Aitken Honored by NAB TV Engineering Award

Sinclair Tech VP recounts career highlights including Next Gen TV development
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LAS VEGAS--Mark Aitken, vice president of advanced technology for Sinclair Broadcast Group is the recipient of the 2018 NAB Television Engineering Achievement Award, which he will receive at an April 10 ceremony at the NAB Show. 

Mark Aitken

Mark Aitken

In its announcement, NAB called Aitken a “dynamic leader in the development of Next Gen TV.” Aitken has been involved in the broadcast industry’s migration to advanced services, including participation in the FCC Advisory Committee on Advanced Television Service, involvement in ATSC including chairing the specialist group on mobile DTV, and with the formation of Sinclair's joint venture ONE Media, serving as its President.

TV Technology caught up with Aitken after the news, for which he said he was “honored” for the recognition. Over the course of decades of involvement with the broadcasting industry, he has worn numerous hats, getting his start with CCA Electronics, a small Massachusetts-based TV transmitter manufacturer in the mid ‘70’s. He counts Richard Fiore Sr., the founder of what was to become Comark Communications in 1976, as his mentor. “We just hit it off,” Aitken said. “Rarely in your life do you find yourself in a situation where you feel like ‘this is where I belong.’ And before long it blossomed into what I always refer to as my mentorship in this industry and into the world of radio frequency design.”

[Read: SMPTE 2014: Aitken—Broadcast Must Be More Than TV]

Early on at Comark, Aitken got to know Fiore’s business partner, David Smith (yes, of Sinclair) as well as Nat Ostroff, who became president of the company in the ‘80’s. By the end of the ‘90’s Aitken moved to Baltimore ostensibly joining Sinclair to rebuild Acrodyne, a company acquired by Sinclair to provide transmitters for the "digital transition."

Beyond Acrodyne activities, Aitken became focused on problems over the RF capabilities of the newly minted ATSC digital TV standard (at Smith’s and Ostroff’s prompting), an issue he characterized, as “Houston, we have a problem.”

“Ray Kiesel and I got handed the job of ‘we’ve got to figure out what’s wrong with this standard because we’ve got to make it work, it’s our future, we don’t have a choice,’” Aitken said. Despite Sinclair’s advocacy for an alternative to 8-VSB that would enhance mobile reception, their efforts came up short. The experience taught Aitken a valuable lesson.

“What I learned was that you must understand politics and business to understand technology, because technology in the marketplace doesn’t end up there simply based on the best engineering,” he said. “It arrives there based on business use cases.”

As a result, Aitken, along with many of his colleagues at Sinclair, became heavily involved in the development of ATSC 3.0, forming ONE Media and focusing on mobility and more efficient use of spectrum. It’s primarily due to these efforts that he is being recognized by NAB.

[Read: Q&A: Mark Aitken On Dallas Next-Gen SFN Trial]

“For me, this award is very much in line with the FCC’s elevation of the Next Gen standard and the engagement of our industry,” he said.

As for his future with Sinclair, Aitken says “I’m not going anywhere,” but he is cognizant of the importance of bringing “new blood” into the television industry. Promoting Next Gen TV is key to attracting new engineers, he said.

“Next Gen is not your father’s or your grandfather’s television,” he said. “Next Gen is so much more. I think it’s everybody’s job to sort of toot the horn.”