It’s not just old blokes with beards
With Radio TechCon just around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we ‘sell’ the technical side of radio.
Let’s face it, without broadcast engineers, most of us would be sitting in a padded room, talking to ourselves.
If we hadn’t had pioneers like Marconi experimenting with sound, and then had that knowledge passed on and extended down the years, you wouldn’t work in radio.
Without technical staff, your studio would not be connected to the transmission network.
In fact, there wouldn’t be a transmission network at all.
So I hope you’ll agree that engineering is pretty important to our industry!
I’ve been lucky to travel around the world working in radio (both production and engineering sides).
The UK is one of the leaders in the medium, and some of that is down to our engineering efforts.
We’re lucky to have the BBC R&D department on our shores, as well as lots of dedicated people working in related areas – Radioplayer is taking the world by storm, for example, and it started here!
I’ve long argued that engineers are very creative, and we ignore that at our peril.
We have a recruitment shortage in broadcast engineering at present, and I’m curious as to how we bridge that gap.
The engineers that I know are great problem-solvers; they love asking questions and are passionate about radio and audio as a whole.
Yet, we aren’t attracting new talent. Judging by the numbers, it seems that women in particular seem to think (incorrectly) that technical roles are ‘not for them’.
Solving the problem
So, how do we solve this?
I have a few ideas… I’d love to hear yours, as well.
1. Stop pretending that technology is ‘too difficult’
It seems to be socially acceptable in our stations for people to cover their lack of knowledge about technology with dismissiveness, or to hide embarrassment by pretending that engineering is ‘dull’ or ‘not for them’.
Stamp this out! We should be as embarrassed about not knowing how our studios work as we would be if we didn’t know the name of the Prime Minister.
Support new staff to have a good knowledge of the studio equipment – not just by rote learning, but also by understanding the signal flow.
Hang out with your broadcast engineers a bit more. Work together on projects.
You’ll all be much happier and more confident on-air for it.
2. Value the engineers you have
The stereotype of engineers is that they are a bit shy.
If you are a manager, highlight your technical team’s work.
What problems have they solved recently? What is their vision for your company’s future?
Check in with them and then tell the rest of the station how great they are.
3. Reach out to new talent
I know from another ‘hat’ that girls and young women make career decisions early – around the age of 11.
What are we doing as an industry to target teens and tweens to help them think about working in radio technology, rather than somewhere else?
At the older end, are we making ourselves look attractive enough to those of university age who are being wooed by tech start-ups?
Talented folk who like media and creativity aren’t restricted to radio anymore. We need to start pitching for them to consider us early on.
4. Continue with apprenticeship schemes
The industry recently got together to offer paid traineeships for those interested in a career in broadcast engineering. This is brilliant – we should do more of that (and encourage people to apply who might not initially have thought that engineering was for ‘them’).
(If you’re interested in sound engineering for radio, there’s a great opportunity from the BBC at the moment.)
Finally, our technical community needs a space to come together to be recognised, have its achievements celebrated, and learn new things.
Thankfully, I can definitely help with that one.
Radio TechCon 2016 takes place on the 28th November 2016 in central London.
(I’m one of the organisers).
It features a mixture of behind-the-scenes stories, new research and inspiration from outside radio to get you excited about the audio industry as a whole.
This year, sessions include: how to run a radio station on solar power; how Virgin radio broadcast a whole show from a moving train; a masterclass on radio in the car; an introduction to Software Defined Radio and a look behind the scenes at the BBC’s new ‘internet-fit’ studios project.
That’s just a small taster – you can find the full programme at the Radio TechCon website.
If you love radio and audio, you should be there. If you are considering working in this industry, you should attend. And if you are a manger who wants to show support for their technical staff, buy some tickets for your team and come along with them.
The UK is doing great things for the world with its radio technology offering.
I hope we can all join together to take its development even further.
What do you think? How do we make technology and engineering seem more attractive as a radio/audio career option? Leave a suggestion in the comments below!