Broadcast and Sound Technicians

Significant Points

  • Job applicants will face strong competition for the better paying jobs at radio and television stations serving large cities.
  • Beginners need formal training in broadcast technology to obtain their first job at a smaller station.
  • Evening, weekend, and holiday work is common.

Nature of the Work [About this section]  Index

Broadcast and sound technicians install, test, repair, set up, and operate the electronic equipment used to record and transmit radio and television programs, cable programs, and motion pictures. They work with television cameras, microphones, tape recorders, lighting, sound effects, transmitters, antennas, and other equipment. Some broadcast and sound technicians produce movie sound tracks in motion picture production studios, control the sound of live events, such as concerts, or record music in a recording studio.

In the control room of a radio or television broadcasting studio, these technicians operate equipment that regulates the signal strength, clarity, and range of sounds and colors of recordings or broadcasts. They also operate control panels to select the source of the material. Technicians may switch from one camera or studio to another, from film to live programming, or from network to local programming. By means of hand signals and, in television, telephone headsets, they give technical directions to other studio personnel.

Broadcast and sound technicians in small stations perform a variety of duties. In large stations and at the networks, technicians are more specialized, although job assignments may change from day to day. The terms "operator," "engineer," and "technician" often are used interchangeably to describe these jobs. Transmitter operators monitor and log outgoing signals and operate transmitters. Maintenance technicians set up, adjust, service, and repair electronic broadcasting equipment. Audio control engineers regulate volume and sound quality of television broadcasts, while video control engineers regulate their fidelity, brightness, and contrast. Recording engineers operate and maintain video and sound recording equipment. They may operate equipment designed to produce special effects, such as the illusions of a bolt of lightning or a police siren. Sound mixers or rerecording mixers produce the sound track of a movie, television, or radio program. After filming or recording, they may use a process called dubbing to insert sounds. Field technicians set up and operate broadcasting portable field transmission equipment outside the studio. Television news coverage requires so much electronic equipment, and the technology is changing so rapidly, that many stations assign technicians exclusively to news.

Chief engineers, transmission engineers, and broadcast field supervisors supervise the technicians who operate and maintain broadcasting equipment.

Working Conditions [About this section]  Index

Broadcast and sound technicians generally work indoors in pleasant surroundings. However, those who broadcast news and other programs from locations outside the studio may work outdoors in all types of weather. Technicians doing maintenance may climb poles or antenna towers, while those setting up equipment do heavy lifting.

Technicians in large stations and the networks usually work a 40-hour week under great pressure to meet broadcast deadlines, but may occasionally work overtime. Technicians in small stations routinely work more than 40 hours a week. Evening, weekend, and holiday work is usual, because most stations are on the air 18 to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Those who work on motion pictures may be on a tight schedule to finish according to contract agreements.

Employment [About this section]  Index

Broadcast and sound technicians held about 37,000 jobs in 1998. About 2 out of 3 worked in radio and television broadcasting. Almost 10 percent worked in the motion picture industry. About 10 percent worked for cable and other pay television services. A few were self-employed. Television stations employ, on average, many more technicians than do radio stations. Some technicians are employed in other industries, producing employee communications, sales, and training programs. Technician jobs in television are located in virtually all cities, whereas jobs in radio are also found in many small towns. The highest paying and most specialized jobs are concentrated in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, DC—the originating centers for most network programs. Motion picture production jobs are concentrated in Los Angeles and New York City.

Training, Other Qualifications, & Advancement [About this section]  Index

The best way to prepare for a broadcast and sound technician job is to obtain technical school, community college, or college training in broadcast technology or in engineering or electronics. This is particularly true for those who hope to advance to supervisory positions or jobs at large stations or the networks. In the motion picture industry people are hired as apprentice editorial assistants and work their way up to more skilled jobs. Employers in the motion picture industry usually hire experienced freelance technicians on a picture-by-picture basis. Reputation and determination are important in getting jobs.

