Tech Support And Radio Engineers ... Fix The Problem
October 18, 2016
It's human nature to feel uncomfortable with what we don't know. For many years tech support has been the biggest help and source of frustration for radio programmers. Here's a shocker: Not all tech support has a bedside manner which lends itself to solving issues in a timely fashion; sometimes it is assumed you know the specific language and meaning of what you are being told. It is a blessing when you get someone who can take techie information and translate it into layman terms. To put things in proper perspective, think of those times you have called tech support concerning your smart phone or laptop. Now re-apply those experiences to work-related technical problems.
Being on hold for technical support of any sort can be nerve-racking. The irritating generic instrumental music interspersed with promotional propaganda every 15 seconds can lull you to sleep with your eyes open. Then suddenly a live person is on the line to solve your problem or not. I received a question from a programmer concerning his station's automation system and his tech support.
OM: My daily syndicated show has problems on our end when it is time to switch from local to network. The problem skips around days and we never know when it is going to happen. We think it's an issue with our automation system. Other stations in our cluster do not seem to be having with any problems with their satellite syndication. I have repeatedly been on the line with tech support and keep getting told to read the manual or asked to pay for the updates. What can I do?
Coach: Describe the actual problem.
OM: At the end of my 5p hour, our MediaTouch should hard sink at 59:59 and the next command is the satellite trigger. But sometimes instead, nothing happens and the four or five songs scheduled at the end of the hour all play and we join the show at 10 to 15 minutes into it. It screws up everything.
Coach: Where are your breaks in your last live local hour?
OM: We only take one break, at 12 after.
Coach: Although it sounds like tech support could be nicer and a little more helpful, MediaTouch is not the problem. I spoke with some engineering friends and they suggested checking the MediaTouch format scheduler for entry discrepancies and getting with the traffic department for a look at the daily log template to see if things are consistent. My engineering brain trust also recommend you try adding an extra sync command at the top of the hour before the satellite trigger and not at the end at 59:59. Good luck.
OM: Thanks, but I have a few more issues I need advice on.
Coach: Such as?
OM: It is kind of a two-fold problem. The engineer for our cluster lives two hours from here and the wait time on emergencies are at his whim. Honestly, even though I know I should not do it, when it comes to some little things at the transmitter, I actually go out and do them myself.
Coach: Do you have an engineering background of any kind?
OM: No, I have just picked up a few things here and there.
Coach: Look, things have changed over the years. Prior to deregulation, stations were required to hire engineers with a FCC 1st or 2nd class licensee. With that said, you really need someone reliable with the knowledge to handle things in a timely fashion.
OM: I mean this guy comes once or twice a month and when we are knocked off the air because of bad weather or whenever our satellite dish acts up, his idea of emergency is three to four hours later. I wish I was exaggerating, but I am not. This is about the upkeep of all of our equipment.
Coach: I feel your pain, the best thing I can suggest is for you to bring in an outside engineer to provide an overall assessment of all your engineering and equipment issues. I will send you an e-mail with some names and contacts of mine who can suggest some people, too. You need to figure out how to do this with management's permission; it they agree to disagree, you'll have to make do or figure out a work-around.
Employers still prefer radio station engineers with a Federal Communications Commission General Class permit or certification from the Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE). However, the number of engineers still practicing the craft has fallen off over the years; it has forced stations to sometimes alter standards. To make matters worse, the recent cutback of FCC field offices has increased the possibilities for some companies to look the other way on standard operating procedures and equipment requirements. So, if you can find a competent in-house engineer, cherish them. Otherwise, pray that your traveling consulting engineer has a sense of what an appropriate response time is to -- maintenance, solving issues, and responding to emergencies.