December 2018
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Trends in Terrestrial Broadcasting, II

Things seem to be relatively quite these days, no earth shattering developments, no big news stories, etc.? My work load consists of mostly driving to one location and cleaning things up, then driving to another location and cleaning more things up.? Nothing really new to write about.? However, industry wide, there have been some developments of note:

  1. More AM HD radio only testing out in Seattle.? We hear that these tests are phenomenal but have yet to see any data.? The HD Radio proponents keep pushing for an all digital transition.? To that I say good, let those stations (AM and FM) that want to transition to all digital do so, provided they conform to the analog channel bandwidths and do not cause interference to analog stations.? It should also be an either/or decision: Either transmit in all digital format or revert to analog only format, no more interference causing hybrid analog digital.
  2. BMW depreciates AM radio in some models.? It seems the all electric car generates too much electric noise to facilitate AM reception.? My question; are these mobile noise generators going to cause reception problems for other vehicles too?? What if I want to hear the traffic on 880 or 1010 and one of these things roles by?? There are larger implications here and the FCC should be concerned with this.
  3. General Motors pauses the HD Radio uptake in some models.? No real reasons given, but more emphasis on LTE in the dashboard is noted.? We are reassured by iBquity that this trend is only temporary.
  4. Anxiously awaiting this year’s engineering salary survey.? For science, of course.? Here is last year’s survey.
  5. Clear Channel is no more!? They have gone out of business and a new company, iHeart Media, has taken over.? Things will be much better now, I can feel it.
  6. John Anderson finds a chilly reception at the last NAB confab: An Unwelcome Guest at the NAB radio show. This is not surprising but kind of sad. John has been a reasonable critic of IBOC and wrote a book titled: Radio’s Digital Dilemma.
  7. Not too much going on with the AM revitalization.? Tom King of Kintronics notes that the fault is in our receivers.
  8. Government shortwave broadcasters continue to sign off permanently.? Radio Exterior de Espana ceases operations.
  9. European long wave and medium wave stations are also throwing the big switch; Atlantic 252 (long wave), as well as German long wave stations on 153, 177,? and 207 KHz, medium wave stations 549, 756, 1269, and 1422 KHz also are signing off.? Those 9 KHz channel spacings look strange don’t they.? What fate awaits US AM radio stations?
  10. I am reading Glenn Greenwald’s book, No Place to Hide.? I knew this, you should know it too.


Why SBE certifications should matter, but often don’t

Industry certifications are good tools to gauge an person’s knowledge and experience. Often times, potential employers look for specific industry certs like CCNA, CCNP, Comp TIA A+ or MCSE as conditions of hire.? In highly technical fields, these are reasonable benchmarks.


In the field of Broadcast Engineering, a CCNA or a MCSE are nice, but do not cover the RF, audio or video skill sets.? True that more and more content transmission is migrating to IP networks, the initial input is still analog.? I have seen the most savvy IT guys utterly baffled by professional audio and/or video requirements.? A tube transmitter?? That is a special animal that can exact a high price from careless maintenance personnel, up to and including death.? That type of situation is clearly not covered by a CCNA or a MCSE.

The typical Broadcast Engineer straddles both worlds; IT and RF.? On any given day, s/he may be working on the computer automation system, or at the transmitter site fixing a transmitter.? Thus, we are jacks of all trades, master of none.? The finer points of configuring MS Active Directory may be beyond a Broadcast Engineer’s understanding.? Same with the tuning up an AM directional antenna.? At a typical broadcast facility, these projects do not happen very often and experts can be hired to complete this work as needed.? Having a specific industry certification for Broadcast Engineers makes a great deal of sense.

The reason SBE certifications often do not matter is that most station managers and owners have no idea what a Broadcast Engineer actually does.? It is an unfortunate situation when a non-technical manager has no idea where their subordinate is or what they are doing.? It is not simply a matter of accounting for time either.? Almost every station or cluster manager that I have ever known came from a sales background.? To many of them, engineering is a black art.? Working in such environments is a study in frustration especially when engineering is seen as a liability on the balance sheet; somewhere far below sales and promotions but slightly above the cost of garbage collection.? When these types of managers are in a hiring process and a candidate presents them with a set of letters following their name, who knows what they actually mean?? What hiring managers do know is this; more experience means more salary.

