A Little Knowledge Goes a Long Long Way

A-little-Knowledgeby Craig Jackman

Before I get off on a rant, let me just mention that this all started by reading a software forum. I love software forums. Anything I can do to increase my knowledge of something I need to use everyday is something I’m going to do. I wonder though why is it I have to search the Internet to find information. Why is it in this business that knowledge is a bad thing?

I don’t know about you, but pretty much everything I’ve learned since I graduated from the Broadcasting program at Algonquin College has been self-taught. Yes, I’ve had some great mentors (Jon Crowe, now with Focus On The Family, Mike Guinta, and Tom Young among them) who’ve been patient in pointing me in the right direction so I can discover on my own. To them and others I’m eternally grateful, but the question to this industry is a simple one: What the hell are you afraid of?

Why is it that nobody wants to pay for computer training? My father is a business management consultant, and my brother is an Engineer at Nortel Networks. Together they have taught me many times more about computers than everyone in broadcasting has taught me in 16 years. My computer at home is a Frankenstein of their leftover parts and upgrade orphans. Heck, I remember my brother walking me through DOS games and doing high school essays on our then new Radio Shack TRS-80! Today more than ever, computers are your major partner in the production studio. From digital audio workstations, to MPEG commercial services (a la DGS), to automation and mass storage systems, to email and word processing, I would venture to say that the number of production studios without one or more computers is rarer than the client who tells you he hates your creative but is going to run it anyway because it will work (I’ve had exactly one say that, by the way). How much training do you have on all the systems you have to use?

After years of bitching and whining about wanting a computer editor, I finally got one 5 years ago. Not because we could create better product with a computer, not because we could create better product faster and more efficiently with a computer. I got a computer because it was going to be cheaper to do MP3 file transfers to a sister-station rather than paying DGS fees. All this audio editing stuff was just a happy little benefit. How much training did I get on the computer? None. How much software training did I get? None, but they did let me print out the 300 page manual that was included on the software CD. Between a well-written manual and a helpful support department at Syntrillium, I managed to pull it off. How much easier could it have been? Lots, believe me.

What is the industry afraid of? Are they afraid that if they invest the company money in training programs that the trainees will take the knowledge and run? To be fair, there will be an ambitious segment that will do just that. But you know what? Most people who leave your radio station weren’t happy there and wanted to leave anyway, for any number of reasons. If station GMs and PDs would put a little thought and effort into it, they could come up with a working environment that people wouldn’t want to leave in the first place. Then it’s a sound business decision to invest in your people.

Are they afraid that if they invest in training, that they would have to pay their people more as they would be more “qualified”? Please. Radio production is seen as an expense to be controlled rather than a revenue generator. John Pellegrini’s August 2001 article “Art or Money?” on salary cuts was a real eye opener on first read through. In hindsight though, perhaps it shouldn’t have been. If some GM could ever figure out a way to totally automate production and cut some more costs, you can bet the mortgage payment that he’d do it in a heartbeat!

Are they afraid that if you give someone a little knowledge they will then think they now know what they are doing and screw something up? Since when is empowering someone a bad thing? Maybe if you taught someone what he or she actually needs to know, they wouldn’t be screwing something up. Maybe they’d know when they really should stop and call in the professionals, but if they can correct or improve something without calling in the pros, that’s a benefit.

Face it, the dominant idea is to make it idiot proof before someone proves they are an idiot. If managers are so concerned about someone proving they are an idiot, how or why did they get hired in the first place?

Of course, the other argument concerns deadlines. The thought goes if you limit choices, you can then get more work done faster. Are we really on that tight of a deadline? Are we really that busy? Every day? C’mon! I appreciate that there are busy days when you just want to burn through the stack. Those aren’t every day. There should be days when you can afford to stop and think a minute about what you are doing. Time to experiment to see if your ideas are the best they can be. If it were that busy, wouldn’t it be prudent to have more staff available? If it’s that busy, maybe someone should invest in some time management training—but that would cost money wouldn’t it?

The thread that sparked all this was in a software forum hosted by Syntrillium software. It was started by esteemed BBC producer and fellow RAPster Andrew Rose. He wanted to know how he could eliminate some of the audio file types available in Cool Edit Pro as the people he had using the software were making mistakes in saving edited audio. His point was that it would be better for his users to have their options limited—in his case he needed .wav and Real Audio only, and everything else was just an opportunity for someone to make a mistake. While I see his side, and understand what he’s trying to do, my take was that it would be better to teach the users how the software works, and the ramifications of the choices they make. Do you have a better employee by generating a bunch of “Tab A to Slot B” assembly line workers, or someone who understands the reasons why things have to be Real Audio or .wav, or more importantly which is which and how each file type affects the sound?

There is a real fear that giving someone the authority to make a decision is going to cost you time, and that time is going to cost money. My view is opposite. Take the time to teach people the technology they have to use. Don’t show them everything, but make sure that they are competent and comfortable. If you show them everything, they won’t explore and discover tricks that you haven’t thought of or found yet! While you don’t have to understand the science behind the various file types (for example), you should know what they are used for and why you should be using each one for its particular application. Of course, managers have to ensure that the right person is in the right position. Just because someone is willing to work cheaper, doesn’t mean that they are able to work better. It really is true when you say that you get what you pay for.

I understand the business reality of today, believe me. I understand that station GMs are charged with creating maximum revenue from minimum expense to enhance corporate value to stockholders. That being said, it takes money to make money. Investing in people through education and training is a positive investment that will pay dividends for years to come.

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