Dearth of Broadcast Engineers Felt Beyond Station-Level

Radio World has followed up on a report released this spring by the Society of Broadcast Engineers that examined the aging nature of the profession.
The article explores several explanations for why young folks aren’t going into the technical side of radio and television: in addition to consolidation and automation, employment-competition from industries such as information technology and wireless telecommunications has also had an impact. Especially when jobs in those fields generally pay (much) better and offer a stronger sense of job security.
It would seem, however, that there’s no consensus on whether or not this trend is actually a problem. SBE executive director John Poray predicts a “more severe shortage” of broadcast engineers “is probably coming in the next 10 years, if not sooner.” On the other end of the spectrum is Fred Baumgartner, the director of broadcast operations at Harris Corporation, who considers it a “self-curing problem” which market forces will sort out naturally.
(Ironically, Harris itself is exiting the broadcast engineering business.)
Further reaction to this debate suggests a majority of engineers hold Poray’s perspective. Several believe that pay is the problem; others think the educational system’s weak treatment of science may be to blame. And then there’s consulting engineer David Schaberg, who faults “Washington and the FCC, which doesn’t value engineers and small operations.”
Schaberg may be onto something. Michael Marcus, a brilliant engineer who worked at the FCC for nearly 25 years, recently lamented the haphazard and tight-fisted manner by which the agency hires its technical staff. “Bureau chiefs who employ engineers are interested in their near term problems which are generally processing delays for various types of licenses and view entry level engineers as ‘cannon fodder’ to fight such processing battles,” says Marcus. “The concept of development of staff engineers for future work in policy areas is not on their mind.”
He contrasts that with the FCC’s hiring practices for lawyers, which is well-organized and -funded; from this, you get a good sense of just where the agency’s regulatory priorities lie. But even a law degree doesn’t make for good policy these days: Harold Feld, legal director and senior vice president of Public Knowledge, once remarked that the study of economics drives the FCC’s decision making process. That’s a reflection of the neoliberal bent to modern policymaking more generally.