In order for SBE certifications to mean anything, the SBE itself needs to do a better job promoting its certification program to owners and non-technical managers.? This can be done through working with the NAB and other trade associations that broadcasters belong to.? Part of the reason why so few new people are coming into the Broadcast Engineering field is because career paths are ill-defined, promotion and advancement opportunities are limited, salaries are stagnant, and better opportunities are found in other technical fields.? A better understanding of Broadcast Engineering skill set would be helpful to non-technical managers, sort of a “Explain it like I am five,” (ELI5) type seminar.

New Broadcast Engineer

The new engineer

The new engineer (banana for scale)

Update and bump: The many great comments about the SBE certifications got me thinking about what a Broadcast Engineer actually does. I remember typing something about it quite some time ago, thus, I dredged up this old post originally from August 8, 2009 out of the archive.


The other day, the NTR (Non-Traditional Revenue) person came to me and said “Great news!? We hired a new web guy, he knows all about engineering too!”


So I spoke to the new Web Master/Broadcast Engineer for a bit.? As it turns out, he knows how to do things like reboot the XDS satellite receiver, reboot an Audiovault server, he has been to a transmitter site a few times to take meter readings.? I suppose these days, that is what counts as being a broadcast engineer.? Someone with this level of experience could get by for a bit until something really bad happened.

Sadly, I think (my former employer) upper management and ownership believes that this guy could do my (old) job.? To them, I am an employee number, with a salary and benefits package worth X.? If they can replace me with someone that makes <X, that would represent savings.? Plug that guy into this spot, everything will go on as it did before.

I don’t think they understand exactly what a Broadcast Engineer does.? On any given day, I may:

  • Program an automation computer
  • Change the battery on a backup generator
  • Change the battery bank in an 18 KVA UPS
  • Clean a transmitter
  • Aim a satellite dish
  • Trouble shoot a DS-1 Circuit
  • Trouble shoot a T-1 MUX
  • Repair a microwave transmitter or receiver
  • Take a set of monitor points
  • Repair a tower light flasher circuit
  • Install a console (analog, digital, IP routing, TDM routing)
  • Repair a CD player
  • Trouble shoot a transmitter RF module
  • PM a generator
  • Work with a tower crew to place an antenna on a tower
  • Install an RF connector on 3 inch transmission line
  • Wire an air conditioning unit at a transmitter site
  • Repair lightning damaged ATU
  • Trouble shoot an AC unit
  • Aim an STL antenna
  • Repair an RPU transmitter
  • Design a computer network
  • Trouble shoot and repair a FM transmitter
  • Wire a new rack room
  • Coordinate a complex format change
  • Install a translator
  • Program and wire a new satellite receiver
  • Wire a transmitter remote control
  • Hike to a transmitter site to after a natural disaster
  • Trouble shoot an audio hum
  • Pass an FCC inspection
  • Install and program an EAS unit
  • Wire a new studio
  • Design a tower light monitor circuit
  • Fix a studio phone system
  • Install an audio router
  • Match an AM transmitter to a new tower
  • Wire an ethernet patch panel
  • Program a wireless access point
  • Install an IP router
  • Manage a new tower project
  • Install a new transmitter
  • Re-install an old transmitter
  • Make NRSC measurements on an AM transmitter
  • Repair a corrupt OS
  • Replace a hard drive
  • Reboot a server
  • Fix a reel to reel machine
  • Install a computer program
  • Clean a console
  • Pass an inspection by the fire marshal

To name a few.? In other words, there are a lot of complex systems at a multi station radio facility.? Some of this can be learned at various schools and colleges.? A lot of it is experience.? There is no substitute for an experienced veteran broadcaster who has seen almost everything and can think on his or her feet.

I have had this discussion with the market manager, and he gets it.? I know that he understands who knows more about the ins and outs of all of our studio and transmitter sites.? Things like, where is the water shutoff, the handle is broken off of the toilet on the second floor.? Of course, I know it is down stairs in the furnace room next to the fire sprinkler system.

