He Keeps 'Em Running

Maintenance chief Menking to receive B&C award at SMPTE

Sometimes people know what they want to be from childhood. Other times, their careers just find them.

The latter is more like the story of Seth Menking, the maintenance supervisor for KPTM/KXVO, the Fox and CW affiliates, respectively, in Omaha. Earlier in his life, he wanted a career in the type of audio engineering that a recording studio would need. But, he says with a laugh, “There's not a whole lot of that in the Midwest.”

So instead, Menking took a part-time job at the stations, and just moved up the ranks. Fairly successfully, it would seem. He's the recipient of Broadcasting & Cable's 2008 Engineering Next Generation Leadership Award, and will be recognized for that at the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) convention this week in Los Angeles.

Actually, Menking's duties go significantly past making sure the gear that runs two stations is working correctly. “Actually, it's five stations,” he explains. “We have two full-power analog and digital channels, and secondary streams for those. And we feed our sister station in Lincoln.”

He says, with no hint of understatement, “It can be crazy if everything goes bad. It's kind of like triage. You take care of what needs the most help first,” or, he jokes, the problem that will cost the station the most.

Menking, 33, supervises six maintenance employees to keep the station humming. But he's always on guard for something going wrong; since he's monitoring five stations, “making upgrades and having one little thing go wrong can impact more than just one station.”

Upcoming for him is a new election-night vote tabulator and graphics display that he helped spearhead along with the stations' Joe Meldrum. “We thought, let's just open the Pandora's box and see what happens.” They were working out final tweaks last week.

Also upcoming for all engineers is the digital transition next Feb. 17. Menking thinks Omaha is ready, and he made sure his mother and in-laws were, too.

“I encouraged them to get their converter box. They both got over-the-air analog exclusively. They're totally happy with it. Their picture is better. They get more channels. I think for most people, you'd have to be living under a rock to not know this change is happening, with all the PSAs and all that. I think most people, especially with the $40 coupon, are going to be happy with their service.”

And though there is some talk about consumers fearing wintry treks to their slippery roofs to adjust their antennas, neither his mother nor his wife's family had problems. His mother retrofitted her set (without needing to fiddle with the antenna). His father-in-law just went to the attic and found the antenna's “sweet spot.”

The station is considering, along with other Omaha stations, a so-called “simulated test” of the population's knowledge of the switchover, perhaps in December or January. But Menking's not really going to turn off the transmitter. “I don't want to turn off a transmitter for 30 seconds that's been on for 25 years. It might not react well to that.”

Even with a self-effacing personality, part of Menking doesn't hide his pride at the honor, and excitement for attending SMPTE. He's taking his wife. “In one way I think she'll think it's cool, and then I think maybe she'll really be thinking, 'Welcome to the Nerdery.'”

But he acknowledges she might be more interested in his job than he knows. “Back when we still used S-VHS tapes, she called the board operator and said, The Simpsons is chroma tearing,” a color distortion problem. “I heard that and I said 'What? Apparently she really does listen to my blabbering at home!'“