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Broadcast and Sound Engineering Technicians and Radio Operators - What They Do

Broadcast and sound engineering technicians and radio operators perform a wide variety of tasks. Their duties include setting up and maintaining the electrical equipment used in nearly all radio and television broadcasts, concerts, plays, sound recordings, and movies. There are many specialized occupations in this field.

Audio and video equipment technicians set up and operate audio and video equipment, including microphones, speakers, video screens, projectors, video monitors, and recording equipment. They also connect wires and cables and set up and operate sound and mixing boards and related electronic equipment for concerts, sports events, meetings and conventions, presentations, and news conferences. They may set up and operate associated spotlights and other custom lighting systems. They also are needed to install and maintain equipment in many large businesses and universities that are upgrading their facilities with audio and video equipment.

Broadcast technicians set up, operate, and maintain equipment that regulates the signal strength, the clarity, and the ranges of sounds and colors of radio or television broadcasts. These technicians 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.

Sound engineering technicians operate machines and equipment to record, synchronize, mix, or reproduce music, voices, or sound effects in recording studios, sporting arenas, theater productions, or movie and video productions.

Broadcast and sound engineering technicians and radio operators perform a variety of duties at small stations. At 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 workers. They may monitor and log outgoing signals and operate transmitters; set up, adjust, service, and repair electronic broadcasting equipment; and regulate fidelity, brightness, contrast, volume, and sound quality of television broadcasts.

Technicians also work in program production. Recording engineers operate and maintain video and sound recording equipment. They may operate equipment designed to produce special effects, such as the illusion of a bolt of lightning or a police siren. Sound mixers or re-recording mixers produce soundtracks for movies or television programs. After filming or recording is complete, these workers may use a process called “dubbing” to insert sounds. Field technicians set up and operate portable transmission equipment outside the studio. Because television news coverage requires so much electronic equipment and the technology is changing so rapidly, many stations assign technicians exclusively to news. Chief engineers, transmission engineers, and broadcast field supervisors oversee other technicians and maintain broadcasting equipment.

Radio operators mainly receive and transmit communications using a variety of tools. These workers also repair equipment, using such devices as electronic testing equipment, hand tools, and power tools. One of their major duties is to help ensure communication systems remain in good condition.

Work Environment
Broadcast and sound engineering technicians and radio operators 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 or in other dangerous conditions. Technicians doing maintenance may climb poles or antenna towers, and those setting up equipment do heavy lifting.

Technicians at large stations and the networks usually work a 40-hour week under great pressure to meet broadcast deadlines, and may occasionally work overtime. Technicians at 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. Some technicians need to be available on call whenever the station is broadcasting; technicians must handle any problems that occur during this time.

Technicians who work on motion pictures may be on a tight schedule and may work long hours to meet contractual deadlines.

Education & Training Required
Audio and video equipment technicians should complete a technical-training program related to the field, which may take several months to a year to complete. Many recent entrants to the field have also received an associate degree or bachelor’s degree, although it is generally not required for entry-level positions. In addition to coursework, experience in high school or college audiovisual clubs can provide a student with good training for this occupation. Working as an assistant is a useful way to gain experience and knowledge for an entry-level employee.

For broadcast technicians an associate degree in broadcast technology, electronics, computer networking, or a related field is generally recommended. Because of the competitiveness of the broadcast industry, many jobs require a bachelor’s degree. A four-year degree also gives employees much better prospects for advancement in the field.

Most entry-level employees find jobs in small markets or with small stations in big markets and can transfer to larger, better paying stations after gaining experience and learning the necessary skills. Small stations usually value more general skills since they have fewer employees doing less specialized work. Large stations almost never hire someone without previous experience, and they value more specialized skills. Working at a college radio or television station can be very advantageous for prospective employees.

Sound engineering technicians usually complete a vocational program, which can take about a year, although there are shorter programs. Prospective technicians should take high school courses in math, physics, and electronics. Technicians need to have excellent computer training to be successful in this field.

Radio operators are not usually required to complete any formal training. This is an entry-level position that generally requires on-the-job training.

In the motion picture industry, people are hired as apprentice editorial assistants and work their way up to jobs requiring higher level skills. Employers in the motion picture industry usually hire experienced freelance technicians on a picture-by-picture basis. Reputation and perseverance are important in getting jobs.

Continuing education to become familiar with emerging technologies is recommended for all broadcast and sound engineering technicians and radio operators.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)
Broadcast and sound engineering technicians and radio operators need skills in information technology and electronics since most recording, editing, and broadcasting are done on computers. Prospective technicians must have manual dexterity and an aptitude for working with electrical, electronic, and mechanical systems and equipment.

Broadcast and Sound Engineering Technicians and Radio Operators - What They Do - Page 2

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