I know where the skeletons are buried.? I have the inside numbers for the utility companies and the phone company.? I know the code enforcement officer for most of the municipalities where we own buildings and property.

Yet, the only thing they see is X.

SBE Certification


I am toying around with the idea of reinstating my SBE certifications. At one time, I was certified as a Senior Radio Engineer.? That certification lapsed several years ago for a variety of reasons.? The first and foremost was my desire to find another career outside of radio.? At the time, I was working for a giant flaming asshole who prided himself in causing his subordinates health problems; things like strokes and heart attacks.? The sign over his desk read “The floggings will continue until morale improves.” I was also busy at home with a new, very young child and an old, broken down house.? There was not enough time to come up with enough professional points to re-certify or study for a test.? So, it went by the wayside.

Lately, however, I am beginning to see some advantage in having an SBE certification:

  • It comes in handy as a skills benchmark for potential clients and others
  • It lends some amount of credibility among fellow broadcast engineers
  • There is a support network for job searches

Thus, when I went to the SBE website and found the Jubilee Project, I was intrigued.? The SBE is offering to reinstate those former members with lapsed certifications until April of 2014 provided the applicant can supply enough recertification points.? I am also contemplating taking the Certified Broadcast Networking Engineer test for much the same reasons listed above.? I will let you know how it goes.

Incidentally, my ability to deal with giant flaming assholes as increased in the intervening years.? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Why be a Broadcast Engineer?

That question was posed to me this afternoon by a coworker. ?It is, indeed, a good question. ?Certainly, broadcast engineering is more of a vocation than a career, especially where it concerns radio stations. ?Why would anyone work for low wages, long hours, little or no recognition, 24/7 on call, and or unappreciative management.

Further, in this risk adverse, zero defect, micromanaged environment, what is the upside to being a radio, RF or broadcast engineer?

I suppose one would have to have some appreciation for history. ?One of the reasons I cover radio history here or certain historical events is that ?without knowing the roots of radio, one would be hard pressed to find today’s version of radio broadcasting even remotely interesting. ?Understanding the before there was an internet, web streaming, Spotify, Youtube, Sirius/XM, television, cellular telephones, 3G, 4G, and so on, radio was mass media. ?Radio was people driven, people oriented, not an automation computer programmed from afar. ?People tuned in for the music but also the personality and the personal connection.

Growing up in the late sixties and seventies, radio was my link to the outside world. ?As a young boy living in rural upstate New York, my mostly agricultural surroundings seemed a bit provincial. ?Through radio, I was able to listen to the clear channel stations from New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Cincinnati, etc. ?The street that I grew up on did not get cable TV until 1980, prior to that, the roof top antenna received exactly two channels, when it wasn’t blown over by a storm. ?The black and white TV was often broken, sometimes for over a year. ?It was of not great consequence however, when nightly under my pillow, the battery powered transistor radio was employed until midnight or later.

When I got older, shortwave radio kits were built and listened to.

Through that medium, I learned about life outside of my small town.

Author, sitting in front of Atwater-Kent Model 20 regenerative receiver

Author, sitting in front of Atwater-Kent Model 20 regenerative receiver

The upside is being a part of something that can still be great, although those stations are getting harder and harder to find. ?Still, there is a certain pride to a job well done, a clean transmitter room, a well tuned machine working into a properly tuned antenna. ?Does anyone even appreciate that anymore? ?I do. ?Lou Dickey, John Dickey, Bob Pittman, Leslie Moonves, and other CEO’s may not care that transmitter site is clean and well kept.? They may, in fact question it as a waste of salary. ? I appreciate it. Fellow engineers will appreciate it, too.

Starting a transmitter, especially a high powered tube transmitter, is a joy all it’s own. ?Nothing against Nautel, they make fine transmitters, however, when pressing the on button, the outcome is almost assured: The transmitter will turn on. ?Not so with certain tube type transmitters. ?Pressing the plate on button for one of those can have many different outcomes.? There is certain thrill when it all works right, the first time.? There is a certain pride driving away from a transmitter site, listening to the radio and knowing; I caused that to happen.

Trends in Terrestrial Broadcasting

I thought I’d take a few moment to explore the current trends and development in Terrestrial Broadcasting, AKA AM, FM, TV and Shortwave.

