Review: NAB Engineering Handbook, 10th Edition
January 22, 2009
Edmund A. Williams
WASHINGTON The National Association of Broadcasters has been producing its Engineering Handbook since 1935. The 1960 edition was the first one this writer was exposed to, and while it was a very large and thick tome, it pales in comparison to the newest edition, which has a page count of 2,072 and weighs in at about 10 pounds. This is not light reading!
This 10th edition was quite a while in the making and includes contributions from 125 authorities on broadcasting-related technologies, as well as some material from 16 other engineering experts that was included in the previous (9th) edition. Each and every chapter has been updated in this edition, (not always the case in earlier versions). The portion of the book acknowledging these contributions could well pass for a "who's who" in broadcast engineering, and excludes almost no one possessing expert or authority level in the business. To list all names and affiliations would require more space than can be devoted to this review, so suffice it to say that they represent a respected group of consultants, industry chieftains, technical authors and station engineering heads.
The book is organized in nine sections, each being broken into subsections authored by different specialists. It begins with a look at the electromagnetic spectrum and concludes a couple of thousand pages later with a section on remotely controlling and monitoring transmitters. In addition to enumeration of technical standards and other purely reference and theoretical material, there is also coverage of some very practical and potentially useful topics: facility planning, microphone selection, telephone system interfacing, and even a section titled "Electrical Shock—What to Do When It Occurs."
This 10th edition contains thousands of photographs, drawings and charts to reinforce the textual presentation on most topics. If you've ever wondered how a Bayer mask is organized or needed a sectional view of an acoustically isolated floor, the book has it. The photographs included depict virtually every area of a broadcast plant.
Once upon a time, larger broadcast operations had the luxury of a complete engineering department with a number of specialists on hand to deal with any and all situations that arose in producing and transmitting the best possible audio and video. Some individuals spent their entire careers tending and maintaining mountain-top transmitters; others ensured that a station's cameras were tweaked for maximum performance and literally sparkled; another group was assigned to keeping tape machines at the ready and were so skilled that they could almost tear down and reassemble a recorder blindfolded. Some groups and stations even had construction departments that manufactured broadcast gear for their own use.
Unfortunately, in this environment where maximizing the bottom line seems to be the most important function in broadcasting, equipment with incredible reliability figures is commonplace, and not nearly as many young people are attracted to the technical side of things, those days are long gone.
Typically, the engineering staff is now probably the smallest in a station; equipment design and fabrication is left to the big companies, and in many situations, even the design and integration of updated or new station facilities is farmed out to groups specializing in this sort of thing.
A chief engineer no longer has the luxury of bringing in his transmitter or microwave "man" to discuss changes and upgrades; chances are the chief is "it" when it comes to possessing the entirety of technical expertise in such areas. The same goes for evaluating camera or other broadcast technologies.
Most all of us—big and small market engineering folks alike—are in the same boat today. This is where the book is probably of greatest value. I won't say that reading a chapter or two will make you an instant expert. However, with a little study, you'll feel better prepared to enter into discussions with those who are indeed experts in areas that aren't part of everyday operations. This sort of preparedness is invaluable when it's time to make a facility change or enter into a slightly different business model.
The list price for this 10th edition of the NAB Engineering Handbook is $199 for non-NAB members and $179 for NAB members. On first approximation this may seem a little steep. However when you divide these figures by the book's weight, it works out to less than $20 per pound. Not too bad, really; this falls somewhere in between what you'd pay for filet mignon and crab meat, and the book is going to stay fresh for a lot longer. Another way to look at it is the cost of education these days. Check out the tuition for a one-semester class at your local community college, or price one of the three- or four-day "technical seminar" classes that are offered to us in almost every mail. I think that for the amount of education this book contains, the price is truly a bargain.
CD ROM VERSION
One of the nicer features about this edition of the Handbook is an included CD ROM. Despite the book's wealth of technical knowledge, it's not the sort of thing that you'd want to stow in your attaché case before dashing along airport terminal concourses. (If you did make it to the boarding lounge without requiring emergency medical services, you still might need some assistance in hefting your case to the overhead bin—it's that heavy.) Thoughtfully, the entire contents have been burned onto a single CD. This and your laptop make the book much more portable and accessible. (For that matter, you could keep the hard copy in your office and the CD version home if you wanted to continue reading a section after the workday is done.) Unfortunately—but completely understandable in this age of intellectual property piracy—the CD ROM cannot be copied to your hard drive, nor can a particular page or pages be printed out. (If you prefer, you can save a tree or two and purchase the CD version only.)
I can't recommend too highly that you place your order for the new Handbook right after you read this. No station should be without one. Next to the latest FCC rules and regulations, this will be the most important document in your facility. It may be purchased from resellers such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or prospective owners can order it from the NAB's on-line store at www.nabstore.com/national-association-of-broadcasters-engineering-handbook-1010.html.
James O'Neal is Technology Editor for TV Technology.