IMG_0577 © by gwyrah

So, a little while ago – the excellent David Lloyd who hosts the Radio Academy’s TechCon, blogged about radio technology people (of which I am one) – David said some very nice things, of which I almost entirely agree with (apart from possibly the comments about our fashion choices…). In his article David makes the point that in radio technology there are all kinds of creative people with a technical brain on their shoulders who in the most part are keen to help solve problems, make ideas come to life, and do everything possible to make life easier for everyone else involved in making the whole radio thing work, not to mention doing their bit to make the radio station sound great along the way. I found it really interesting reading an article from a programmer who clearly gets the relationship with technology in a radio station (which lets be honest will always be a business which can’t function and certainly can’t develop without it), because for everyone I’ve worked with who does, I’ve certainly worked with people on all sides of the radio world who don’t; be they sales people, presenters, programme controllers or if I’m honest some other technology types. So, this is how I see it….

(c) Mark Farrington

Pretty much everyone who got into the radio industry did it because it was fun (I certainly did), most of us could probably be earning more money doing something else somewhere else and if we were (as much as we moan now) we’d probably be less happy for it. This applies as much to techys as anyone else – certainly none of us thought ‘what I really like doing is filling out reports of silences on air, getting the air-con serviced by an incompetent contractor and turning the photocopiers off and on again’ – all of that stuff is what we do because we have to. The part we’ve always enjoyed is filling the problem solving role in the creative process. If you (whatever part of the company you work in) come to your engineer with some mad cap idea you want to make happen which will sound great on air, improve the studio environment, be brilliant marketing or boost revenue and they don’t jump at the chance of helping you to make it work in a way which you’ve never done before, which works brilliantly, and which leaves you free to make it as creative/interesting/profitable as possible – something’s gone wrong somewhere. I was called a genius last week when I demonstrated a system I created which should improve information flow in our studios, and make them a bit more paperless for our team up in Birmingham who are going to be using it in their new studios. I don’t think there’s anything particularly genius about it, I’m just doing my job (if I’m honest I find the fact you can come up with new ideas every day to make a radio show thousands of people want to listen to genius – I’m just using the skills I have to hopefully make it easier for you to do that).

There is a certain stereotype of the engineer (which David refers to as the ‘Program Prevention Department’) of us being grumpy people who sit in the corner who never want to help out and to whom everything is an inconvenience. To my mind this comes from two things; one is not involving us in the planning stages early enough – I’d love to be asked along to SPI meetings, or programming planning sessions – maybe I can suggest a new bit of technology we can get our hands on which might make whatever is being discussed work better or possibly even (shock horror, aren’t you just the IT guy?!?) have an idea of my own which might just work. On the other hand,  if you dump a demand for a PA kit at the weekend on me thursday afternoon without really knowing what you’re asking for, without realising that it’s possible I can’t just drop everything to sort this out for you, I may be a little ratty. The other is the view (prevalent amongst some ‘old-school’ managing directors) that technology is somewhere between a drain on their profits and a necessary evil – this is not true at all, think of us as a resource which can be tapped into by your entire team to make the creative process run smoother, contribute ideas, suggestions and solutions and quite possibly actually save time and money overall, increasing those profits (or for our friends at the BBC, delivering quality first).

I find in my daily life as an engineer I quite often have to push ideas forward for improved workflows, better ways of using technology, or improvements to the radio station; I have no problem doing this (to be honest you’re never going to stop me anyway) but it would be brilliant to know you were on the same page as me and weren’t scared to drop past my desk when you were looking for new ways to spend your clients money, had this thing you’d always wanted to do on air but didn’t think was possible, or think there must be a way to make this, that or the other task easier but just can’t get your head around it. That’s the kind of stuff I and most of my colleagues enjoy, and a little more of that would make us that bit less grumpy when you’ve spilt tea in a mixer, or can’t work out why your laptop doesn’t work when the battery’s flat. I’ve been lucky through my career to work with a few great programmers, presenters, commercial schedulers, sales people & MDs who do ‘get it’, and hopefully I’ve been able to help them achieve the best from the studios they work in and the technology they use on a daily basis (I know one presenter who thought we managed to make the crappy studio they had to work with one of the best sounding in the group, either they were incredibly flattering – or we got it right…!) – the more chances I have to be useful and do new stuff that makes great radio, the less grumpy I’ll be!

And incidentally if you’re looking for a proactive and interested engineer (who’s even honest enough to admit he’s a frustrated programmer at heart), I’m very affordable…. (jokes!)