Most HR recruiters will tell you that Broadcast Engineers are as rare as hens’ teeth.
If that’s so, then last weekend’s Technorama conference held at the Campbelltown RSL was a rare event indeed with more “hens’ teeth” gathered in one room than chickens at the local KFC.
In opening the event, Technorama President, John Maizels (below, left) said, “In an industry full of fat old white guys we need to nurture young people… and females.”
Indeed, many of the older “techs” in the room once worked as highly qualified Chief Engineers in commercial radio or at the ABC. Some, now retired, volunteer at community stations that are thrilled to have their expertise at little or no cost.
Frank Wilcox, for example, who had been Chief at Macquarie, ARN, SCA and more recently spent 10 years in New Zealand at The Radio Network has semi-retired to Mt Gambier in SA. He still works three days a week at the local SCA outlet and looks after some community stations in his spare time.
But others in the room had no formal qualifications. A fancy certificate is no longer a pre-requisite to land a job as a technician at a radio station, as it was in the days of the Broadcast Control Board.
“This is one of the bizarre things,” says Maizels. “We’ve transitioned over a period of about 30 years from an environment in which the Broadcasting Control Board would check your equipment and if it didn’t meet specifications they would say: that comes out. You’re not to use that on air until its fixed. If they found enough problems they could take a station off the air.
“Now it is the ACMA that regulates spectrum. If someone is interfering with somebody else, they will fix that. But if your transmitter sounds awful and no one’s listening thats a commercial problem. They don’t enter that. It’s your problem. And so, in that environment nobody is interested in licensing techs,” says Maizels.
That doesn’t mean that the job has been dumbed down or that stations are regularly going off air. It’s just that today’s “Radio Technologists,” as Maizels likes to call them, need a very different skill set to those of 30 years ago.
For a start, studios are no longer equipped with mechanical components such as cart machines, CD players or analogue tape recorders that were prone to frequent malfunction. “A lot of the technology we deal with today is so reliable that you never have a need to get inside it and you never have a need to work at the component level like we used to,” says Maizels.
On the other hand a good Radio Technologist needs a keen understanding of computer sciences.
So if you’re a young person, of any gender, and fancy yourself as a Radio Technologist, how do you get a start?
You’ll very quickly discover how to burn your fingers but you’ll also discover how to make things that glow and do nice things in the dark
“The master apprentice system, if you can make it work, is still absolutely the best way,” says Maizels. “So, find somebody who you believe really knows their stuff and you can attach yourself to that person. That’s probably the best way to get a leg up – at least to find what it is you don’t know.
“Til you know what you don’t know you’re flailing in the dark. Find somebody who looks like they have some of the answers. Or engage with online communities such as facebook, for example. People who don’t know can ask questions and can engage with the community of people who do know and learn from that.
“Another absolutely great way is to go and just experiment. If you want to learn electronics you can go and get a local magazine called Silicon Chip. You can go to Jaycar electronics and buy a kit and learn to solder and put stuff together.
“You’ll very quickly discover how to burn your fingers but you’ll also discover how to make things that glow and do nice things in the dark,” says John Maizels.