This week I’m starting a new job, serving as Assistant Chief Engineer at KGTV, with Bob Vaillancourt at the helm.
When systems integrator TV Magic started winding down in 2012, leaving me at the curb, I knew getting a good-fitting job wasn’t going to be easy if my family was going to stay in San Diego. Jobs in broadcast management here don’t open up every day, and I probably wasn’t going to go back to staff engineer. “He’ll just leave when a management job opens up.” “He’ll want too much money.” Without a EE or CS degree from a renowned university, high tech companies like Qualcomm and ViaSat would not even acknowledge my submissions.
So I dug right in to start my own consulting business, taking Small Business Administration classes, creating a website, and following up on referrals. (By the way, a big thank you to friends who sent potential customers my way. I believe we held up our part of the deal by treating these new clients well.)
What a great ride it’s been. I started helping Bext on their repair bench, taking small A/V jobs and then helping LPTV station KSDY-LD at their new studios in Chula Vista. I picked up an assistant with a bright young college student, Julio Ramirez, who helped with makeovers at KSDY-LD and KPRI (FM). At KPRI, we’ve done everything from fine tuning the IT systems, replacing the automation with Wide Orbit for Radio, completely rewiring the air chain for AES/EBU, retiring the old San Marcos aux site, and bringing in some redundancies that were never put in place. There were fun little projects like a weekend carrier-grade microwave STL/TSL sales and installation in Tijuana with Jeff Latimer.
A couple of days ago I looked at the huge list of equipment manual PDFs on my laptop hard drive. Holy cow, did Julio and I learn a lot in the last three years!
A truly successful business must scale itself properly, big enough that you can comfortably delegate much of your daily labor, take vacations, and afford a draw for yourself that is at least comparable to a staff engineering position, and that’s where I fell short. We’ve enjoyed the challenges and certainly the appreciation expressed, but you realize from time to time that you are to at least some extent servicing your own obsession with perfection, and that can seem a little…eerie at times. My wife Cheryl at one point after a number of overnight visits to the transmitter site seriously questioned my sanity, and if you look objectively at costs and risks vs. benefits, she was making a reasonable, if painful, point.
I don’t even want to get into the whole insurance and taxes thing about running your own business, except to say that there are very few days that go by without one or the other coming back with its beak open to feed.
The folly of any technical services business is that it’s one person producing work for one customer at a time, unlike software or sales of popular devices, where your business to serve multiple clients simultaneously, greatly increasing your income potential. Broadcasters are simply never going to pay you rates that a physician can demand, especially not the smaller broadcasters who can’t even afford their own full-time staff.
So I’m closing the business. Julio will carry on at KPRI.
Bob V. is a talented teacher and an experienced technical manager, so it’s back to being part of a corporate team. There’s much to be done, and with realistic budgets, daytime hours, and benefits like vacation, I’m looking forward to a new period of sanity.
Don’t laugh, Bob.