Big T, Little T - should “engineering” be different to “IT”?

Tuesday 05 February, 2019
Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland

In 2007, I started working for the BBC in London, in something then known as Future Media and Technology, and almost as soon as I started, I was told of a split within the organisation’s technology teams that I should be aware of. There were, in essence, two different teams - known as “Big T” and “Little T”.
 
“Big T” was Technology with a capital T. The sort of technology that cost lots of money. Transmitters, studio systems, radio cars, cameras, CD players, all that sort of thing. “Big T” was an integral part of the BBC: the largest office when Broadcasting House was build was the Chief Engineer’s, so I was told, not the Director General’s. When pressed, after a few beers the “Big T” people would all agree that really the BBC was a broadcast engineering company with some programme-makers using their nice equipment.
 
“Little T” was technology with a small T. The sort of technology like laptops, websites, webcams, perl scripts, email systems, and all that. Anything involved with the web, particularly, was “Little T”.
 
This split used to be relatively common in many radio stations and radio groups; and it’s the sort of split that becomes quite difficult to deal with for people in the intersection of the two.
 
“Big T” has big budgets, big responsibilities and very long lead times. It speaks the language of broadcast redundancy and caution. “Little T” has smaller budgets, but is required often to move at internet speed. Often it can’t do a job to the same resiliency as “Big T”. So the clash is real.
 
Is running the streaming infrastructure for your radio station the job of IT or Engineering? It’s audio and connects to Big T, so it’s engineering, perhaps; but it’s computers and interfaces with the consumer internet, so it’s also Little T. Who ends up doing that? You want to get audio files off the playout system (Big T) and then encode them and upload them to an audio server (Little T). You want to check which studio is on-air (Big T) to switch the webcam feed for the website (Little T). Then there are those parts of broadcast infrastructure where Little T and Big T intersect, too - what data goes on an RDS encoder, or the DAB DLS?
 
Engineering was, once, a complex world of soldering irons, replacing pinch wheels on cart machines, complex wiring looms, DAT machines, and much more: but increasingly, a studio is a set of computers linked together, and minimal other equipment - certainly unlikely to be user-serviceable. Engineering, in many ways, is now - mainly - an in-house specialist IT department.
 
The brighter radio groups have recognised this - and now have single IT departments who might be supporting a sales database one day, and a broadcast playout system the next. They’ll probably have some RF engineers on staff (or on contract), but IT is now a function across the company. In my experience (and I’ve seen this now in a number of different radio groups), having one team rather than two has been a tremendous step for efficiency and new ways of thinking.
 
If you’ve an Engineering department and an IT department, perhaps it’s worth rethinking that. I’d recommend merging Big T and Little T - good things happen when people work together.
 

About The Author

James Cridland, the radio futurologist, is a conference speaker, writer and consultant. He runs the media information website media.info and helps organise the yearly Next Radio conference. He also publishes podnews.net, a daily briefing on podcasting and on-demand, and writes a weekly international radio trends newsletter, at james.crid.land.

Contact James at james@crid.land or @jamescridland

 



 

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