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Nature of the Work
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Sources of Additional Information
(D.O.T. 193.167-014, .262-018, and -038; 194.062, .122, .262-010, -014, -018, -022, .282, .362, and .382-014, -018, 962.167-010, and .382-010)
* Competition is expected 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.
Broadcast technicians install, test, repair, set up, and operate the electronic equipment used to record and transmit radio and television programs. They work with television cameras, microphones, tape recorders, light and sound effects, transmitters, antennas, and other equipment. Some broadcast technicians develop movie sound tracks in motion picture production studios.
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 programs. By means of hand signals and, in television, telephone headsets, they give technical directions to other studio personnel.
Broadcast 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 sound pickup, transmission, and switching of television pictures while, video control engineers regulate their quality, 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. 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 fast, 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.
Technicians in the motion picture industry are called sound mixers or rerecording mixers. Mixers produce the sound track of a movie, using a process called dubbing. They sit at sound consoles facing the screen and fade in and fade out each sound and regulate its volume. Each technician is responsible for certain sounds. Technicians follow a script that tells at precisely what moment, as the film runs through the projector, each of the sounds must be faded in and out. All the sounds for each shot are thus blended on a master sound track.
Broadcast technicians generally work indoors in pleasant surroundings. However, those who broadcast from disaster areas or crime scenes may work under unfavorable conditions. 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, but may occasionally work overtime, under great pressure to meet broadcast deadlines. 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.
Broadcast technicians held about 46,000 jobs in 1996. About 7 out of 10 broadcast technicians were in radio and television broadcasting. Almost 2 in 10 worked in the motion picture industry. About 8 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 broadcast technicians are employed in other industries, producing employee communications, sales, and training programs. Technician jobs in television are located in virtually all cities, while 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, D.C.the originating centers for most of network programs. Motion picture production jobs are concentrated in Los Angeles and New York City.
The best way to prepare for a broadcast technician job in radio or television 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. On the other hand, there is no formal training for jobs 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 freelance technicians on a picture-by-picture basis. Reputation, determination, and luck are important in getting jobs.
Beginners learn skills on the job from experienced technicians and supervisors. They generally begin their careers in small stations and, once experienced, move on to larger ones. Large stations generally 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 technicians must have manual dexterity and an aptitude for working with electrical, electronic, and mechanical systems and equipment.
Experienced technicians may become supervisory technicians or chief engineers. A college degree in engineering is needed to become chief engineer at a large TV station.
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 greatly 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 people with appropriate training.
The overall employment of broadcast technicians is expected to grow about as fast as the average through the year 2006. Growth in the number of new radio and television stations and 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 laborsaving technical advances, such as computer-controlled programming and remote control of transmitters.
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 PCs, 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. Also, employment in the cable industry should grow, as today's young people establish their own households, for they are more accustomed to the idea of paying for TV than their parents.
Employment in the motion picture industry will grow faster than 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 technicians. Many leave the occupation for electronic jobs in other areas, such as computer technology or commercial and industrial repair.
Television stations usually pay higher salaries than radio stations; commercial broadcasting usually pays more than educational broadcasting; and stations in large markets pay more than those in small ones.
According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Broadcasters and the Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association, average earnings for technicians at radio stations were $30,251 a year in 1996. For chief engineer, average earnings were $46,602; and salaries ranged from $34,714 in the smallest markets to $46,602 in the largest markets. In television, average earnings for operator technicians were $24,260 a year and salaries ranged from $16,422 to $45,158; for technical directors, average earnings were $25,962 a year and the range was $18,444 to $44,531; for maintenance technicians, average earnings were $32,533 a year and the range was $24,210 to $50,235; and for chief engineers, the average earnings were $53,655 a year and salaries ranged from $38,178 in the smallest markets to $91,051 in the largest.
Earnings in the motion picture industry depend on skill and reputation and, based on limited information, range from $20,000 to $100,000 a year.
Broadcast technicians need the electronics training and hand coordination necessary to operate technical equipment, and they generally complete specialized postsecondary programs. Others with similar jobs and training include drafters, engineering and science technicians, surveyors, air traffic controllers, radiologic technologists, respiratory therapy workers, cardiovascular technologists and technicians, electroneurodiagnostic technicians, and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians.
For information on careers for broadcast technicians, write to:
National Association of Broadcasters Employment Clearinghouse, 1771 N St. NW., Washington, DC 20036.
For a list of schools that offer programs or courses in broadcasting, contact:
Broadcast Education Association, National Association of Broadcasters, 1771 N St. NW., Washington, DC 20036.
For information on certification, contact:
Society of Broadcast Engineers, 8445 Keystone Crossing, Suite 140, Indianapolis, IN 46240.
For information on careers in the motion picture and television industry, contact:
Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), 595 W. Hartsdale Ave., White Plains, NY 10607.
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