Eye on the Sky

For most people, the jolt that sends them on a career path takes place when they're in high school, or in college, or even later. For Clyde Smith, Turner Broadcasting Systems senior VP and a Technology Award winner, the inspiration came much earlier.

The son of a techie who worked for the phone company, Smith grew up in the Maine towns of Camden and Rockport. Living in a cutting-edge household in not-very-cutting-edge villages, his family was the first to get a television, then the first to get a color TV, then the first to build a 300-foot-long antenna to pull in TV signals because, at that time, there were no local broadcasters. “Some nights we would get a signal from Ohio, and other times it would be from Havana,” Smith recalls.

But one signal stands out above all others. It was 1962, and Smith, then 10, was watching the launch of a rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on TV. After the launch, his father took him outside and pointed to a star moving overhead, explaining that it was Telstar, the first active communications satellite. Soon after, they visited the nearby NASA Earth Station in Andover, where satellite signals from Telstar were received. “We went to the cryogenic amplifier room, and the guide said, if it was applied to audio, it would allow you to hear the buzz of a bee in Bombay,” recalls Smith. “I was hooked.”

Today, Smith is officially senior VP of broadcast engineering, research and development, quality assurance, and metrics for Turner Broadcasting System. It's a long title with an even longer set of responsibilities: He oversees strategic technology planning and operations for the broadcast- and production-technology operations for Turner's Entertainment Group—which includes Turner network operations and Turner Studios—and technology planning for CNN.

At the University of Maine, Smith, now 53, capitalized on his passion for the skies. He got the chance to work in an avionics (short for aviation electronics) shop. After graduation, he began working at a local AM/FM/TV-station combo.

By 1982, Smith was working in TV in Florida. After the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, a friend alerted him to a new job using film and video to gather data and understand how the Space Shuttle held up during launch and other conditions.

That pushed Smith toward his next post, leaving TV to become supervisor of communications design and development engineering for Lockheed Space Operations Co. at the Kennedy Space Center. Then, it was back to TV. Smith joined Speer WorldWide Digital as senior VP/chief technical officer, managing operations of an all-digital facility and heading an engineering team that led to the launch of ABC's SoapNet.

In 1994, Smith joined Turner as director of advanced technology for network operations, where he successfully launched Cartoon Brazil, the first video-server-based, all-digital, all-automated network.

His big challenge was coordinating the transition of on-air operations for 19 Turner networks from the historic mansion that served as its Atlanta headquarters to the company's new state-of-the-art facility called Techwood. The unit provides wide-ranging 24-hour functional support for the Turner's entertainment networks and for nine networks in Latin America.

“That was my first chance to start from the ground up on a facility, and it's been a wonderful experience with a great team,” he says.

His Turner colleagues agree. “[Smith] can spot genuine innovation when it comes along, and he knows that integrating innovation requires a meticulous command of detail to be effective,” says Scott Teissler, executive VP of technology operations at TBS Inc. “It's having mature judgment about innovation and an orientation toward game-changing technological progress that makes Clyde so valuable.”