Clear Channel Communications RIFs employees

We are all aware of the “reduction in force” or RIF (a term used by the US armed forces in the mid 1990’s), as it is called by Clear Channel Broadcasting. ?One could also call it the iUnheartEmployees program. ?Small and medium market stations bore the brunt of these reductions, although major markets were not immune either. ?According to Clear Channel, this will ?“deliver a much better product to listeners than we have in the past.” ?Also, they plan to “generate higher ratings for our advertisers and marketing partners and give our best people bigger roles.” ?Of course, the definition of “much better product,” is subjective and depends on one’s point of view.

In addition to that, the Brand Management Teams indicate the inception of nationwide network radio or at least nationwide radio format standardization, which is almost the same thing. ?This trend will further eliminate the need for local program directors, local news, local anything. ?With greater commitments to the iHeartRadio and the hiring of Bob Pittman as CEO, expect more in the way of new media, internet distribution and so on, possibly at the expense of terrestrial radio transmission.

Clear Channel owns approximately 850 of the nation’s 11,293 commercial AM and FM radio stations.

Cumulus-Citadel merger

We are also aware of the Cumulus-Citadel deal, which leaves one less large company on the field and greatly improves Cumulus’s major market presence. ?In addition to several radio stations, Cumulus also acquires what used to be ABC radio networks and satellite distribution system. ?Prior to the merger, Citadel had several satellite radio formats ranging from Top 40/CHR to 24/7 Comedy. ?There is no word on how the merger will change those formats and what Cumulus plans to do with them. ?I would speculate that similar to Clear Channel, national type formats are in the works for Cumulus as well.

Cumulus Media owns approximately 570 of the nation’s commercial AM and FM radio stations.

National Public Radio NPR

The third large group of radio stations is more like a collective than commonly owned group. ?Stations or groups of stations are owned by regional group owners and form mini-networks, for example, Northeast Public Radio. ?The flagship station for Northeast Public Radio is WAMC, however,?they own 11 radio stations and 12 translators. ?This is fairly typical of NPR affiliates.

NPR stations act in concert with the CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) and NPR to form a powerful media presence. ?Most stations carry some local programming, however, NPR staples such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition are almost universally heard on every NPR affiliate.

Technically speaking, NPR stations make up the single biggest block of HD Radio users, almost all of which where licensed and installed under by grants from the CPB. ?NPR labs has done extensive work testing and attempting to improve HD Radio, taking over for iBquity’s own in house engineers. ?NPR is also exploring ways to use new media distribution networks, moving towards a more IP based distribution model over terrestrial radio.

NPR is funded by member stations, the CPB and by corporate sponsorships. ?The largest ever was from the estate of Joan Krock (McDonalds Corporation), which lead to the Steve Inskeep/Morning Edition story about how great it was to work at McDonalds. ?There is/have been several efforts to defund the CPB in recent years. ?With the economy going the way it is and all, the congressional moves to defund may win, which would be a crippling blow to NPR.

NPR affiliates number approximately 850 of the 3,572 non-commercial FM radio stations and about 50 AM stations in the US.

Other broadcast groups such as CBS, Entercom, Emmis, etc

Those companies will likely follow whatever Clear Channel and Cumulus are doing, as those companies are driving marketplace trends and competition, or lack thereof.

Voice of America, US government

In a somewhat surprising development, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, who oversees the operations of the Voice of America would like to repeal some parts?(.pdf) of the 1948 Smith-Mundt act, which prohibits them from broadcasting domestically. ?Does this mean that the VOA will become a government broadcaster like the BBC and CBC? ?I don’t rightly know. ?The BBG is also proposing to greatly curtail HF (AKA Shortwave) transmissions, favoring a combination of Satellite to FM and IP network delivery methods. ?The BBG is also proposing defederalizing the VOA (AKA privatization). ?Perhaps one of the current large broadcasters, e.g. Clear Channel or Cumulus will be interested in purchasing the VOA brand name.

With the repeal of the Smith-Mundt act, does this open the door for some form of domestic shortwave service? ?I have commented several times on the ability of HF radio to cover large distances with moderate power levels. ?The 1,000 watt non-directional CFRX on 6070 KHz is good example of this. ?Most hours of the day, it is listenable at my location, some 300 miles distant from the transmitter. ?I enjoy listening to Toronto news and talk as much as any other. ?Lower frequencies and moderate power levels would be an interesting experiment.

