Radio operators use a number of different tools to receive and transmit radio communications. They repair equipment, using electronic testing equipment, hand tools, and power tools. They have the responsibility of maintaining communications systems in good working order. In small stations, their duties are often numerous, while in larger stations they usually specialize. They may monitor and log outgoing signals and operate transmitters. They also may regulate fidelity, volume, and sound quality.
Radio operator jobs have been greatly altered by the transition to digital recording, editing, and broadcasting. Electronic equipment has largely been replaced by desktop software, and video and audio tapes have been replaced by computer hard drives and other types of data storage. Computer networks coupled with specialized equipment have become the standard for broadcasting. As a result, radio operators have been forced to adapt and learn software and computer networking skills.
Radio operators need to have skill working with electrical, electronic, and mechanical systems and equipment. It is also important for them to have good manual dexterity.
In 2002, radio operators earned a median annual salary of $31,530. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $17,380, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $56,340.
Training and Education
Radio operator positions do not normally require any type of formal training, and many entry-level positions include on-the-job training. However, formal training can give candidates a huge advantage over the competition. Prospective radio operators can take high school courses in math, physics, and electronics. Another source of valuable experience is building electronic equipment from hobby kits, as well as working for campus radio and television stations.
The most effective way to train for a career as a radio operator is to enroll in a technical school community college, or university program in electronics, computer networking, or broadcast technology. New employees usually learn on the job from more experienced technicians and supervisors. Some begin their careers working in smaller, local stations and, after gaining valuable experience, move on to larger stations and networks. Quite a few employers offer programs in which they will pay the tuition and expenses for courses and seminars that improve the skills of their employees and help keep them updated on the latest developments in the field.
In 2002, radio operators held about 3,000 jobs. New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. offer the highest-paying jobs.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of radio operators is expected to decline because more and more stations are utilizing remote transmitters. Advancements in technology will increase the abilities of operators to produce higher quality radio and television programming. Job growth will be limited by the consolidation in ownership of television and radio stations.
For more information on a career as a radio operator, please see our directory of Broadcasting Schools