They are the unsung heroes of RCS. Without them, your software would not be working to its peak efficiency, or perhaps not working at all. The Field Technical Services (FTS) team are the folk who come to your station to install or upgrade RCS products and do the training afterwards.
Brian Willard is the FTS Manager. He and his team of four are always kept very busy because of the constant influx of new business lately. In 2017, the team installed 78 stations at 29 different locations. So far this year, they have installed 83 stations at 26 locations. By the end of 2018, they expect to add another 78 stations to the tally.
“’We operate all over North America and the Caribbean,” notes Willard. ”As things begin to ramp up in Central and South America, I expect we’ll be doing more installs down there as well.”
The FTS team has been working together for some time, and they bring an immense depth of experience to the job. ”I’ve been doing this for 13 years,” says Willard. ”Other members have around ten years; our newest, five years.” He adds that they are not just knowledgeable about RCS products, but about radio in general. ”We’re not just the IT guys. All of us have paid our dues in radio, working in engineering, on-air and production positions.”
Field service tech positions typically have a burnout rate of around 10 years. Part of the challenge for Willard is maintaining a good on-the-road Vs at-home balance for his team. ”The job description says 75% travel, but I try and keep it closer to 50% as much as possible.
”Also, myself and the team members are able to work from home, eliminating the daily commute during those times when we’re not on the road.” Work assignments typically average two weeks, although larger projects can last six. We do installs at high school stations, SiriusXM, and everything in between.”
Part of a successful installation is doing all the prep work, and making sure the customer knows what to expect. Checklists and additional info are sent out ahead of time. More importantly, Willard says, customers need to be in the right state of mind. ”We want them to be enthusiastic, cooperative, prepared and ready. Sometimes people resist change, but often they have been nursing along creaky and obsolete systems, and are looking forward to something new.” He adds that the relationship is more of a partnership, with FTS staff feeling like they are a part of the station’s team while they are doing the install.
Looking back on his 13 years in FTS, Willard’s most memorable project was his work in Baton Rouge right after Hurricane Katrina. ”Our goal was to get all the New Orleans stations back on the air and working out of the same building. We also had to make trips into the city while it was still in lockdown to get the signal working on the other end. For me, that experience really drove home the impact of radio, its ability to help people in times of need, and how it is still a very local medium.”
Not only can the job of FTS engineer be demanding, it also requires a unique set of talents, as Willard explains. ”The skillset encompasses a thorough knowledge of RCS products, as well as a solid grounding in IT infrastructure and the Windows operating system. It also demands an intimate knowledge of radio station operations, one that is typically gained by working in the broadcast industry.”
Beyond these technical skills, Willard adds, you need someone who loves to travel. Hours spent waiting at airports, going on long flights and living out of hotel rooms for a few weeks go with the territory. Additionally, the job requires excellent people skills. ”You need to be a good ambassador for the company, a good listener, be able to conduct training sessions for small groups, work independently yet still be part of a team, and do some hand holding during what can be stressful transitions.” He adds that for most stations, the FTS team is the only face of RCS that the customer sees.
While Willard’s team works out of the Americas, he notes that there is regular communication between FTS groups worldwide. ”We used to be more isolated, but today with Skype and e-mail we have regular communications with our international offices. This is a huge plus, as we’re all installing and using the same products. There are not as many dedicated installation teams in some of our overseas offices, but more ad hoc groups that come together. They reach out to us, and vice versa.”
At the end of most projects, the reward is the satisfaction of a job well done. ”We’re a bit like referees at a sporting event,” says Willard. ”If we do our job well, we’re not talked about.”