Distribution & Delivery Global Viewpoint – March 2019

Crossing the Finish Line - A Time to Retire

The starting pistol fires and hundreds or tens of thousands of runners eagerly charge toward the finish line. Once the race is completed, they retrain and later do it all over again. As a runner for most of my life, I intimately understand the excitement and anticipation participants feel just prior to race start, the sometimes pain during the race and the elation upon finishing. I can see the finish line.

I’m old school. My early interest in electronics began with tube-based equipment, ham radio, and black & white television. My, how things have changed.

For many of The Broadcast Bridge readers, such an admission probably makes me sound “old.” I’m not, just experienced.

Fortunately, my early interest in electronics was supported by my parents, the result of which lead to several careers in this exciting industry.

When I started, engineers worked with high voltage power supplies, heat-generating transformers and rectifier tubes. Put your finger in the wrong place and one could get zapped.

In those days, the first step in testing most equipment was to tap on each of the tubes with the handle of a screwdriver. Did the problem get better, even temporarily? If so, replace that tube. If not, keep tapping on the tubes.

My early electronics training began by assembling short-wave receivers made from kits. Who out there can recall names like Acme Radio, Allied Radio, Lincoln Electronics and, of course, the venerable Heathkit company? Later I focused on ham radio and finally the world of professional broadcast gear. This last-step was almost a fortuitous leap of fate.

Promise you will never tell my parents, but there came a point in college where I really needed a couple easy classes to boost my GPA. While perusing the university’s course catalog, “Radio Broadcasting” popped up. Because I knew a little about radio, I figured the class would be a pushover.

The class lectures and practicum were held in the university radio station building. On day one, after looking through the double-pane glass into the on-air studio, I became hooked. Seeing all that professional equipment, audio boards, cart machines, racks filled with tape recorders and modulation and frequency monitors, I knew that is where I wanted to be.

Following my heart, I eventually became chief engineer of the radio station. I was fortunate enough to oversee a 40X upgrade in power along with automation and new studios.

Shortly thereafter a larger university called and I move to that facility. It was the most powerful non-commercial FM station in the country. Because of grandfathering, it was licensed for 110,000 watts, which was 10K above the now standard class C limitation. At that same time, I became involved in television, building an LPTV station.

One of the many pieces of gear I built, this Heathkit tube amplifier still works. Image credit: CC By-SA 3.0

One of the many pieces of gear I built, this Heathkit tube amplifier still works. Image credit: CC By-SA 3.0

Publishing entered my vision in the 1980’s. After two years of free-lance writing for Broadcast Engineering magazine, I accepted a full-time job as technical editor at that leading publication. I exchanged a workbench full of test equipment for a computer keyboard.

Publishing

For the next 34-years I wrote and edited technical articles, which were read by thousands of engineers, operators and managers at both radio and television stations. While that was a personal high in itself, the truth is to this day, I really miss having access to the test equipment.

The best part of being an editor was the access granted to see inside the companies and learn from the same technical experts you see on the NAB exhibition floor. I was fortunate to travel the world, visiting many businesses and corporations to learn about their upcoming technology and products. These experiences allowed me to better understand the challenges faced by production and broadcast companies and the solutions vendors were developing. All this complied into the opportunity to explain the technology to a wide audience. 

While the exposure to the technology was at times for me breath-taking, it was the people working in this industry that was most impressive. Bonds were formed that lasted decades.

A new adventure begins.

A new adventure begins.

Hanging up the keyboard

Now, having benefited from these wonderful experiences, fantastic people and technology, it is simply time to let smarter, and younger experts direct the show. I am hanging up my editorial keyboard.

But here I must diverge. As noted earlier, I remain old school. My life-time philosophy with equipment remains, if something works, leave it alone.

This viewpoint applies to the keyboard on which I type my last editorial. This 1985 IBM model M keyboard is the same one given to me when I began my work as an editor. It has served me well for the past 34 years.

Yes, some members of my office staff complained about the noisy, clunky keys, but I refuse to give it up. Over those three decades, the keyboard and I have developed a bond. I’ve replaced at least a dozen computers and laptops over those years, but this keyboard remains true and reliable and keeps on working.

As I look back on the fantastic development of broadcast and production technology over this time, and for me it ranged from 2-inch analog VTRs and relay-based production switchers to today’s cloud and virtual servers, all I can say is wow! It’s been a great ride.

Thank you for accompanying me on this journey.

Brad Dick

Former editor, Broadcast Engineering magazine and The Broadcast Bridge.

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