Broadcast, sound engineering and radio operation is a fairly broad field. There are a number of specializations in this field, but overall it can be referred to as a single area. Sound equipment requires a fairly in depth knowledge of technical issues to operate. But there is a continuity that goes through all the technological expressions in the field and someone who masters the basic logic of broadcasting, recording, and production will find that they are qualified for positions in a number of different areas.
The salaries for broadcast, radio, and sound engineering technicians tend to be roughly in the range of $30,000 to $55,000 yearly. The US Bureau of Labor Services places the median at $38,050. They place the median 50 percent of salaries in the field between $28,130 and $51,780. This is very close to the median 50% as estimated by Salary.com, which is from $31,549 to $52,583 annually. So a sound technician can expect to earn somewhere in this range. There is quite a bit of variation based on the specializations in the field. But on the whole this is a fairly well paying career area.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Job Description and Outlook
The function of a broadcast, sound engineering technician, or radio operator is basically the task of setting up, maintaining, and operating a wide variety of sound equipment. Electrical and electronic equipment that are used in these areas represent a wide variety of current technology. The technician must be well versed in the function of a broad range of radio, amplification, and sound and video recording equipment. Both radio and television broadcasting require technicians who are intimately familiar with the functioning of microphones, cameras, analog and digital recording, mixing, and broadcasting equipment.
The professional in the field generally works in indoor environments such as sound stages and studios. However, these individuals may also be asked to work in outdoor conditions where television filming or broadcasting is taking place, and these environments can be hazardous or uncomfortable from a weather standpoint. Technicians may even have to work in dangerous environments such as war zones.
The job outlook for the field varies quite significantly according to location, though overall the field is expected to grow throughout the coming years. In major cities job demand will continue to expand, but competition will be fierce. In more suburban or rural areas competition is and will be less harsh and job demand will increase as well. So technicians starting out in the field are encouraged to seek employment where they feel their education and experience level is roughly matched to the competition level of the geographical area.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
Depending on the specialty, there are a number of levels of training that are required for this field. Broadcasting technicians tend to require the most training, since the field is quite competitive. Thus a Bachelor’s degree is often required for broadcasting technician positions. An Associate degree may also be sufficient for smaller stations. These degrees are offered at a number of secondary institutions as well as dedicated schools that specialize in sound engineering and broadcasting.
Requirements for combined audio and video technicians are somewhat less stringent. A training program of one year (or less) in the field is often sufficient. Entry level positions are often available with this level of education, though an Associate degree may also prove helpful.
Technicians that deal more or less exclusively with sound (such as recording engineers) often begin with 1 year degrees in sound production from colleges that offer specialized courses in the field. This is enough to begin working at recording studios and so on. The subsequent sound recording experience then propels the student forward to higher paying positions. However, advancement can be enhanced by higher level degrees and continuing education.
As in many other fields, certification is not required as a prerequisite to working in the field, though a professional organization called the Society of Broadcast Engineers offers certification upon completion of their examination. The general rule of thumb is that certification enhances job and advancement opportunities though these can also be attained by simple experience and time working in the field. Certification is not as crucial in this field as it is in certain other fields with a high degree of accountability and legal stipulation, such as the medical, legal, and financial fields.
One of the primary professional associations that deals with this field is the Society of Broadcast Engineers, mentioned above. Some others include the Society of Professional Audio Recording Services (SPARS), and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Membership in these associations is not required for employment in the field, but it can be a valuable credential that will help propel a sound professional to higher paying positions as well as provide a source of valuable professional connections.