Light Engineering



I saw a job advert today that said “We’re looking for an enthusiastic and self-motivated Broadcast Engineer”. I have worked in broadcasting for a long time; I know that whoever wrote that ad has never met a broadcast engineer. I wouldn’t describe any broadcast engineer I’ve worked with as “enthusiastic”.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with some great engineers and they’ve all been hard working, dedicated professionals, but I’ve never had an engineer burst wide-eyed into an office or studio and go, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea!”

I’m not saying that broadcast engineers are miserable. I’ve always found them to be friendly, helpful and ready to sit and share sage advice on any topic from sport to computers, especially if you bring them tea, but they’re not “enthusiastic”. The best ones seem to have a more considered, measured, unflappable approach that lacks urgency.

For example, I like to have lots of light in the radio studios I work in. I once worked at a radio station where the main on-air studio didn’t have any windows to the outside world. One morning when I came in to present the breakfast show, I pushed the dimmer switch, turned it all the way up and nothing happened. It was pitch black in there. The lights in the rest of the building were on; I checked the main fuse board and the circuit breaker hadn’t tripped, so I called the engineer. He came out, couldn’t immediately trace the source of the problem so rigged up an angle poise lamp over the broadcast desk to get us through the morning. Instead of being illuminated by hundreds of watts of light, we were now reduced to just one 40 watt bulb. It was a show that three of us worked on and like the crew of Apollo 13, we made do as best we could until re-entry from the darkness at 10am.

The next morning, I walked into the studio and the Jerry-rigged 40 watt lamp was still the only source of illumination in the room so we were forced to present another show in the half light.

I thought there must be a pretty serious electrical problem, so after the show I talked to the engineer. He sat me down and showed me a tiny variable resistor that he’d taken out of the dimmer switch. He said it had gone “open circuit” so he’d ordered another resistor from his catalog and was waiting for it to come in. It could take up to three weeks.

This is where broadcast engineers differ from electricians. An electrician faced with the same problem would have bypassed the switch, so the lights were permanently on. Then when the B&Q NEXT DOOR TO THE RADIO STATION opened at 9 am, he would have walked there, bought a new dimmer switch and walked back. He would have thrown the old faulty switch in the bin and had the new one installed, tested and working in less than an hour.

It was all my fault though, I was the one who’d made the mistake. Broadcast engineers are NOT electricians and this was a job for an electrician, that’s who I should have called.

To the optimist, the glass is half full. To the pessimist, the glass is half empty. To the broadcast engineer, the glass was twice as big as it needed to be so he’s ordered a smaller one. You’ll just have to get by until the new one gets here.

Craic on!

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