A Partnership That Goes Beyond Technology

This year marks several firsts for the NAB Engineering Achievement Awards. One of our industry’s most coveted honors is going to a married couple—Gary Cavell (for radio) and Cindy Hutter Cavell (television)—a first since the association began presenting the awards 60 years ago. Perhaps even more importantly, the choice of Hutter Cavell marks the first time a woman has received NAB’s top engineering honor. The couple will be honored at the “We Are Broadcasters Celebration at the NAB Show, April 9.

Both have a long and storied career in broadcast engineering. TV Technology recently chatted with Gary and Cindy about their work and their thoughts on the rapidly changing broadcast market.

TVTechnology:What was your reaction when you learned you were chosen for your respective NAB Engineering Achievement Awards?

Gary Cavell: Genuine surprise, and the old term “blown away” is appropriate.

Cindy Hutter Cavell: It’s a huge honor, and it’s just really cool that our peers thought enough of us as engineers to nominate us and then all of the other people who wrote in to support the nomination. It was just enormous.

GC: It is a bit humbling as a result. This is a big deal. When you look at the names of who’s gotten the award over the years, and that’s pretty rare company.

CHC: It’s an exclusive club.

TVT:What are some of the highlights of your engineering careers, and why?

CHC: I can’t speak for Gary, but my career has been so much fun, there hasn’t been one job. All of my jobs have been crazy. All of my jobs have been challenging; and all of my jobs have been fun. I’m not sure I could pick one over the other because it’s all been great.

GC: It’s sort of the same thing. Every job you go to is a challenge between the technology or the people or the environment, and it becomes special. Then you go onto the next one, which is a bigger and more interesting thing.

I think the highlight of my career is going to sound a bit odd perhaps, but it’s just working with people and getting the chance to teach people and help them grow. It’s not a tangible job. It’s the people you meet in the management chain and the engineering side and the production side. That’s the highlight. Just working with people and showing them they can do it.

That’s where Cindy and I come from. We have always been of the attitude of “let us teach if you want to learn.” It’s important to pass it on. The highlight is getting the chance...

TVT:What do you see as today’s top engineering challenges facing broadcasting?

GC: It’s probably two things. One is replacing those of us who are aging out with younger people who are interested in the career. The people who aren’t afraid of IT and networking—teaching them the RF side, that’s a big challenge. And getting them interested in what we do and getting them to carry it on after we fade away. That’s huge, and it is essential.

On the other hand, stations need to be willing to hire these new people and make a play for them so they can grow into the business like we did. People took a chance on me and on Cindy and gave us jobs and gave us room to grow.

CHC: Finding the budgets and positions for new people as they come into the industry is difficult. It used to be that engineers like Gary and I could grow up underneath someone else who could train us. Now, there isn’t the budgetary latitude at radio and television stations to do this for young engineers any longer.

TVT:Would you recommend broadcast engineering as a career choice to aspiring engineering students, people who have been involved with RF in the military or wherever they are coming from with a technical background?

CHC: Yes, and the reason I say that is because we are bombarded everyday by over-the-top, streaming alternatives to broadcast radio and television. But broadcast radio and television are still going to be around awhile, and you know, whether it comes out of a TV transmitter or 5G, that’s still RF.

GC: The business can still be exciting and fun and challenging. It appeals to a certain kind of person.

TVT:The role of broadcasting is in flux technically, from a business point of view, operationally, competitively and so many other ways. How do you see the role of broadcast engineering evolving as we go forward?

CHC: The obvious answer to that is it will evolve as the technology evolves. I started in the business as a 2-inch tape operator. We don’t have those anymore. But I remain in the business. I haven’t become an anachronism yet. So I think engineers evolve to fill a technological role as the technology evolves.

All of a sudden, now we have broadcast IT specialists, which we didn’t have in any kind of serious way even 10 years ago.

