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Broadcast Sound Engineering and Radio Operator Career, Jobs and Training Info

Career and Job Highlights

  • Job candidates should anticipate keen competition in major city areas where salaries are usually higher; more opportunities exist in less populated areas.
  • The most qualified individuals will have college or technical institute experience in electronics, broadcasting, or computer networking.
  • Approximately one-third of jobs are in TV and radio broadcasting, while 16 percent exist in motion picture or sound production industries

Broadcast Sound Engineering and Radio Operator Career Overview

Broadcast and sound and radio technicians operate all of the primary equipment functions associated with TV and musical broadcasts, movies, plays and concerts. Many workers specialize in a particular field of interest.

Audio and video equipment technicians operate all video and audio equipment. This includes the use of video monitors, projectors, soundboards, recording equipment, microphones, sound speakers, video screens, and all equipment—including lighting setup—for special events.

Broadcast technicians maintain the fluidity of broadcast signals through the use of sound and video equipment. They control the input and timing of material to be signaled and the type of broadcast feed to be signaled—whether from camera, studio, local, network, live, or film programming.

Sound engineering technicians operate all of the equipment needed to record and reproduce music and sound for different productions.

Radio operators work with different equipment to transmit and maintain proper communication systems. They also repair equipment using both manual and electronic tools.

Duties of engineering technicians and radio operators vary according to the size of the station. In smaller stations, they handle numerous responsibilities while in larger stations tasks tend to be specialized. Job titles “technician”, “engineer”, or “operator” usually entail the same profiles. Generally, job tasks include setting up and repairing equipment, monitoring and maintaining transmission feeds, and regulating the visual and audio components of broadcasts.

Recording engineers work in the sound and video recording process of production. They often work with special effects equipment to produce ambient sounds and visual effects. Sound and recording mixers input sounds into a film or television track. Field technicians operate mobile equipment for outside transmission. As televised news coverage becomes more complex and as technology continues to evolve, technicians are likely to work solely with news broadcasts.

Chief engineers, broadcast field supervisors, and transmission engineers supervise all other technical operators and equipment maintenance.
The scope of work among technicians and radio operators has greatly been affected by the evolution of digital technology. Computer software programs are substituting traditional uses of recording and editing equipment. Broadcasting stations are using alternative storage systems found on computer hard drives as opposed to analog tapes. Computer software and networking has necessitated newer kinds of skill training among technicians.

Technicians and operators usually work indoors unless broadcasting a special program from an outside location. Additionally, technicians may be required to set up special equipment or climb high antenna poles.

Typical for technician jobs is a 40-hour week with some overtime. Stations typically broadcast most hours of the day, every day of the week, thus workers at smaller stations should anticipate common overtime hours. Technicians also work on an on-call basis.

Motion picture technicians typically work long and rigid hours in order to meet regular deadlines.

Broadcast Sound Engineering and Radio Operator Training and Job Qualifications

Those seeking a future career as a broadcast engineer or technician should obtain specialized training through a technical school or college. Employment in the motion picture industry usually begins with an apprenticeship or assistant position as one works to gain relevant skills and reputation. Freelance employers then hire on terms of skills reputation.

Most technicians begin their careers in smaller stations and, after learning the relevant skills, transfer to larger stations that base hiring on skills training. Often employers will have offer to pay for course training in order that technicians maintain a current, up-to-date knowledge of useful technology.

A high school diploma is generally a necessary requirement to become an equipment technician. Recently, more workers have some kind of college degree, while others simply gain experience through on-job training and experience.

Radio operator positions generally only require on-the-job skills and training instead of any formal training.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 removed licensing requirements, but certification that can be obtained from the Society of Broadcast Engineers nonetheless remains a positive credential for experienced technicians.

Beneficial high school courses include physics, electronics, and math. Beneficial experience can also be gained from home radio kits and work through school TV and radio stations.

Engineers should demonstrate a working set of skills in mechanical and electronic systems.

Typical advancement opportunities, such as becoming a chief engineer, rely heavily on having obtained a college degree.

Job and Employment Opportunities

Competition is likely to remain keen in major city areas where stations typically offer higher salaries. These stations typically hire employees that are skilled in a specialized area. Entry-level job prospects are usually better in smaller town areas.

Employment for engineers in broadcast and sound will grow along with the average over the next eight-year period. Employment growth will be hindered by station consolidation and technological production advances. Regulations set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have set regulations that allow for the single ownership of several stations. These owners often consolidate stations into a single area, thus reducing the number of jobs needed to run multiple stations. However, as digital transmitters become increasingly popular, so will the need for technicians who can install them. Television broadcasting stations are progressively moving to digital formats. Radio stations are only in the beginning phases of the switch from analog.

Cable technicians and engineers in broadcast and sound will likely increase with the rise in demand for these and similar services. Competitive employment in the motion picture industry will also remain keen.

Job growth in this industry varies according to occupation. Job growth for broadcast technicians is projected to grow along with the average of most jobs over the next eight-year period. This is due to technological advancement in television and radio programming. Radio operator jobs are projected to decline due to the growth in remote program transmitting. Video and audio equipment technician job growth is projected to rise at rates faster than the average of all other occupations. They will become increasingly involved with both setting up and repairing associated equipment.

Replacement needs means increased job openings for prospective job candidates. Many workers transfer to jobs in electronics or mechanical or computer repair.

Historical Earnings Information

Televised and large market stations and commercial broadcasting jobs have the highest earnings; while radio stations, smaller markets and public broadcasting stations pay lower salaries.

In 2002, approximate annual salaries for broadcast technicians ranged from $15,000 for the bottom 10 percent to $66,000 for the top 10 percent. In 2002, average earnings were $28,000.

In 2002, approximate annual salaries for video and audio equipment technicians ranged from $19,000 for the bottom 10 percent to $61,000 for the top 10 percent. Average earnings in 2002 were $31,000.

In 2002, approximate annual salaries for video and audio equipment technicians ranged from $17,000 for the bottom 10 percent to $56,000 for the top 10 percent. Average earnings in 2002 were $32,000.