What does the future hold for broadcast technical people?

RF vs IP distribution

RF vs IP distribution

All of this points to more consolidation of engineering staffs, centralized NOCs (Network Operations Centers) and more emphasis on computer/IT skill sets verses the legacy AM/FM transmitter and analog audio skill sets most broadcast engineers have. ?The old days of the RF guru are coming to a close.

Most new transmitters have some sort of web interface, which allows complete remote monitoring and supervision. ?If a transmitter does not have that, remote control units can be web enabled. ?These transmitters are modular, with the modules being removed and returned to the factory for repair. ?That innovation greatly reduces the amount of training and experience required to maintain transmitters, almost anyone can remove a module and ship it somewhere. ?That, in turn, leads to a more consolidated technical staff with field engineers being dispatched to specific sites to take care of outages as needed, which is the model that the cellphone companies and wireless service providers use.

Further, as evidenced in this discussion?on the radio-info board, many of the older engineers are becoming tired of underfunded, neglected physical plants. ?The idea that a contract engineer is someone you call only when you go off the air has been around for quite some time. ?As time goes on, fewer and fewer are willing to accept that type of work.

The future looks like radio station technical staffs will be mostly computer related technicians and engineers that take care of problems remotely from a NOC. ?If a physical presence is needed, a field technician can be dispatched. ?These people will most likely be contractors.

Smaller groups and the mom and pops that are left will have to get on board with the reality that fewer and fewer contractors will be willing or able to trouble shoot a tube amplifier and replace there transmitters with newer solid state units. ?Manufacturers, if they are on the ball, will want to offer some type of monitoring service for those type customers, again, dispatching a field technician as needed to effect repairs.

Either way, computer and networking skills are a good thing to have and are transportable to other sectors, should one find oneself an unemployed broadcast engineer.

Effective Communication

Communications men, US Navy WWII Pacific Theater

Communications men, US Navy WWII Pacific Theater

In almost every broadcast company I have ever worked for, there is always some communications dysfunction between management and the technical staff. It is perhaps, inevitable given the different cultures. Most managers come from a sales background, where everything is negotiable. The engineering field is fixed in the physical world, where everything has two states; right/wrong, on/off, true/false, functional/non-functional, etc. ?Try to negotiate with a non-functional transmitter, let me know how that works.

Engineering eggheads often couch their conversations in technical terms which tend to confuse the uninitiated. ?While those terms are technically correct, if I said “Радио?генератор?инвалида.” ?You’d say “Huh?” and rightly so. ? If the receiving ?party does not understand the terms used, it is ineffective communication.

The other mistake I often see, which irritates me beyond reason, is long rambling e-mails or other documents that fail to come to the point, directly or otherwise. ?Time is a precious commodity, waisting other people’s time with long needless diatribes is ineffective communications. ?Likely, the recipient will not read the entire thing anyway. ?If a person gains a reputation for generating huge amounts of superfluous verbiage, then it only becomes so much background noise to be filtered out. ?When I was in the service, I went to a class called “Message Drafting.” ?This was back in the day when everything was sent via radio. ?The gist is to get the complete idea across to the recipient with as few words as possible. ?Think: “ENEMY ON ISLAND. ISSUE IN DOUBT.” ?Clear and concise, six words paints the picture.

The key to effective communications is to know your audience. ?If you are writing a white paper for a bunch of MIT graduates, use all the appropriate technical terms. ?More often than not, however, as a broadcast engineer, our intended audience is more likely station management and/or ownership. ?Their backgrounds may be sales and finance.

In order to get those technical ideas into the heads that matter, a good method is to use the lowest common denominator. ?If the general manager is a former used car salesman, car analogies might work. ?The transmitter has 200,000 miles on it, the tower is rusting out like a ’72 Pinto, and so on. ?Almost anything at a transmitter site can be compared to a vehicle in some way. ?Find out what the manager’s background is then figure out what language he or she speaks and use it. ?You may say, “But he is the manager, it is up to him (or her) to understand this stuff.” ?You are not incorrect, but that is not how the world works.

