“Are You ‘IT’ ?”
by Bob Burnham

Technically, I’m NOT, but I wade in those waters more often than you might expect.

IT or Information Technology is a specialized group of techs with training and experience in computer-related matters. 

But  I come from a broadcasting background.  

OK, so WHAT IS a “broadcasting background?”

I was the engineer at your friendly radio station.  I worked on the emergency generator, the station van (or other vehicles including maybe yours, if you just had a dead battery)… otherwise, if you were friends with the General Manager, maybe he could get you a trade-out with a local shop to fix your car! 

I came chasing after you when you screwed up the log binder or forgot to sign the station transmitter log, or missed noticing a tower light was out. That was me.  I was THAT guy.

I was usually the one who was at all the major remotes at least at the beginning.  When the station was off the air, I was also the guy who worked “miracles” getting it back on the air immediately, or sweating it out, when it took me awhile to fix it. But I also made sure the “back-up” transmitter was functional!

Like many in engineering (and there aren’t very many of us left), I started on the “other” side of the microphone, working On-Air shifts (loved every minute of it, but the industry changed).  In later years they started calling me “Chief” in an official capacity.  But if the morning guy got sick, I actually did the show in a pinch.  

“IT” knowledge became more critical in “my” field as the computer-based systems replaced broadcast carts and reel-to-reel tapes.

When Apple first invented the Mac, I owned one.  When Radio Shack introduced the “TRS-80” home PC (that used a portable cassette player to store data), I actually sold them (for a minute anyway).

I had an e-mail address and a dial-up modem before most people even knew what the internet was.  I guess that made be a certified “geek,” but not an “IT” dude since the term hadn’t even been invented yet!

I was (and am) your Broadcast Engineer who installs any new hardware in the studio, tells you why it was better than the old and how to use it. 

When you couldn’t figure out why the remote equipment stopped working, or you were taking calls on the air and the caller couldn’t hear you over the phone, I knew how to fix it.

When the transmitter blows a critical part, I MIGHT actually have something in my basement to get us back on the air in some capacity – while we waited for a FedEx part – or the General Manager to get approval for something Really Expensive that needed replacement.

If there was a fire, literally, I had the fire extinguisher in my hand!
This applied anytime day or night, weekends included.

Sometimes the after-hour calls  were an annoyance, but often I didn’t mind.  If I really had that station under my control, and it was put together the way I wanted….those calls rarely came!

Program Directors, General Managers and other local engineers I worked with became friends for life because we saved each other’s butts time and time again.

I was the guy the General Manager came to when the FCC called with a “surprise” inspection.  I was also the one who celebrated with the staff when we passed inspection with “flying colors.”  I was the one who rarely celebrated this hard, but had to be driven home that night! 

That was me, and I was proud of that moment and our success.

During the 1990s, I was out of town for about three weeks designing and building a small AM station from the ground up.  I installed my very first Enco System, although the radio station owner and staff weren’t very accepting, insisting the studios also be equipped with a turntable, REAL cart machines and reel to reel in Production.  
Their morning man, said to me, “Ya know, some mornings you need to play scratchy records on the air.”  So I gave them that ability!

In the meantime, at the request of the station owner, I held a couple of early “how-to” DAD Enco sessions (It was “DAD for DOS!” back then).  Even then, Enco had a very nice on-screen look that for example, resembled a traditional cart recorder.  

Little did I know, the great great great grandson of same system would travel with me another 15 years or so to the present!

I returned to the Detroit area after getting this station in operation, and faced another major project:  My first task was to install an elaborate transmitter and control system that took care of logging a directional AM station. The station used 10 towers and the (then) new system allowed it to operate legally with no humans present.  It changed power and pattern at sunrise and sunset without attention, and I could control it from home via dial-up modem.  It satisfied FCC requirements because it would shut down or page me if something bad happened.

But I was also the guy who stopped the General Manager from laying off all the board operators (i.e. “Engineers on Duty”) before the system was ready and officially online and “legal.”  I was the guy they all thanked for giving them a couple extra weeks of pay and we actually hiring some extra help on top of that.

In the meantime, at that same station, a computer-based automation system rode a live satellite fed network feed which replaced all the live programming that had previously been produced at this location. That station now also has its own “Enco” system.  The industry was changing even further, and I was changing with it.  Again.

“Am I in ‘IT’ ?” 
'Technically,' no.  

But I do know a lot about how to get a computer to do things that used to require a room full of equipment, or at least a rack full of equipment in more recent years.

Ask me about on-air audio processing, tonal balance, how to mix live or recorded music, as well as programming and performance-related aspects of what I do. Somewhere at one or more times I probably had a “taste” of it (or I’m doing it now) and can probably tell you more about it than you’d care to know.

When I may say “You’re One of Us,” to someone in broadcasting, I DON’T necessarily mean a techie type, but someone who is in the field because They Want to Be.

Of course, we need to make a reasonable enough salary to survive, but that’s not the real motivation.  And that motivation CANNOT be because they are on an ego trip, either.

Anyone can actually do what “I” do given enough years of experience and some training.

The same can apply to most fields including “IT.”  There is no substitute for experience, and if someone can’t give you that chance, you have to get it for yourself.  

Whether or not ‘what I do’ for you is obviously for you to decide.  Find something you enjoy doing (that someone will pay you for), that doesn’t really seem like “work.”  That is the very hard-core secret of an extended fun-filled life.

-Bob Burnham
  Saturday, 05/22/2010