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SBE Creates New Class of Certification

INDIANAPOLIS: With only modest fanfare, the Society of Broadcast Engineers announced in April the creation of a new class of certification: the Certified Broadcast Networking Engineer, or CNBE. This is a solid move by the SBE to recognize the evolving skill set of what we loosely call “broadcast engineers.” As computerization and digitization have proceeded rapidly over the last couple of decades, the need has increased for sophisticated network engineers in a modern broadcast plant. It has become clear that IT for broadcasting has become its own distinct specialty. 

Recognizing the importance of computer networking in broadcast engineering is an important step. Certification provides prospective managers and employers with a tool to evaluate an individual’s skills and commitment to the specialized world of broadcast. Engineers who choose to obtain this certification demonstrate that they know the essentials of both networking and the broadcasting business. 
Wayne Pecena talks IT during the Ennes Workshop at the 2012 spring NAB Show.Photo by Jim Peck.
In April at the NAB Show, the Ennes Workshop presentation by Wayne Pecena, director of engineering at Educational Broadcast Services, Texas A&M University, pointed out that the IT world already offers many types of certification. These are also quite expensive to obtain. Most are vendor-proprietary certifications with a bewildering array of titles and specialties, such as the varying levels offered by Cisco associated with its router products.

Unfortunately, the degree of specialization makes these industry certifications hard to evaluate when it comes to broadcast engineering. Do I need a CCNA, CCNP or CCIE in order to find the skills I want? Or should we all try to find a Cisco Certified Architect? Do I need a degree in computer science to even understand the difference between these types?

The goal of creating a certification category for broadcast networking is to help identify those with the right skill set, people who are qualified but not too specialized or vendor-specific to understand the unique requirements of broadcasting. Information technology workers and broadcast engineers have quite a bit in common.

Both fields attract people with a mind for detail and precision. It takes substantial training in both fields to understand the theory and the practical specifics of keeping day-to-day operations going smoothly. A significant proportion of the population simply doesn’t possess the mathematical or scientific skills necessary to do this kind of work.

Organizations without access to people with these critical skills often suffer from low performance and inefficiencies encountered struggling with technology when it doesn’t work as expected or breaks down suddenly. Engineering and IT are the critical supports upon which business and broadcast are built.

But there are significant ways in which the IT requirements for broadcasting differ from the rest of the business world. Few of us in broadcasting operate giant data centers. Similarly, those with conventional IT backgrounds often have limited experience with real-time operations and the kind of timely support required, both human and technological. Few of us in broadcasting are concerned about limiting access to our on-air systems. Regular IT obsesses on data security and creating a hierarchy of access that limits everyone to only their tightly defined areas. Broadcast engineers are known for their cell phones plus pager, or belt and suspenders approach to being always available. IT engineers may be impossible to reach on a weekend without several tiers of escalation through screens of management.

Over the years a number of people with IT background have entered broadcasting with success and learned its specifics, blending the best of both worlds. Up until this time they may not have felt as comfortable pursuing the more typical certifications of a broadcast engineer, even though they may have now become one by title. The CBNE certification now recognizes an IT background and networking competence as a unique part of broadcast engineering.

Certification exams are offered regularly by the SBE. Four times per year they can be taken at the local chapter level and once a year they are available at the NAB Show. Have you been working as a broadcast engineer without certification? I urge you to pursue the type that reflects your skills and experience. Show others that you care about broadcasting and that you have the required knowledge. 

(~ by Michael LeClair chief engineer for radio stations WBUR(AM/FM) in Boston, and technical editor of Radio World Engineering Extra where this was originally published