, and maybe even a Program Director who volunteers to go to the transmitter with you, or do some errand for you that will be part of the solution.
Mental Health (i.e. your sanity!) plays a big role in your longevity at the job, your effectiveness to resolve problems and not make serious (or even fatal) mistakes and finally, and to go even farther than you have already gone in the eyes of management.
General Managers are a different breed. The notion that it's lonely at the top may be true in some situations, but most GMs are regular people as well. It's worth the effort to forge an amicable relationship, even if they seem unapproachable.
I have always had to prove my value to every GM I have ever worked for. It could be a single "working a miracle" event, or many little ones, or simply just being in a good mood amongst the staff and by association, winning him over via the whole staff.
Some GMs have to be EDUCATED about things they need to know. The engineer may have to teach the ones newer on the job simply to be a better GM too if all they REALLY know is how to sell spots. But once you "win" them over it can become a turning point.
When I was Chief Engineer for one of the major groups, I built a talk studio from scratch with a non-existent budget. It was for a new morning show. Everyone seemed to love the new studio, and the GM even circulated a memo among the staff and carbon copied corporate management commending me by name.
Some time later, a successful surprise FCC inspection a week before my last day (the second in my career as Chief Engineer) scored even more brownie points. Despite this, there was low morale at this station for various reasons beyond my control. If I had stayed, however, I could have won the GM over even more, but I had other plans, and sought a situation that was more rewarding.
THE GM IS UNDER PRESSURE, TOO
A GM is constantly being squeezed on both sides by the owner or regional GM who demand a better bottom line, more sales, etc., while the engineer is telling him things that MUST be budgeted for if they are to stay in operation or not be subject to violations, present hazards to the staff, or make it difficult or impossible to remain competitive in the market.
If the GM won't work with the engineer in this respect, even after the engineer has saved the day more than once, it's time for the engineer to look for work elsewhere.
The GM will not be there long with that attitude, but the engineer should not have to tolerate such a situation in the meantime.
GMs with big egos are much bigger challenges, but they are not impossible to conquer -- either they like you or not. If they are neutral, you are still in a good position if you play your cards right.
Any GOOD GM will actively trust and allow the engineer to help him in determining budgetary priorities -- that means realizing and respecting the engineer’s knowledge and experience PLUS treating the engineer with respect so that the engineer actually cares about the station. It is a two way street, but this scenario may not be possible until the engineer has proven himself -- or his prior reputation are evidence enough of his integrity.
BE GOOD NO MATTER WHAT
Some engineers may make it a personal mission to knock the socks off of everyone with a new studio, new on-air sound, or cosmetic things that really don’t cost the company anything extra but are the products of the better engineers.
As it has been mentioned in the past, the feeling of accomplishment once the work is done (and hearing it on the air the next morning) is among the rewards for what might be a particularly tedious task.
The physical appearance of a newly wired rack can also be made to look like a work of art. Only a couple of my colleagues that I have ever worked with share this passion. When you take a photo of such a rack and show it to a non-technical person and compare it to a rats' nest wiring job, it impresses them, particularly when you can do it in the same amount of time as a sloppy "throw it together just so it works" job.
It also demonstrates a certain amount of pride you take in your work. Appearance matters in all respects. They may not understand the purpose of each wire, but when you take a photo "suitable for framing" it sends a positive message to that GM or the PD or whomever you're trying to win over.
Each major accomplishment, such as a completely re-wired rack, should be documented and submitted in a brief bullet-point report either monthly or even better, twice a month. It is not so much a "brag" letter, but a communication tool that gives an effective progress report as well as proving the cost of your salary is a good investment.
If there is a regional engineer, it's also a good idea to CC: him on all such reports. This also serves to align the engineer with the GM in such a way that points out common goals ARE being reached and that you are both on exactly the same team. Again, it verifies the value of the engineer to the station, but especially proves you not just a good engineer, but a detail-oriented engineer who actually cares about the station.
