As their responsibilities expand to include IT, automation, Webcasting, podcasting, multicasting and more, broadcasting’s technology chiefs now think of themselves as media engineers.
The broadcast engineer is no more. Increasingly, for the hundreds gathered near Syracuse, N.Y. this week for the 2006 Society of Broadcast Engineers conference, the more appropriate title is media engineer.
“We used to be the guys who take care of the transmitter,” said Tom McNicholl, chief engineer at Smith Media’s WKTV-TV Utica, N.Y. “Now, we’re also IT guys. We have to get our product not just to the TV set, but also to the Internet and mobile devices.”
Francis Fasuyi, operations manager of digital central casting for ClearChannel TV’s northeast station group, runs nine TV stations from a single location, using Internet Protocol technology to do it. “The engineer’s role is expanding to include multimedia technology, IT and even security,” he said, noting that station engineers now also work with local authorities to make sure police security systems don’t interfere with TV signals.
Indeed, as stations reinvent themselves into multimedia outlets for local news, information and entertainment, the engineer plays a vital role in making it happen. “What we do affects the performance of everyone in this industry,” Fasuyi said.
That said, media engineers want to become known as resources for station and station group managers looking to reinvent their business, said Chriss Scherer, SBE president and editor of Radio magazine. “If [senior managers] want to find new ways to reach the listener and viewer, they can come to us to find out how to stream, podcast and do other things,” he said.
SBE leaders are looking for ways to communicate this on a broad scale, by speaking at meetings and conferences. The group may also add educational programs, through its Ennes Foundation, to keep members up to speed on changing technologies. “Education is part of our mandate,” said board member Barry Thomas, vice president of technology at Lincoln Financial Media’s radio division.
Fasuyi, who is president of SBE’s Central New York state chapter, said his group invites equipment vendors to speak at monthly meetings, as a way of educating members about technologies they might not yet be using or could learn more about.
This doesn’t mean a name change is in the works for SBE, Scherer said. “We’ve been SBE for 40 years and we like the name,” he said. “We’re making sure the B still means broadcast, but we don’t want to limit ourselves either.”
Scherer and other SBE leaders hope the evolving role of the media engineer will make the profession more enticing to young people. “There are so many things, like Internet streaming, that have a glamour factor for students,” he said. Traditional broadcasting doesn’t have the same cachÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©, “but it is no less relevant,” Scherer said.
To attract more high school and college students into media engineering, SBE is working with its local chapter leaders to form student chapters. One, in fact, is already in the works in Oshkosh, Wis.
It all adds up to an expanding role for engineers in what’s traditionally been known as broadcasting. “What we do is deliver content,” Thomas said. “The platform doesn’t matter anymore.”