The following is a reprint from TV Tech sister brand Radio World:
“In Search of Engineers.” It sounds like a movie title. Unfortunately, this story often does not have a happy ending.
The story began back in 1996 when the FCC allowed corporations to own multiple radio stations. On the one hand, this was good for companies that wanted to own more radio stations in a given market; on the other hand, it wasn’t so good for the people who worked for them.
Financial officers saw an opportunity to maximize profits by operating more stations with fewer staff members. As a result, many people lost their jobs, including engineers.
Engineers who had maintained one or two stations now had to be responsible for a dozen or more. The ever-increasing responsibilities of chief engineers had a big impact on morale. I personally knew a chief who left his job at a cluster of radio stations to take an IT job at a group nearby. He gets paid better and is on call only once a month.
It’s becoming more difficult to locate an engineer to fill an opening. We’ve seen an increase in the number of help-wanted ads for engineers for both the radio and TV markets.
We are all painfully aware of the shortage of engineering help, but what is a manager or director of engineering to do?
Start with the money
The first step is to evaluate the salary you pay an engineer.
As noted, some engineers are leaving the field to join the ranks of IT professionals for better pay and a much better working environment. That’s your competition. Also consider the high cost of living in many parts of the country and the shrinking value of the dollar. The average engineering salary is not a lot of money for a job where you are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays.
Do some research on salaries for engineers; perhaps you could start with the Society of Broadcast Engineers, which has a good idea of what is a fair wage to pay your current or future engineer. There are radio groups paying very competitive wages. If you aren’t, your opening could go unfilled indefinitely.
The next step is to evaluate how you treat your engineering help. Is he or she treated with respect or disdain? As an asset or a liability?
When you have to drop everything to get a radio station back on the air during your son’s birthday or the annual family picnic, or at all hours of the night, it has a negative impact on morale. An engineer friend of mine was working all night at a transmitter site and came into work late the next morning, only to be reprimanded by his boss. A little appreciation and understanding go a long way.
Equip your engineer. Most radio stations and groups provide a vehicle for use by their chief; but I read a help-wanted advertisement for a chief engineer where the candidate was expected to use his or her own vehicle to travel to transmitter sites. I have my doubts that the station has filled that opening. Similarly I once worked for a group that expected me to sell off old equipment to raise the money for an engineering budget. That’s not what an engineer expects to have to do.
Begin your search for your chief by placing an ad on the SBE website. It’s free and is the first place many engineers look for work. You may also view résumés of engineers looking for work; there is a fee for this service, but if you really want to hire someone, it’s worth it.
f listing your opening with the SBE doesn’t get you good candidates, try contacting the chairman of your local SBE chapter. It’s possible the chairman will know who is looking for a job in your area. Maybe you could attend one of your local chapter’s monthly meetings and announce your opening.
Also consider making a pitch for your opening at a local amateur radio club meeting. An amateur extra class ham would be a good candidate for your chief engineer position; any extra class hams know nearly as much as experienced broadcast engineers. Google “amateur radio club near me.”
Keep at it
Other places to promote your opening for an engineer could include colleges with engineering majors or vocational-technical schools. Ask for the names of graduates or people taking broadcast engineering courses.
If you have tried these ideas and still don’t have an engineer, consider training someone who is interested in becoming an engineer. The SBE has many educational programs, even a mentoring program for new engineers. The society might even be able to recommend someone in a mentoring program as your next chief. Visit SBE.org.
As a last resort, you could offer a job to an engineer at another station or group. If you can pay better, you might just have an interested candidate. A couple of radio groups contacted me about working for them, so I know this happens. Once in a while I learn about someone who’s looking for a better situation, so you could contact me for a referral.
Be persistent. If all else fails, you may need to look around for a contract engineer or a company who specializes in radio broadcast engineering. You can find both through the SBE website or your local chapter chairman.
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Steve Tuzeneu, CBT, began his career in 1973. He is general manager and chief engineer of WIHS(FM) in Middletown, Conn., an SBE member and an amateur radio extra.