This Month in SBE History: What’s in a Name?

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ver the years, the Society of Broadcast Engineers has faced challenges with its own name because of the use of the word “engineer.” The definition of the word typically refers to an individual who has technical or scientific training and designs, builds or maintains complicated products, machines, systems or structures. Those involved in the technical operation of a radio station will agree that the title “engineer” appropriately describes what we do.

But other industries and organizations have disagreed over the years.

One of the first challenges to the use of the term “engineer” came with a confrontation with the state of Minnesota. In May 1967, the attorney general for Minnesota wrote to the SBE asking for information about the SBE chapter there. Unfortunately, the intent of the letter was misunderstood to be a challenge of the use of the word engineer, but the cycle had begun.

While the Minnesota situation was handled, there have been other challenges since. Some have come from State Registered Professional Engineer organizations. There have been other challenges in some states in identifying the type of work a broadcast engineer can perform without holding a specific license or certification. To date, the SBE has been successful in defending its name and dispelling any concern that SBE members were trying to pass themselves off as registered professional engineers.

Such challenges aren’t limited solely to SBE members; they apply to anyone calling him or herself a broadcast engineer. But after 50 years, the name of the society appears to be safe for now.

Historical sources: “The History of the Society of Broadcast Engineers, 1964 - 1981,” by Bradley L. Dick, CPBE. Personal experience of Past President Chriss Scherer, CPBE CBNT.

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