Engineering Follies – Dealing with the General Manager/Owner
Exhibit 11: GM: Don’t Hang Up On Me!
I once had a station go off the air while I was in the studios, so I hightailed it to the transmitter to see what was up. When I got there the phone was ringing with the station’s G.M. on the line. I asked him if I could call him back and he went ballistic – how dare I try to dismiss him in the middle of a crisis – and demanded to know exactly what was going on and what I was doing to rectify the situation.
So I proceeded to tell him, going into excruciating detail about what could take the station off the air and how I would handle each scenario. After listening for several minutes he interrupted and asked me to get to the bottom line – when we could we expect to be back on the air?
I told him about 30 seconds after he released me from the call – the phone cord wouldn’t reach over to the piece of equipment I needed to reset.
Contributed by Lou Schneider
Exhibit 10: Do Me a Favor
I’d just “hired on” to build the KRKE facilities that I talked about in the earlier email. The station, formerly KGGM(AM) had been owned by a family that ran the then KGGM-TV, now KRQE(TV).
I was stringing cable from the telephone and cross-connect room when I got a call from the general manager of the TV station across the parking lot.
As I sat down in his office he explained to me that the TV translator that sits high atop a tall mountain in southern New Mexico and which feeds a number of other translators was off the air, and that his contractor “down south” hadn’t been able to fix it. “Could I fix it,” he asked.
“Great,” he said, “I’ve already called in our helicopter pilot — can you pack up whatever you’ll need and leave here in about 20 minutes when he arrives?”
Smiling, I said “Well, I can, but perhaps you’d better check with Dell Wood first to see if it’s OK for me to go.”
“Why is that”, he replied, “and who is Dell Wood?”
Still smiling I answered “Dell Wood is the general manager of the radio station. Don’t you remember? You sold the radio station. I don’t work for your company.”
“Oh”, he responded, “I forgot. Maybe I better send somebody who still works for me.”
Contributed by Mike Langner
Exhibit 9: You Can’t Get There From Here
So there was a station ownership transfer. To say that it was unpleasant would be a compliment. On the last day the former engineer left a pile of keys on his desk and walked out.
The next day we were all listening to the station’s RPU channel. The new engineer was calling the station to say “I can see the transmitter but can’t find the road up there”.
We all thought it was hilarious.
Contributed by Bill Ruck
Exhibit 8: Seeking the Transmitter
There are more-and-more station “managers” who just sell time and tend the computer that spews programming “somewhere” and this was back in the days of electro-mechanical automation equipment!
One station for which I worked in the distant past went off-the-air. The station manager called the owner, asking where the transmitter site was located.
The owner, who had been at the NAB convention a few months back and had spoken with Paul Gregg and me about getting a new transmitter for a site in a different state remembered that I had once worked for the station as a “young kid.” He found my work telephone number an gave it to the manager of the station that was off-the-air.
So the station manager called me and asked where the transmitter site was. I told him it was on Margin Street in Westerly, Rhode Island.
About 1/2 hour later he asked if I knew where there might be a hidden key. I told him that when I worked there 35 years ago (at the time), we kept a key at a certain place. He thanked me.
After another 1/2 hour he called and stated that he was able to get in, but did not know what the transmitter looked like. I told him to just find the electrical box on the south wall and check the circuit breakers. He found one that tripped, reset it …
… and then drove back to the studio to use the remote-control to put the station back-on-the-air!
Contributed by Richard B. Johnson
Exhibit 7: The Right Level for Reverb
I had a happy PD, but the GM was concerned about the reverb level (back in the days of on-air reverb).
I found a sloped front really small mini box with a pot and a 10 turn “calibrated” knob on it. It had five-way binding posts on the top. I connected it to a 10 foot piece of West Penn purple wire and ran it into the ceiling in the GM’s office. I told him to carefully adjust the reverb level up and down until he was happy, then I would remove
It was in his office for a couple of weeks. Since the knob had a “counter” from zero to 100, I could see what he did from day to day.
Finally, he was happy the reverb was set correctly, at his direction, and he wanted me to remove the box fro his office. I hopped up on his desk, pushed up the suspended ceiling tile, the wire fell out, and I picked up the tiny box and walked out. He had an amazed look on his face, which turned to laughter. He understood he was taken and that he didn’t have a clue about audio. He never got between me and any PD (and we had many) again.
Contributed by Chip Fetrow
Exhibit 6: Getting It on the Air Right Now!
Sometimes people complicate things way too much!
