When it comes to broadcast organizations that are family affairs, there are few, if any, that can match the legacy of the Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBG). And while Del Parks, VP, engineering and operations, doesn't have the last name “Smith” like his co-workers David (Sinclair's president/CEO), Fred (a VP) and Duncan (a VP and secretary), his 36-year career with the company has made him about as close to a blood relative of the clan as one can get.
Parks' career at Sinclair Broadcast began in the summer of 1970. The 17-year-old (he was born on Oct. 20, 1952, in Baltimore) was spending the summer earning money to attend the Commercial Electronics Institute, a technical school for electronic technicians owned by Julian Smith, father of the aforementioned Smiths and owner of WFMM (FM) Baltimore.
During the summer, Parks managed to earn enough money to attend the school—but only for four months. Still, Julian Smith allowed him to work at the radio station and to help put together the company's first TV station, WBFF Baltimore, which went on-air in 1971. Parks paid tuition by working part-time at the radio and TV stations.
He ran cameras, did master control, mopped floors and even provided the voices for two puppets on a kids show.
“I was Bruce the Bird and Mondy the Seamonster,” says Parks. “We basically did whatever needed to be done.”
While SBG helped transform Parks' career, it was his decision to join the Army National Guard in 1972 that transformed his life. He worked in a public-affairs detachment and was bitten by two bugs: one for the military and one for the media.
“The public-affairs work was pretty complementary to what I was doing at the TV station,” he says. “It was a good opportunity to serve the country and keep a hand in an industry I really liked.” After basic training, he joined the Sinclair staff full-time on July 7, 1972. He continued his National Guard Service until 1998.
Parks has made his opinions heard.The most notable for Parks and his team was an effort in the late 1990s to change the DTV transmission standard. The industry favored Vestigial Side Band (VSB) standard; Sinclair insisted that a standard called Coded Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing, or COFDM, was better.
Sinclair's argument ruffled industry feathers, but it also served as a wakeup call. Sinclair's tests of VSB showed its shortcomings; reception was spotty. It wasn't until the fifth generation of VSB chips was manufactured that the problem went away. Sinclair helped force the issue.
Three other projects stand out: building news operations at Sinclair stations, helping transition more than 60 stations to DTV, and implementing a new traffic system. The latter was a 16-month endeavor that had Parks criss-crossing the country.
“Putting in a new traffic system is like doing a heart-and-lung transplant because you have the company's revenues in your hands,” says Parks. “But we gave each station a playbook that walked them through the transition day by day and what it meant to each employee and how it would affect them. And after 16 months of intense traveling, it was well worth it, and we didn't drop any hearts.”
Parks lauds his co-workers for his success and opportunities. “It's a great organization that doesn't pull any punches, and we always say what is on our mind,” he says. “I've been very fortunate to work with a lot of people who are brilliant, and Julian [who died in 1993 at age 72] and David both are in that category.”
For his part, David Smith says Parks “not only looks at the technical side but also applies the technology to the real-world business application. There are not many people who connect those dots, and our industry would be better-served if there were.”