GC: Traditional over-the-air television will become one of many means to get entertainment and information to people as opposed to the only one. That is changing, but still broadcasters are the ones who know how to provide content, news, weather and information and deliver it in a way that people can use it, consume it and enjoy it. So broadcasting isn’t going to die.

TVT:What are your thoughts about ATSC 3.0?

CHC: It’s a wonderful opportunity for over-the-air broadcasting to reach portable appliances in a way it’s not been able to before, especially within the home. Gary and I carry around our phones and carry around our laptops and carry around our iPads. We don’t necessarily want to sit in front of the TV set in the living room anymore.

3.0 is a great way for the consumer to be able to do that. 3.0 is a great way to introduce broadcasting into moving vehicles—and yeah, I know the 5G people are saying the same thing.

GC: The fact is 5G won’t be everywhere and broadcasting has a huge footprint. Broadcast can serve areas where it is not economically viable to have 5G. Broadcasting will always fill the gaps that are uneconomical for other means.

Because it has to be set on a standard, it feels like it is taking forever, and I say that as us being members of ATSC. But you have to get the definition right before you can have everybody doing the same thing well.

TVT:How has the marriage impacted your abilities professionally and how hard is it to put broadcasting and engineering aside to have time for each other and your family?

CHC: We’ve been friends for 35 years.

GC: I met her at NBC here in Washington while I was working on a TV project, and we just became buddies because I liked how she handled people. I thought it was kind of funny because she worked with these big, burly guys and she just handled it.

So, we had been buddies for a long, long time and kept running into each other. She eventually, courtesy of a boss, became a client of the firm, which was also funny because she would say, “What are you doing here now?”

You get to know somebody in a different light than the usual dating or courtship relationship. We were professional and then personal friends for years. But eventually, she persuaded me to marry her, and I persuaded her to come to this company.

CHC: People ask us all the time, “How can you stand to work with someone you live with?” For us, it’s just not a problem.

GC: We have separate primary focuses in our practices. I tend to be more on the radio side, and I get the TV stuff that is applicable. I get the RF piece. And Cindy does television, and she addresses the phase before that [before the RF portion of TV].

Most of the time, we are in our own little separate sandboxes and separate offices, and it’s like a cube farm—one person is working on one thing and the other person is working on something else, and we trade information when needed. But there is never a conflict or disagreement, and when we get home, we understand that that is turned off—unless they have a duster fire where they need our help overnight.

CHC: Even if it is 10 o’clock at night when we leave the office, we leave work at work.

GC: That’s key. You need to leave the office at the office as much as possible, because it is easy to slip into continuing to talk about things or worry about things. You need the mental break.

TVT:Is there anything else you would like to add?

GC: I wish we could get more fresh blood into the business and have viable paths for them to get into it and grow. It is unfortunate that Cindy is the first woman [to receive the NAB Engineering Achievement Award]. There are a lot of women out there who have accomplished an awful lot. Hopefully, she is the first of many. And the same for people of color.

There are a lot of us in this community that come from different backgrounds who look different, but we are all in the same business. And a lot of people deserve recognition.

CHC: To kind of tag onto what Gary just said, I can’t tell you how many people who have said to me that it’s been a long time coming to have a woman awarded. And I agree. I am surprised and honored to be the first one. I expect to not be the last one.

And I am proud to be part of a community that used to be called a brotherhood. I am going to talk about this in my award speech, but we’ve come a long way from the early 1970s when I got into the business when women were few and far between, and it has gone from a brotherhood to having tens of thousands of women in this business today.

Because of that, we have become a community, and it’s not that it wasn’t a community before because, at least from my experience, I was allowed into the brotherhood in order to make it a community. I don’t know whether I was just lucky, or this has been other women’s experience, but the men who were my peers, the men I worked for, the men who have worked for me have all been fantastically supportive and helpful. It’s just that women have contributed to the changing tenor of the community in a good way.

Tom Butts

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched digitalbroadcasting.com for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (www.tvtech.com), the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.