Secondly, use brevity in communications. ?Managers are busy, engineering is but one aspect of the radio station’s operations. ?If written, provide a summary first, then expound upon it in follow up paragraphs if required. ?If you are in a meeting, give a brief presentation then wait for questions. ?Always have a high ballpark figure in mind when the inevitable “How much?” question comes along.

Don’t assume that the manager will follow through with your ideas up the chain of command, always follow up a few days later. ?If it is important, continue to ask, in a friendly way, if there is any progress on the issue.

There are so many ways to communicate these days that failure to communicate is almost unfathomable. ?One additional thought, if you find yourself out of the loop, find a way to get back in or you’ll find yourself looking for a new job.

Good luck, Mr. Voice

In case you are living under a rock and haven’t seen this, here is Ted Williams:

Homeless for ten years, living in a tent next to a highway and doing voice over work for $1.00 per line. Almost like working in real radio for one of the big three consolidators. Anyway, I can’t think of a more humbling life experience, he seems to have kept his sense of humor and I hope that he lands that gig, God knows, some local radio station could use that talent.

Rumor has it the the Cleveland Cavaliers have offered him a good job. Hopefully things will work out for him.

15 ways to (un)motivate your employees

Radio stations, at least when I first started in this business, were always upbeat happy places. ?Even in the worst of times and conditions, there were enough characters around to keep things lite, even if it was sometimes gallows humor. ?Back then, radio was an entertainment business, and who better to practice on then each other. ?Working late at night on a crappy transmitter, there was usually plenty of company and pizza. ?Even though the pay was low, the perks normally made up for it; diner or a movie trade for overtime, etc. ?In short, it was a fun place.

That was then, this is now: ?There is no fun in radio anymore, anyone who attempts to have fun will be disciplined or fired. ?Here are fifteen ways to ruin your staff’s moral if you think they are having too much fun:

  1. Give the general impression that you don’t care about them, or better yet, don’t care about them.
  2. Slowly erode whatever benefits are left. ?Start with vacation time, reduce it by 1/3 or more. ?Force give backs on sick days and personal days.
  3. Stop 401k matching contributions.
  4. Make them pay a greater and greater share of health and dental “benefits.” ?Make sure the benefits have very high co-pays and yearly deductables.
  5. Place the blame squarely on other shadowy exterior forces such as “The Banks.”
  6. If the employees really have you up against the wall, fire the general manager then blame him/her for every bad thing that has happened in the last ten years.
  7. Don’t give raises. ?Make an announcement at the Christmas Party that there will be no raises this year.
  8. Micro-manage. ?Make sure that every decision to do anything, no matter how small or insignificant, is run by you first. ?No one is capable of independent thought or action. ?Delay everything for no purpose whatsoever, just to show them who is boss.
  9. Fire all senior staff members because they are making too much money.
  10. Don’t replace terminated employees, rather spread the work around to those left.
  11. Continually ask the staff why it is taking so long to get their work done, hang around and offer meaningless suggestions on how to be more efficient.
  12. To motivate sales people, attend sales meetings. ?Make each sales person stand up and state what their budget is, whether they are meeting it and what steps they plan to take if they are not. ?Have the spread sheet in front of you in case they lie.
  13. Do not to any building maintenance: ?Roof leaks? ?Wear a rain coat. ?Furnace doesn’t work? Keep your coat on. ?Don’t have a coat? ?Here’s the address for the Salvation Army. ?Floor rotting out in the production room? ?Watch your step, else you may have to crawl through the spider webs under the building to get out.
  14. Strongly “suggest” that all employees should work two Saturdays per month. ?If you think they are not meeting that “obligation” harass them every opportunity you get, e.g. the men’s room, staff meetings, the hall way, call them on Saturday at home and ask when they might be coming to work, etc.
  15. If anyone complains, tell them the are lucky to have a job and if they don’t like it, they know where the door is.

Those are the best fifteen, there are many more. ?These are tried and true methods that have worked wonders for my former employer’s moral. ?Not so much, however, the staff. ?Those poor bastards.

