SBE’s Snelson on Radio in an IT World

Joe SnelsonWe called up Joe Snelson to congratulate him on his recent re-election as the president of the Society of Broadcast Engineers, and to talk about something that has been on our minds for some time: the changing role of broadcast engineering in an IT world.

WS: Before we get started, I have to ask. Were you an announcer at some point? You sure have the voice for it.

JS: Well, you’re not too far from being wrong. Someone once told me that I have a voice for silent movies and a face for radio. I’ve been primarily on the TV engineering side (and now VP of Engineering for Meredith). Meredith has owned radio stations in the past and with that, plus my experience from my previous employment, I have some experience in both AM and FM radio.

WS: A lot has changed in the last few years with the introduction of IP technology. How has that changed things for broadcasters?

JS: I can hardly think of any engineer who isn’t somewhat IT savvy today. A counterpart of mine once said any equipment vendor that is making equipment without an Ethernet connector on the back of it is doomed to go out of business. Even the inner workings of broadcast gear is that way.

WS: Broadcast used to occupy a very specialized world, but we now occupy this larger world that includes RF as well as the Internet and all the other platforms being consumed. Do you think broadcast is fundamentally changing?

JS: Yes and no. Where you have to be careful is, for us broadcast engineers, our specialty is being able to produce product for the masses in a high quality manner. It’s not like watching video on a social network. On a steady consumption basis, we take the product and material delivered by artists, the professionals that are well respected by the masses, and we get it out on media in a high quality, professional manner. We are broadcasters, one to many, to the masses. But more and more that means we have to think beyond the stick.

WS: What does that mean for the broadcast engineer today?

JS: A broadcast engineer starting out today who wants to have a career for the next 10 or 15 years needs to think in terms of diversity of distributing content. Yes, we may have one big stick – an antenna. But there are multiple ways of getting content out. I look across the group I work for, and we take advantage of all those areas to get our content out there – Facebook, online, on-air broadcast -- whether it be delivering our product to outlying areas using translators or the Internet.

WS: Of course, we all still deal with a lot of unique broadcast technology. What is on SBE’s radar when it comes to radio?

JS: There are a number of things we’re watching on the radio front. AM improvement and EAS, which also affects TV, are two that come to mind. Over the course of the last 50 years the AM noise floor has risen 10 dB or more, and it’s not getting any quieter with the many consumer electronic devices out there as well electronic lighting (e.g. CFL’s). For example, during my daily drive to work there is one location where I pass an electronic billboard that even overrides the FM station I listen to with an annoying loud “buzz saw” sound. Signal replacement translators may help to give some of these AMs a chance to get out in the fringe areas to pack a little more punch. But, we keep our focus on the technical ranks and education ranks. We typically leave the management issues of radio to others. So, for example, even though we just made a filing on EAS, our main focus is still how to educate our members on whatever the final ruling is.

WS: Joe, thanks for taking time out to talk with us, and congratulations once again on your re-election.

In addition to his role as the president of SBE, Joe is the Vice President of Engineering for Meredith, and also happens to have a Wheatstone D-10 digital audio console that is used for automated news production at Meredith’s station in Las Vegas.

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