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Juggling CBS DTV future

As CBS' top East Coast engineer, Bob Ross is an accomplished juggler. In addition to running CBS' operations and engineering, he interfaces with the network's sports, news, studio and station divisions. Ross is responsible for keeping CBS' analog network on air everyday and for directing the network's conversion to DTV.

"One of my many jobs is to make sure everybody knows what everybody is doing," he says.

Ross, a self-professed "technology nut," was only 10 when he first tried to take his father's television apart. That early enthusiasm for gadgets led to a 28-year broadcast career spanning jobs at the station, group and network level.

Looking for a career in television or radio, he studied industrial electronics at Southern Maine Technical College and took a part-time job fixing televisions at a local Sears repair shop. There he met Ernie Hartt, a studio supervisor at WCSH-TV in Portland, who would give him his first broadcast job.

"I loved it," Ross says of that job. "When you went to work in the morning, you didn't know what you were going to be doing that day. If there was a big news story going on, our emphasis would shift. That's what always made it exciting."

Ross was recommended for a field job with then-broadcast-equipment giant RCA, traveling to stations nationwide to install and test film telecines, studio cameras and quad videotape machines. Flying 300,000 miles in three years, he gained a wealth of experience (including working the 1976 Winter and Summer Olympics) and hundreds of broadcast contacts.

"I credit my current position on being lucky enough to have worked for RCA," says Ross. "I had more experience packed into those three years than I ever could have gotten in 10 years [anywhere else]."

Ross, who lived in Maine while working for Philadelphia-based RCA, also met his wife during his RCA tenure. That led him to look for a less mobile position, and he took a job at WBZ-TV , the Group W station and NBC affiliate in Boston. After five years, he moved on to WJZ-TV Baltimore, where he assembled Group W's first combined operations and engineering unit. In 1990, he moved to KYW-TV Philadelphia to set up a similar system there.

Ross rose to vice president of engineering for Group W's five-station group in 1994 and became vice president of operations and engineering for CBS Stations after the Westinghouse/CBS merger in 1995. One of his biggest accomplishments was developing a proprietary automation system used at all 19 CBS stations.

Ross got involved in DTV- standards setting at Group W and expanded that work at CBS Television Stations by overseeing DTV-tower up-grades and choosing HDTV transmission gear. In spring 1998, he was promoted to a network job as vice president of operations and engineering for CBS' News Production Systems, taking responsibility for supporting CBS News' videotape operations, hard-news center operations, traffic, graphics, studio operations and project engineering. He also kept up his DTV-conversion work with the station group.

Ross was rewarded for his versatility by being promoted to his current spot in September 1998. He has overseen conversion of CBS' production and distribution to digital technology-a process that would have happened even without DTV, he says-as well as the launch of HDTV broadcasts.

"I'm one of the luckiest people in the world," he says. "I started in the business after color television was pretty well established, so I missed that revolution. But now we're on the edge of a complete conversion to digital, both from a production standpoint and from the distribution standpoint to the home. It's a huge revolution in broadcasting, and I'm lucky enough to be right in the middle."