IN THE END, IT'S WORTH THE EXTRA EFFORT
Eventually, a good GM may also reward you with comp tickets to concerts, sporting events, dinners and other freebies he may only share normally with the sales staff.
And yes, he WILL go to the station owner during the holidays and convince the owner to throw an extra hundred bucks or two or three or more in with your holiday paycheck. I have been very lucky in that regard, but nothing came without work and effort on my part.
Doing favors for station clients on personal time, such as duplicating program or spot tapes, helping station clients set up their own studios, etc., always leaks back to the GM.
If CLIENTS are raving about HIS chief engineer, you can bet when the opportunity comes to reward HIS engineer he will be generous, indeed, even if only in small ways.
"REGULAR" PEOPLE HAVE A BETTER CHANCE OF BEING HIRED
The best GMs have a knack for hiring the best people, but don't necessarily have what it takes to hire the best engineers. One GM had a unique approach: Before I got officially hired, he also asked me to interview with the station’s Contract Engineer (who would later become a good friend and we would share many projects in later years).
Following that second interview (which was more like a swapping horror stories session), I was hired within the next few days.
Additionally, the GM told me, "If I find an engineer more qualified than you, would you agree to let the better engineer have the job, even after the fact?”
I thought that was a nervy question, but I respected his quest to ONLY have the best people work at his station. As it turns out, apparently I WAS quite suitable as I would work for that station for the next 10 years of my life.
Under his direction, we would eventually celebrate the FIRST successful "surprise" FCC inspection of my career and made some long term friends in the process.
HANDLING A "NEW GUY"
There are really only two options if a new GM comes on board who thinks you (or engineers in general) are nothing but a pain and a liability the station has to deal with.
One can either use their best efforts again, to PROVE how good they are or simply quit, or at least get your resume in order, in preparation for that eventual exit.
You already know what you can do, and have the confidence to handle whatever gets thrown your way. You already know how crucial some of your knowledge and ability is to the station operation. You are obviously their insurance policy.
At the same time, while getting your ducks in order, you don't want to flash any kind of an ego in front of anyone at the station, especially the GM.
You just never knew when things could change, or that GM could be your colleague at another facility at another point in your life.
In reality, you want to be a regular person. You respect your current GM's management position, but you're both human. You can probably find common interests, whether it's just enjoying a good steak or more work-related topics such as getting great air sound, or coordinating with programming, a flawless execution of programming elements. This sort of gets back to proving yourself.
If you prove to your GM that they have the best engineer in town for what they want to accomplish, you will be rewarded with the highest salary that the station can support. Whether that salary is sufficient for YOUR needs is a secondary consideration. But that consideration is yours only.
On the management end, a certain maximum dollar figure has been allocated for engineering salaries. That figure generally will never grow if incoming revenue is not growing proportionally. Obviously, it just doesn't make good business sense. Thus, if your Sales Manager doesn't have a good team, or in smaller markets, if the GM is not also a red-hot salesman himself, your salary as an engineer won't grow either no matter how good your relationship is.
But that relationship IS important because it will also help you to solidify your personal reputation. Obviously, that GM has many friends in the industry himself. The outcome could be setting you up for a job for the next 10-20 years; then actually being amongst the first the GM confides to when he decides its time to resign himself (I've actually been in that position!).
When that happens, just repeat the process with a new GM. If the GM is actually the program director you have already forged a good friendship with, then in your life at least, it's business as usual.
As I tell others, I have been lucky most of the time, although I have worked for stations where things weren't so good. Ignoring the "badness", however, and just bringing an upbeat attitude to the situation - no matter how bad it may be -- will always go farther than being an "Oscar the Grouch!"
Being the "Cookie Monster" will always go farther. Who doesn't like cookies and something cold, when faced with the prospect of doing Monitor Points on a directional AM on a humid 90 degree day?
When the staff and GM appreciate what you do, they will buy you all the cookies you want, or at least work a trade-out with a client for you to get a whole case of "something good."