Beginners learn skills on the job from experienced technicians and supervisors. They often begin their careers in small stations and, once experienced, move on to larger ones. Large stations usually only hire technicians with experience. Many employers pay tuition and expenses for courses or seminars to help technicians keep abreast of developments in the field.

The Federal Communications Commission no longer requires the licensing of broadcast technicians, as the Telecommunications Act of 1996 eliminated this licensing requirement. Certification by the Society of Broadcast Engineers is a mark of competence and experience. The certificate is issued to experienced technicians who pass an examination. By offering the Radio Operator and the Television Operator levels of certification, the Society of Broadcast Engineers has filled the void left by the elimination of the FCC license.

Prospective technicians should take high school courses in math, physics, and electronics. Building electronic equipment from hobby kits and operating a "ham," or amateur radio, are good experience, as is work in college radio and television stations.

Broadcast and sound technicians must have manual dexterity and an aptitude for working with electrical, electronic, and mechanical systems and equipment.

Experienced technicians can become supervisory technicians or chief engineers. A college degree in engineering is needed to become chief engineer at a large TV station.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

People seeking beginning jobs as radio and television broadcast technicians are expected to face strong competition in major metropolitan areas, where the number of qualified job seekers exceeds the number of openings. There, stations seek highly experienced personnel. Prospects for entry-level positions generally are better in small cities and towns for beginners with appropriate training.

The overall employment of broadcast and sound technicians is expected to grow slowly through the year 2008. An increase in the number of programming hours should require additional technicians. However, employment growth in radio and television broadcasting may be tempered somewhat because of slow growth in the number of new radio and television stations and laborsaving technical advances, such as computer-controlled programming and remote control of transmitters. Technicians who know how to install transmitters will be in demand as television stations replace existing analog transmitters with digital transmitters. Stations will begin broadcasting in both analog and digital formats, eventually switching entirely to digital.

Employment in the cable industry should grow because of new products coming to market, such as cable modems, which deliver high speed Internet access to personal computers, and digital set-top boxes, which transmit better sound and pictures, allowing cable operators to offer many more channels than in the past. These new products should cause traditional cable subscribers to sign up for additional services.

Employment in the motion picture industry will grow as fast as the average for all occupations. Job prospects are expected to remain competitive, because of the large number of people attracted to this relatively small field.

Virtually all job openings will result from the need to replace experienced technicians who leave the occupation. Turnover is relatively high for broadcast and sound technicians. Many leave the occupation for electronic jobs in other areas, such as computer technology or commercial and industrial repair.

Earnings [About this section]  Index

Television stations usually pay higher salaries than radio stations; commercial broadcasting usually pays more than public broadcasting; and stations in large markets pay more than those in small ones.

Median annual earnings of broadcast and sound technicians in 1998 were $25,270. The middle 50 percent earned between $16,940 and $40,310. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $12,620 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $67,020. Median annual earnings of broadcast and sound technicians in 1997 were $21,700 in the radio and television broadcasting industry.

Related Occupations [About this section]  Index

Broadcast and sound technicians need the electronics training and hand coordination necessary to operate technical equipment, and they generally complete specialized postsecondary programs. Similar occupations include engineering technicians, science technicians, health technologists and technicians, and electronic equipment repairers.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section]  Index

Disclaimer: Links to other Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.

For information on careers for broadcast and sound technicians, write to:

  • National Association of Broadcasters, 1771 N St. NW., Washington, DC 20036. Internet: http://www.nab.org

For information on certification, contact:

  • Society of Broadcast Engineers, 8445 Keystone Crossing, Suite 140, Indianapolis, IN 46240. Internet: http://www.sbe.org

For information on careers in the motion picture and television industry, contact:

  • Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), 595 West Hartsdale Ave., White Plains, NY 10607.

Selected industries employing broadcast and sound technicians that appear in the 2000-01 Career Guide to Industries:

O*NET Codes: 22599A, 34028B, and 34028C About the O*NET codes

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