One of a series of posts about working at CBC Radio back in the day.

(Here’s some more).

Net Testing: CBC II May 22, 2012

The first work I ever did at CBC Radio was not typical of what I’d come to do. Technically it wasn’t even really in the job description. Technically, it was a maintenance job, not a radio technician’s job, which is what I was supposed to be. The fact that the first work I would ever do for the CBC was maintenance work is interesting, as maintenance work is something I would find myself involved in again nineteen years later when I would become Manager of one of the maintenance departments, a turn of events I can assure you I never expected.

The work they had me start with was called Net Testing. I was taught how to do it by a guy named Ron Grant. Ron Grant was a radio master control technician. Probably he’d been many things before that, but he’d wound up working in Radio Master Control on Jarvis street and that is where he’d finish his career. He was probably less than four years away from retirement when I met him.

The first thing Ron said to me was something alone the lines of, “I’m supposed to teach you how to do this in a week. I don’t think it’s possible to teach you in a week. The last guy I tried to teach how to do this ran screaming out of here in two days with his tail between his legs. But I’ll give it a go.”

It was a brilliant speech. I don’t think it was at all pre-meditated; Ron was the kind of guy who said what was on his mind, usually loudly. The other guys in Master Control (MCR for short) called him “Boomer”.

Ron’s speech had a terrific impact on me. Up until that time I was the kind of guy who got by. I was smart enough that I could coast through school, and coast through university without ever really applying myself. I did fine — sometimes really fine if something captivated my imagination, more often than not pitiful if I underestimated some challenge. Ron’s speech put the fear of God in me. This was a real job, not something I wanted to screw up. There would be no coasting here. And it was obvious from the get go that what Ron was teaching me was complex.

So I hung on Ron’s every word. I took copious notes. I asked a lot of questions. And by the end of the week I knew how to do what I needed to do. The week after that I was on my own.

My job was to test all the audio lines from coast to coast on a strict schedule. The tools of my trade were audio tapes full of a series of tones from frequencies so low a human could barely hear them to frequencies so high most mature adults couldn’t hear them. I don’t remember the exact range but it was something like 25 Hertz up to 25 Kilohertz (the tone most audio technicians are familiar with is 1 K. That’s what we use to line up audio, something I’ll explain later. Many adults can’t hear past 12 or 15 K. When I started I was twenty-three years old and I could hear up to at least twenty.)

The idea was to patch the audio down these lines one after another and work with other audio engineers across the country to measure the frequency response. I would then record the results using a pen and paper. If the results were in any way askew I would contact an engineer with Bell who would investigate them problem on his end, as the lines were all Bell lines. They all had names like 1P West (also known as 1PW, a mono line to points west from Toronto), 1P East (1PE, a mono line to points east from Toronto), 1E5 (an emergency circuit), 1H59 (to Sudbury, I think), and other lines starting with the number 6, which denoted stereo for some reason, and so on. This was a great education as throughout the rest of my career I always knew all the lines, what they meant, where they went etc. Until just recently in fact, when we didn’t renew the contract with Bell, and went with something called the NGCN (Next Generation Converged Network) which is basically all data, spitting files across the country instead of actual audio. (More on that much, much later.)

The biggest surprise to me was that there was math involved in this work, integers, no less. I had always considered myself an artsy, and never imagined ever having to do a job involving actual math. I once told a math teacher that in Grade Twelve. He said you never know. He was right.

I conducted these tests all summer long, the summer of 1988, after which someone else took over, probably Ron Grant again. Much later these network tests were automated, and nobody did them, although real live human beings still had to look at the results.

In the Fall my contract lapsed for three weeks, during which I went home to PEI. While I was there the CBC contacted me and hired me back to work until Christmas, which I was happy to do, this time as an actual Radio Technician Group 4.

More on that later.