You know, when your job interview seems a little off, perhaps it would be better to seek employment elsewhere:

Fifteen signs you work for a dysfunctional company

Posted without further comment:

Sign No. 1: Conspicuously posted vision or value statements are filled with vague but important-sounding words like “excellence” and “quality”

These words are seldom defined and the concepts they allude to are never measured.

Sign No. 2: Bringing up a problem is considered more as evidence of a personality defect rather than as an actual observation of reality

In a dysfunctional company, what it looks like is not only more important than what it is, it is what it is. If you don’t believe that, you are the problem. A surprising amount of information is classified. Dysfunctional companies have more state secrets than the CIA. Anything that might embarrass the boss turns out to be a national security issue.

Sign No. 3: If by chance there are problems, the usual solution is a motivational seminar

Attitude is everything, especially in places where facts are embarrassing or inconvenient. In a dysfunctional family, there’s an elephant — usually a drunken abusive parent — in the parlor, but no one ever mentions him. To appear sane, you have to pretend that the elephant is invisible, and that drives you crazy. Businesses are full of invisible elephants, too. Usually they are things that might cause difficulties for people with enough clout to prevent their discussion. The emperor may be naked, but if you have a good attitude, you won’t mention it.

Sign No. 4: Double messages are delivered with a straight face

Quality and quantity are both job one. You can do it both cheaper and better, just don’t ask how. If you’re motivated enough you should know already.

Sign No. 5: History is regularly edited to make executive decisions more correct, and correct decisions more executive than they actually were

Those huge salaries require some justification.

Sign No. 6: People are discouraged from putting things in writing

What is written, especially financial records, is purposely confusing. You can never tell when you might need a little deniability.

Sign No. 7: Directions are ambiguous and often vaguely threatening

Before you respond to a vague threat, remember this: Virtually every corporate scandal begins with someone saying, “Do it; I don’t care how.” That person is seldom the one who gets indicted.

Sign No. 8: Internal competition is encouraged and rewarded

The word “teamwork” may be batted around like a softball at a company picnic, but in a dysfunctional company the star players are the only ones who get recognition and big bucks.

Sign No. 9: Decisions are made at the highest level possible

Regardless of what it is, you have to check with your boss before doing it. She also has to check with her boss.

Sign No. 10: Delegating means telling somebody to do something, not giving them the power to do it

According to Webster’s Dictionary, you delegate authority, not tasks. In dysfunctional companies you may have responsibility, but the authority lives in the office upstairs.

Sign No. 11: Management approaches from the latest bestseller are regularly misunderstood to mean what we’re doing already is right on the mark

“Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” “Good to Great” and “Who Moved My Cheese?” all seem to boil down to, “quit griping and do more with less.”

Sign No. 12: Resources are tightly controlled

Your department may need upgraded software, but there’s been a spending freeze since 2006. Cost control is entry-level management, but in a dysfunctional company anything more sophisticated is considered too touchy-feely. Whatever you propose, the first question you will be asked is if it can be done cheaper.

Sign No. 13: You are expected to feel lucky to have a job and know you could lose it if you don’t toe the line

Dysfunctional companies maintain control using the threat of punishment. Most will maintain that they also use positive rewards … like your paycheck. A few people are actually fired, but most of those who go are driven to quit.

Sign No. 14: Rules are enforced based on who you are rather than what you do

In a dysfunctional company, there are clearly insiders and outsiders and everyone knows who belongs in each group. Accountability has different meanings depending on which group you’re in.

Sign No. 15: The company fails the Dilbert Test

Dysfunctional organizations have no sense of humor. People who post unflattering cartoons risk joining the ranks of the disappeared. When an organization loses the ability to laugh at itself, it is headed for big trouble. If you’d get in trouble for printing this article and posting it on the bulletin board at work, maybe it’s time to look for another job before this one drives you crazy.


A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. An optimist sees the glass as half full. The engineer sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
~1st amendment to the United States Constitution

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
~Benjamin Franklin

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
~Rudyard Kipling

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
~Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, Article 19 was discovered, and not invented, and that these frequencies and principles were always in existence long before man was aware of them. Therefore, no one owns them. They are there as free as sunlight, which is a higher frequency form of the same energy.
~Alan Weiner

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