Broadcast Engineer Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Get the truth about a broadcast engineer's salary, training requirements and career prospects. Read the job description and see the pros and cons of becoming a broadcast engineer.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Broadcast Engineer

Broadcast engineers maintain the broadcasting equipment that affects a transmission's strength, clarity, sound and color at the transmission facilities that get your favorite TV and radio shows on air. Find out the pros and cons of being a broadcast engineer to decide if it's right for you.

Pros of a Broadcast Engineering Career
Associate degrees and technical training can be enough for many entry-level jobs*
On-the-job training is an option for certain specializations*
Can work in many industries (TV, cable, radio, Internet broadcasting)*
Can work in many geographical locations*

Cons of a Broadcast Engineering Career
Sluggish job growth (expected three percent from 2012 through 2022)*
Long work hours often include nights, weekends and holidays*
May require additional, specialized training to rise to managerial positions*
Competitive field, especially in metropolitan areas*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Also called 'broadcast operators' or 'broadcast technicians,' broadcast engineers work in industries like television, radio, cable and film and are responsible for using and maintaining TV and radio broadcasting equipment and maintaining broadcasting systems and transmission facilities. Additionally, because of the very immediate and fast-paced nature of the field, they constantly face both time and accuracy pressures and must be able to trouble-shoot and problem-solve in the middle of a broadcast. With production deadlines looming and high-stakes programs at risk, broadcast engineers must be comfortable working in fast-paced environments.

A broadcast engineer's workdays can be long and will often include nights, weekends and holidays (someone has to be there to broadcast the ball drop at the Times Square New Year's show!). And broadcasting technology is increasingly becoming computerized, which means that considerable knowledge and a facility for computer learning is rapidly becoming a basic requirement for people joining the field.

Career Prospects and Salary

Big city or small town will also play a role in the kind of work you do on a day-by-day basis and the amount of competition you'll face. Because small town companies and stations will have fewer employees and smaller budgets, their people need to develop a wider range of skills that they perform more generally. In contrast, big broadcasting companies are more likely to hire individuals with more specialized skill sets. According to the BLS in 2012, smaller markets also have the benefit of less job competition than large metropolitan areas, with the corresponding trade-off of lower salaries than more populated areas.

While the prevalence of TV in our lives might make it seem like there must be an infinite number of jobs available for broadcast engineers, this is unfortunately not true. Advances in broadcast technology and the consolidation of broadcasting under a smaller number of large companies have actually reduced the number of people required to do the job, limiting job growth in the field to a crawl (three percent job growth from 2012 through 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). However, there are several career options within the field that show promise in the job-growth department. The middle 50% of professionals in this field earn salaries between roughly $24,000 and $56,000 per year as a broadcast engineer, with the highest paid members of the profession making over $76,000, according to BLS's statistics for May 2014.

What Are the Requirements?

According to the BLS, there are no official qualifications to become a broadcast engineer and many people learn on the job or through apprenticeships. Many broadcast engineers get their start in high school audiovisual clubs or by working at their college radio or television stations. Those who work in the film industry generally start by apprenticing as an assistant and learning the ropes that way. Among the skills you will need in the field are:

  • Strong computer skills
  • Ability to learn new technical skills quickly
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Communication skills

Job Postings from Real Employers

Although a particular degree isn't a standard job requirement, the BLS notes that broadcast techs often obtain associate degrees in broadcast technology, computer networking or engineering, electronics and other related fields. Furthermore, because the field is so competitive, bachelor's degrees can provide a significant edge for later professional advancement. Additionally, training in areas of conventional broadcast, broadcast IT, RF (radio frequency) and health and safety can help you land a job. Following are a few broadcast engineering job listings to give you an idea of the kind of experience and skills employers were advertising for during January 2012:

  • A North Carolina television agency wants a candidate with experience troubleshooting analog/digital television studio systems, control room equipment, UHF/VHF/Digital transmitters and microwave systems and facilities. Other requested qualifications include experience with Plus IT systems equipment and integration.
  • An Atlanta, GA, television company seeks a candidate who has experience designing analog/digital television broadcast studios, control room, post-production and transmission facilities. Experience designing station automation, video server networks and television control rooms, master control facilities, live production and post-production facilities are also desired.
  • A well-known New York City radio broadcasting company looks for a staff engineer to manage build studios and transmitter sites. Knowledge of the use and repair of both analog and digital equipment is required. The engineer needs to have project and team management experience and be proficient in Microsoft Excel and Word. A bachelor's degree or related certification is listed as a plus.
  • A television company based in Connecticut requests a candidate with experience designing professional broadcast systems, working in a supervisory role and managing others. The job requires a flexible schedule that includes nights and weekends.

How to Stand Out

Because the field doesn't have a set education requirement, getting a degree or completing a training program can really help you stand out in the job market, according to the BLS. Alternatively, the Society of Broadcast Engineers also offers certifications on a variety of levels and administers a written test to prove knowledge and skill in the field, which employers can accept as an education equivalent. You can take these tests to provide potential employers with concrete proof of your qualifications. Additionally, seeking out internships and vocational training can help you find a job in a local area before transferring to a larger station or job market.

Get Specialized

If you are interested in pursuing a broadcast engineering degree, consider researching the various specializations the field offers. The recent switch to digital broadcasting has increased the demand for broadcast engineers comfortable with digital television and radio. Gaining experience and expertise in a specific area can help you find a job in growing specialized fields. Do your due diligence when researching the many different technical sub-fields to determine whether you'd benefit from gaining training in computer systems, digital audio broadcasting and digital video broadcasting. For instance, if you would love to work broadcasting Shakespearean plays, try studying technical lighting, digital audio and digital video recording. Also keep in mind that as technology gets better, employers will be looking for more highly trained and highly skilled applicants who are passionate and committed to their chosen career field.

Other Career Paths

Audio and Video Equipment Technician

If you love working with technology and people in the broadcasting industry but broadcast engineering does not sound like the perfect fit for you, there are other options. Among broadcast engineering's closely related career options, audio and video equipment technicians have a higher expected job-growth, coming in at 13% from 2008 from 2008 through 2018, as reported by the BLS. Due to the growing demand for audio and video equipment in new buildings and schools, many new technician opportunities are expected in order to install, maintain and repair the equipment. Changes to movie screening technology means that audio and video equipment techs can also find work installing and maintaining movie screen equipment and facilities.

Sound Engineer

If, on the other hand, mixing tracks with tomorrow's next music stars is more your style, sound engineers can land jobs recording, mixing and producing music and sound effects. Like broadcast technicians, sound engineers can work in all of the major entertainment industries. Education requirements are relatively low for this field, with vocational training programs lasting about a year, although some can be even shorter than that, says the BLS. The median salary of a sound engineer is roughly $47,000 with those working in the television and film industries earning an average of about $65,000.

Electronics Engineer

Alternatively, you could become an electronics engineer. With a median salary of approximately $86,000, you could use your love of technology to create and test new electronic equipment, like the next big communication device or tomorrow's broadcasting equipment. Electronics engineering does require at least a bachelor's degree, and a master's degree is highly desirable. While the educational burden is higher, there are currently over 140,000 employed electronic engineers and the median salary is considerably higher.

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