How to get the most from your Station Tech

At this year’s CBAA conference John Maizels was one of the ‘geeks’ in a session called Ask The Geeks, and later hosted a conference workshop on how to hire and effectively manage your technical staff. Maizels, a former Chairman of SMPTE, radio broadcaster, IT specialist and technologist, speaks to radioinfo this week about hiring and training Techs in this era of rapid technological change.


At the conference workshop Maizels said technologists are often the “most forgotten people” of any radio station. But without the service that technologists provide, no radio station would be able to run successfully.

So what should community radio stations do to ensure they have the best technologists who are happy in the job and building a strong station?

Maizels says you must understand the fundamental personality aspects that are generic to nearly all techs, so you can develop that strong, friendly relationship:

–      Techs like building and fixing things

–      Techs do love toys, but it’s not really about the toys

–      Getting things built and working makes them happy

–      They also generally tell the truth. Therefore if they are taking 3 weeks to fix that microphone, it’s because that microphone takes 3 weeks to fix!


If a station advertises for a tech they should know what they want in advance. Maizels says “you must have a list of what you need, so that when the tech rings up about the position you can be ready with the best spiel about all things they can fix and build at the station. If it sounds exciting techs will want to be a part of your station and you will get the best person for the job.”


According to Maizels, technologists face a heap of challenges including:

* Lack of funds, and lack of consistency of funds, to deliver a consistent and architected result.  Whatever the vision is, it’s likely to be compromised by committed funding that vanishes, or reliance on sources of funding that aren’t consistent (eg: CBF grants which rely on annual submissions).

* Poor credibility. We are our own worst enemies sometimes. Boards regard technologists with suspicion, bizarrely because technologists are so poor at selling the sizzle.

* Politics.  Most technologists are apolitical at best, and naive at worst.  The combination of savvy and smart is dynamite, but sadly lacking in many of us, and the sector is littered with smart and dedicated technologists who came off second best against a smarter and more politically astute opponent.


“Ironically, in the community radio sector, most managers will cite lack of qualified volunteers as the biggest problem, but the same managers have most likely neither sought nor created an environment to attract and keep suitable candidates,” says Maizels.


What skills should a station look for when choosing someone to look after technology?

The number one ‘skill’ is being available.  But, whether it is commercial, ABC or community radio, some good attributes are the ability to:

* understand how to plan and track

* manage and motivate

* read a block diagram and conceptualise a system

* work with documents, spreadsheets and email

* build a strong network of industry contacts

* create a business case

“None of these is related to the core skill of wiring up a studio or fixing a transmitter, but if you can bring these skills to the table, then you can always find the people to help with a project… or create an environment in which those skills can be grown in others,” says Maizels. 

A good hands-on person should have an understanding of fault-finding principles, ability to read a circuit diagram, dexterity with tools (especially a soldering iron), sound knowledge of audio wiring, working knowledge of transmitters, and pretty solid skills in IT and networking. 


Maizels, who worked professionally in IT for many years as well as broadcast technology, says “it’s a skill mix that is completely inverted from 30 years ago, when transmitter operation was at the top of the list.”


Is there any training a technologist should do?  Hardly any that’s specific, which is a real problem according to Maizels: 

“Full marks to Petersham TAFE and Perth Central Institute for making a start.  I’d really like to hear from people who want training and what they need… and especially if the nationally recognised training package (CUF07) doesn’t cover the skills that you need developed.   We can do something about that, and possibly find resources to promote technical training through the CBF-funded National Training Program.”  


Meanwhile, the CBAA’s Technical Standing Committee, of which Maizels is a member, has run extremely successful skill-development events for the technologist community such as Technorama 2009 and 2010. Planning for Technorama 2011 is now under way.


Putting on his SMPTE hat, Maizels also has a reminder for the forward calendar: “Don’t forget SMPTE11 in July 2011.”


John Maizels can be contacted at  [email protected]