In August of 1998, when Terrence Dupuis walked through the doors of St. Louis Public Radio for his first day on the job, things looked quite a bit different than they do now. We sat down with Terrence to learn a bit more about him and about what it means to be the Chief Engineer at St. Louis Public Radio.
Chief Engineer is quite a title, what does it mean?
A lot of responsibility. You are charged with all the broadcast technology from microphone through antenna (and now web as well). You are the person people look to for answers to technical issues.
What’s the one thing you can’t work without?
Windows smart phone (it’s become an extension of my brain).
What have been the biggest changes in the way you do your job now vs. when you started?
I could write a book on this! We moved from old, somewhat outdated for the time & cobbled together technology / operations to state of the art, modern, efficient and flexible operations. We went from a single FM channel to the 3 HD channels we now broadcast in St. Louis, 3 channels we broadcast in Quincy and 4 separate web streams. When I arrived here in 1998, if there was a transmission issue it was a 45 minute drive to the site to investigate. Now I pick up my smart phone and in a minute can reach into the systems and see what can be done. We have a tech center now, but when I started we had equipment in 3 separate rooms, wires running across the ceiling - whatever we could Band-Aid together.
What was the engineering/technology staffing like when you took the position?
When I started, the station had about 25 employees total and I was “the guy.” Let me translate that for you: I was facilities, I was IT, if someone broke a shoe they came to me, if someone broke an earring they came to me.
What happens when the station is off the air? What is the chain of events?
Excellent question: I think people would be surprised by how much connectivity I have with the station. The real time feedback from the monitoring systems allows me to quickly identify the area of the issue and most times let it be corrected remotely. This usually is a phone call from the transmitter site coupled with simultaneous texts with details. The beauty of our operation is that even if the internet goes down a lot can be done with a cell phone to return over the air broadcasting.
Tell us some things you enjoy when you are not tending to the crisis of the moment.
Favorite lunch spot? - Stage Left Diner / Las Palmas
Favorite radio program? - Science Friday (what a surprise there)
Do you have any pets? - Nope (My wife says I’m the only pet she has, oh wait, that’s the only kid she has)
Favorite band/artist? - Too many to begin to name, I have over a thousand vinyl records, about 1/3 from 1969 /1970 (about that many CD’s as well)
Last movie you watched? - Mission Impossible “Rogue Nation”
What is your favorite thing about working for St. Louis Public Radio?
It is a current, state of the art operation (I had significant input with all technical aspects). For me it's like an artist working on a favorite piece of art.
Is there a story or two about your work with STLPR that really stick out as particularly funny or memorable?
The new building at Grand Center where I had significant input into all aspects of technological design/operations. (Although to be honest, we started broadcasting from this location in June of 2012, and I still don’t have any memories from June to September, other than one time I called home and my wife answered, “Renee Dupuis residence,” to which I asked “don’t I live here anymore?” to which she replied, “do you?”)
The opportunity to have significant input and control on a ground-up building… you don’t get that very often - in any environment, in any lifetime.
What (if there is one) do you think is the most common misconception about how radio works?
If there is one, in my opinion, it’s that there is confusion about over the air issues impacting the web and vice versa…
What are the biggest challenges?
Technological quirks, most systems we have are rock solid, but they use forms of computer technology “under the hood” - you know what they say, “to err is human; to really mess things up you need a computer.” Also, as in any job, personal differences about what is most important and how things should be done.
In addition to being a St. Louis Public Radio member, you are also a donor. Why?
When I was hired on here I didn’t even know what public radio was… But to see what public radio does for the community as a whole, or even on an individual basis, the benefit that neutral, or relatively neutral, reporting of news offers. You know, that’s the charm of public radio. You never know what you’re going to hear.
What’s next? What is the next thing you have your eye on in terms of technology upgrades/advancements?
There are improvements in over the air transmitters that could save money, improve coverage and decrease down time (maintenance for example) that are being looked at. Also our audio automation system is due for a hardware / software update to keep current. Most of the rest of the broadcast hardware has been kept current with incremental hardware / software updating.
Also, improving our ability to deliver uninterrupted audio from off-site locations using the internet (guaranteed connections between broadcast locations, such as ISDN are being phased out).
Although he has more help now than he once did (from staff and technology alike), his catch phrase still rings true, “If it lights up, plugs in or turns on, I probably take care of it.”
Do you have questions you’d like to ask St. Louis Public Radio Science Reporter Eli Chen? We will be sitting down with her for next month’s edition of Membership Matters. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: Membership Matters.