Making Waves: What’s Ahead for the SBE?

We met Saturday, June 23rd in a nondescript room in the Indianapolis downtown Hilton Hotel from 9 AM till 9 PM. 36 members and national staff attended the SBE Strategic Planning Conference, and I’ll spoil the ending somewhat by saying that there is much consensus on at least what are the most effective and least effective parts of the SBE now.

Attendees seemed to agree that certification and education should remain core reasons for existence. They serve our membership directly, fill niches typically not duplicated by colleges, and are relatively efficient to administer. And I believe the SBE can take a bow at how we are rapidly changing to meet these needs through webinars, education conferences, and challenging new certifications.

The group got sidetracked for a period of time by what I would offer was needless talk about re-branding. Why, some asked, are we called the Society of Broadcast Engineers if so many members now are from alternative allied industries such as fiber and satellite distribution or from nearly pure information technology backgrounds? I don’t see this as a real change. Our members nearly all serve broadcasting. “Broadcast” doesn’t mean that you own a tower; it means “one-to-many.” Cable, fiber, satellite, and web distribution are still legitimate forms of taking a single message and distributing to multiple listeners and viewers.

One discussion that seemed to mute itself was about the relevance of having legal counsel lobbying for technical broadcast issues. Our attorney Chris Imlay, I will tell you, is deserving of love and praise within the society and really knows his stuff with regard to FCC rules. He’s approachable and you can tell he really is interested and cares about injustice in ruling of the airwaves, both in broadcasting and amateur radio (he’s counsel for the ARRL, too). He spends enormous amounts of time studying, advising, and lobbying for the interests of…broadcasters. Not you, the engineer, but for your employer. And that’s the rub with me. He should be billing the National Association of Broadcasters for these activities. When someone new on broadcast spectrum causes interference to broadcasters, it is broadcasters that they are harming, not broadcast engineers directly. I would like to see either NAB taking over that legal bill directly, or hiring the SBE to help look out for their interests as owners.

The challenging part of the meeting came when we began discussing how to attract a broader base to local meetings. Our meetings are central to an involved membership, but they are attended by only a fraction of our membership, and many of those attending are not members. If you pick a program related to radio broadcasting, will your TV engineers attend? If you have highly technical IT presentations, will your traditional broadcast engineers feel left out? How can we best train members to best administer chapters? No hard answers or brilliant suggestions came out of this meeting, but we need to work toward some solutions.

Got ideas? Feel free to respond with your comments.

(Commentary by Gary Stigall, Chapter 36 Program and Certification Chair, and member of the SBE National Board of Directors)