Behind the scenes, technicians at work

Don Ross, chief broadcast engineer tests equiptment.

Jesse Cordova

Don Ross, chief broadcast engineer tests equiptment.

Amye Buckley

If you have watched or listened to Missouri Southern media or been in a classroom set up with audio or video equipment, then you have seen the handiwork of Tom Hewett, broadcast engineer, and Don Ross, chief broadcast engineer.

Ross spends mornings in their office just off the KGCS studios sorting out problems, fixing equipment or going off to wire or re-wire classrooms. Hewett spends afternoons and evenings fixing equipment, taking things apart and troubleshooting for satellite hookups for the Missouri State University master’s program with Southern. They have worked together in broadcasting since the early 70s. Ross began at Southern in 1998, and Hewett followed his friend in early 2000 and their skills are highly appreciated.

Robin Douglas, television technical specialist, keeps the information flowing for instructors who teach television classes.

“Don and Tom are the key to our success in lifelong learning,” Douglas said. “Because if we ever have anything that malfunctions we’re secure in knowing that they can fix it.”

What they fix varies from day to day.

“You never know,” Hewett said. “From when you walk in the door what you’re gonna be faced with.”

Their responsibilities run from set-ups to repairs and to every part of the campus. Each basketball game they set up cameras and run cables to record the game. They dial in to satellite feeds and set up microphones and cameras for video conferencing. If a classroom has a VCR or DVD in it, at some point Ross and Hewett probably set it up or have fixed it. During the ice storm, it fell to Ross and Hewett to clear the satellite dishes so KXMS could continue to broadcast.

Ross and Hewett also make themselves available to help broadcasting students. Danielle Dunn, senior mass communications major, says Hewett has helped her understand the editing software and fixed many camera and audio problems.

“During my three years as a communications major, Tom has always been there to help me when I get stuck and I can’t find Bill [Hunt],” Dunn said. “He’s quiet but he’s always there and ready to help, and loves to do his job.”

“They should get more credit,” said Becky Shaw, administrative assistant for the Missouri State University graduate program. MSU has several satellite classes in the evenings and uses Ross and Hewett to help set up and troubleshoot. Shaw says the pair has even helped her with things outside the scope of their official responsibilities, fixing her printer or other electronics.

“They don’t have to, it’s not really part of their job,” she said.

Bill Hunt, creative services director for KGCS, has known Ross and Hewett since they worked together at KODE.

“They’re the behind the scene guys,” Hunt said.

He remembers how when the warning buzzer for the shot clock broke instead of calling in a costly technician Ross was able to fix it. Working with the [television station] Hunt sees what Ross and Hewett put into keeping things running smoothly.

“They don’t get enough credit for it,” Hunt said.

Perhaps it is because they are not looking for credit. The two chat softly, Ross is planning how to rewire a room where the existing cabling threatens to pull down the ceiling. Their shared workroom has a wall of cables, neatly coiled, next to a bookcase half-filled with equipment, the first rack is ready, the second rack waits to be repaired; parts are on the way.

The office ceiling reaches to the [heat and air] ducts some 20 feet above. With no acoustical tiling, their room is cold in winter and warm in the summer. People have talked about getting them a ceiling but they have something bigger on their wish list,

“A digital transmitter,” Ross said. “Technology changes all the time and we’re way behind the ball as far as what we have in our control room.”

Hewett agrees, noting that if Southern does not change to a digital transmitter KGCS could go off the air.

“We’re in an analog world, everything else is going to a digital world,” Ross said. Federal regulations stipulate a change in the type of signal from every television station by the year 2009, but they do not have to change out everything in the control room. Not yet, anyway.

“We can convert from analog to digital at the transmitter site,” Ross said. “But as stuff gets older and fails and parts are not available then you might as well convert it all.”

Both men are Cardinals fans and share a love of all things technical, especially airplanes. Ross has built two planes and used to fly, while Hewett built and flew model planes.

“But not anymore,” Hewett said.

“They have a tough job because they’re all over campus,” said Dr. Jerry Williams, director of lifelong learning. “Without them you’d be trying to function without your right arm,” Williams said. “They make the connections happen.”

Williams said with Ross and Hewett’s expertise mistakes rarely come from Southern.

“We are so fortunate,” Williams said. “They are probably two of the best technical engineers in the state.”