One day I was called into the GM’s office. The Program Director was already there. They said: “We’d like to run a network program on the AM. It comes down the line at 5 PM and must run as close to that time as possible. We’d like you to rig up a recording cart machine in the AM studio that will automatically record every day at 5 PM. That way the show will be ready to air as soon as the cart re-cues.”
I looked at them and asked: Why can’t you just take the show live?
The two of them looked at me and then the GM began laughing. “We can” he said.
And they did.
Contributed by Dana Puopolo
Exhibit 5: Les Nessman Had a Brother
We were off-the-air due to a Klystron failure in the (early 70’s), and I got a call at the transmitter site from the GM while changing the thing out wanting to know why I had not put up a slate telling folks that we would be back when repairs were finished! I swear that is the truth!!
Contributed by: Tommy Gray
Exhibit 4: How it Looks is More Important Than How it Works
When I worked for PAX TV, corporate engineering pre-built all the Master Control rooms at their facility in Florida, and sent them off to the stations. It was up to the stations to find space to make them fit-not the reverse.
It was not a big deal for me, because my space was empty. So we literally studded and sheet rocked a room in one corner of the empty building.
During construction, I noticed that the remote control for the Beta SP decks was on the left side of the table. I’m a lefty and this was perfect for me – but difficult for the right handed operators that were in the majority. I watched them crossing their arms trying to switch and start a deck at the same time. The cure was obvious – we moved the control to the right side of the table. Problem solved.
That is until Corporate Engineering showed up one day. They went ballistic when they saw what I had done. How dare I change their design!
Then they went even more ballistic when they saw that I had put the Profile video server in another air-conditioned room instead of in the MCR rack and was remoting the keyboard, mouse and monitor into the MCR. Of course, the reason I had done so was to minimize heat build up in the room (I believe that heat is one of the things that causes equipment failures).
A few days later a registered letter came from corporate engineering notifying me that I was officially on probation for six months. What corporate engineering did not realize was that by then I was also the General Manager of the station and a simple phone call to Dean Goodman (the President of TV) took care of things. Of course, that so POed them at C.E. that I am now blackballed at Paxson.
One more thing: they seemed to have a lot of trouble at Paxson with their Profile servers overheating and shutting down – except in Boston, of course. That changed when I left and the idiot that replaced me put it in the rack in MCR (and also moved the remote control back to the left side). Then they also started to have overheating problems.
Some people just can’t learn anything.
Contributed by Dana Puopolo
Exhibit 3: A Big Fish in a Small Pond is Still Fishy
At WCHA in Chambersburg, PA, the owner John Booth had a great self-image and an enormous ego. His office was marble and mahogany with his desk set on a two-step high pedestal with a window behind. This required one to look up, as though to a judge, with the bright outside light in ones eyes.
One of the Chief Engineer’s jobs was to set up, test, stand by for emergencies, then tear down when finished, a remote studio for “record hops,” (remember them?) and other sponsored events.
When Chambersburg lost its electrical power for about a day because a farmer mowed down the high-voltage transmission lines serving all of central Pennsylvania, Booth insisted that I set up the remote studio at the transmitter site, notwithstanding the fact that we did not have an emergency generator at the site.
I was required to do this (in the dark) – just in case, someone would “loan” the station a generator (and it would get magically wired in)! Mr. Booth thought his station was so important that he could certainly get a generator from the Civil Defense.
That prepared me for a union job at WJZ-TV in Baltimore – no more ego trips.
Contributed by Richard B. Johnson
Exhibit 2: Do Not Yell “Fire” in the Radio Studio
I began to get an inkling that I was headed for shipwreck early in my stint at the commercial stations here in Cincinnati.
I was called on the carpet for calling the fire department before telling the boss of a fire in the facility. I was ‘written up’ for insubordination!
Contributed by Jeff Johnson
Exhibit 1: An Inventive Way to Get Paid
More than a few years ago, my business partner shared an office suite with the owner of a tower company. The tower company had been shafted on an AM they re-guyed.
John Reiser (WQ4L) was still at the FCC. I asked John if it was legal to go recover the guy wires. He said it was, as long as the intent was not to drop the towers, but only to recover the property.
So, a tower crew showed up at the site, with co-located studios and offices to recover the guy wires, and informed the owner what they were going to do, and what would, unfortunately happen as a result. The check book came out, but no, cash only. The owner said it would take an hour to get to his bank and back. He was told he had 30 minutes before they start work.
He returned with the cash, early.
I wondered why someone with the ability to pay, just would not.
Contributed by Chip Fetrow