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Significant Points

  • Keen competition is expected for many jobs, particularly in large metropolitan areas, because of the large number of jobseekers attracted by the glamour of this industry.
  • Job prospects will be best for applicants with a college degree in broadcasting or a related field, and relevant experience, such as work at college radio and television stations or internships at professional stations.
  • In this highly competitive industry, broadcasters are less willing to provide on-the-job training, and instead seek candidates who can perform the job immediately.
  • Many entry-level positions are at smaller broadcast stations; consequently, workers often must change employers, and sometimes relocate, in order to advance.

Nature of the Work

The broadcasting industry consists of radio and television stations and networks that create content or acquire the right to broadcast taped television and radio programs. Networks transmit their signals from broadcasting studios via satellite signals to local stations or cable distributors. Broadcast signals then travel over cable television lines, satellite distribution systems, or the airwaves from a station's transmission tower to the antennas of televisions and radios. Anyone in the signal area with a radio or television can receive the programming. Most Americans receive their television broadcasts through cable and other pay television providers. Although cable television stations and networks are included in this statement, cable and other pay television distributors are classified in the telecommunications industry.

Radio and television stations and networks broadcast a variety of programs, such as national and local news, talk shows, music programs, movies, other entertainment, and advertisements. Stations produce some of these programs, most notably news programs, in their own studios; however, much of the programming is produced outside the broadcasting industry. Establishments that produce filmed or taped programming for radio and television stations and networks - but do not broadcast the programming - are in the motion picture industry. Many television networks own production companies that produce their many shows.

Cable and other program distributors compensate local television stations and cable networks for rebroadcast rights. For popular cable networks and local television stations, distributors pay a fee per subscriber and/or agree to broadcast a less popular channel owned by the same network. Revenue for radio and television stations and networks also comes from the sale of advertising time. The rates paid by advertisers depend on the size and characteristics (age, gender, and median income, among others) of a program's audience. Educational and noncommercial stations generate revenue primarily from donations by individuals, foundations, government, and corporations. These stations generally are owned and managed by public broadcasting organizations, religious institutions, or school systems.

Changes in Federal Government regulation and communication technology have affected the broadcast industry. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 relaxed ownership restrictions, an action that has had a tremendous impact on the industry. Instead of owning only one radio station per market, companies can now purchase up to eight radio stations in a single large market. These changes have led to a large-scale consolidation of radio stations. In some areas, five FM and three AM radio stations are owned by the same company and share the same offices. The ownership of commercial radio stations is increasingly concentrated. In television, owners are permitted two stations in larger markets and are restricted in the total number of stations nationwide (in terms of percent of all viewers).

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is a proponent of digital television (DTV), a technology that uses digital signals to transmit television programs. Digital signals consist of pieces of simple electronic code that can carry more information than conventional analog signals. This code allows for the transmission of better quality sound and higher resolution pictures, often referred to as high-definition television (HDTV). FCC regulations require all stations to broadcast digital signals as well as conventional analog signals. The current goal of the FCC is to have all stations stop broadcasting analog signals by 2007. However, because of the number of viewers who do not yet own television sets that are compatible with DTV, full implementation of the change from analog to digital broadcasting may take longer. After the switch is complete, any viewers using an analog TV and over-the-air signals will need a converter box to change the signal from digital to analog. Most television stations are currently broadcasting digital signals in response to FCC regulations. Many digital cable systems and satellite television providers already broadcast all their channels digitally, with some channels in high definition.

The transition to HDTV broadcasting has also accelerated the conversion of other aspects of television and radio production from analog to digital. Many stations have replaced specialized hardware with less specialized computers equipped with software that performs the same functions. Stations may use digital cameras, edit with computers, and store video on computer servers. Many major network shows now use HDTV cameras and editing equipment.

The transition to digital broadcasting also is occurring in radio. Most stations already store music, edit clips, and broadcast their analog signals with digital equipment. Satellite radio services, which offer 100 channels of digital sound, operate on a subscription basis, like pay television services. To compete, some radio stations are embedding a digital signal into their analog signals. With a specially equipped radio, these digital services offer better quality sound and display some limited text, such as the title of the song and the artist.

Working Conditions

Most employees in this industry work in clean, comfortable surroundings in broadcast stations and studios. Some employees work in the production of shows and broadcasting while other employees work in advertising, sales, promotions, and marketing.

Television news teams made up of reporters, camera operators, and technicians travel in electronic news-gathering vehicles to various locations to cover news stories. Although such location work is exciting, some assignments, such as reporting on military conflicts or natural disasters, may be dangerous. These assignments may also require outdoor work under adverse weather conditions.

Camera operators working on such news teams must have the physical stamina to carry and set up their equipment. Broadcast technicians on electronic news-gathering trucks must ensure that the mobile unit’s antenna is correctly positioned for optimal transmission quality and to prevent electrocution from power lines. Field service engineers work on outdoor transmitting equipment and may have to climb poles or antenna towers; their work can take place under a variety of weather conditions. Broadcast technicians who maintain and set up equipment may have to do heavy lifting. Technological changes have enabled camera operators also to fulfill the tasks of broadcast technicians, operating the transmission and editing equipment on a remote broadcasting truck. News operations, programming, and engineering employees work under a great deal of pressure in order to meet deadlines. As a result, these workers are likely to experience varied or erratic work schedules, often working on early morning or late evening news programs.

Sales workers may face stress meeting sales goals. Aside from sometimes erratic work schedules, management and administrative workers typically find themselves in an environment similar to any other office.

For many people, the excitement of working in broadcasting compensates for the demanding nature of the work. Although this industry is noted for its high pressure and long hours, the work is generally not hazardous.


Broadcasting provided about 327,000 wage and salary jobs in 2004. Although more than half of all establishments employed fewer than 10 people, most jobs were in large establishments; about 73 percent of all jobs were in establishments with at least 50 employees (Chart 1). Broadcasting establishments are found throughout the country, but jobs in larger stations are concentrated in large cities.


Professional, management, and sales occupations generally require a college degree; technical occupations often do not. It is easier to obtain employment and gain promotions with a degree, especially in larger, more competitive markets. Advanced schooling generally is required for supervisory positions - including technical occupations - having greater responsibility and higher salaries.

Entry-level jobs in news or program production increasingly require a college degree and some broadcast experience. More than 1,200 institutions offer programs in communications, journalism, and related programs. As of 2004, there were 104 schools accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC). Some community colleges offer 2-year programs in broadcasting. Broadcast trade schools offer courses that last 6 months to a year and teach radio and television announcing, writing, and production.

Individuals pursuing a career in broadcasting often gain initial experience through work at college radio and television stations or through internships at professional stations. Although these positions usually are unpaid, they sometimes provide college credit or tuition. More importantly, they provide hands-on experience and a competitive edge when applying for jobs. In this highly competitive industry, broadcasters are less willing to provide on-the-job training, and instead seek candidates who can perform the job immediately.

Some technical positions require only a high school diploma. However, many broadcast stations seek individuals with training in broadcast technology, electronics, or engineering from a technical school, community college, or 4-year college. An understanding of computer networks and software will become increasingly important as industry use of digital technology expands. Supervisory technical positions and jobs in large stations generally require a college degree.

The Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE) issues certification to technicians who pass a written examination. Several classes of certification are available, requiring increasing levels of experience and knowledge for eligibility. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 mandated that the FCC drop its licensing requirements for transmitter maintenance; SBE certification has filled the void left by the elimination of this license.

Employees in the radio and television broadcasting industry often find their first job in broadcast stations that serve smaller markets. Competition for positions in large metropolitan areas is stronger, and stations in these areas usually seek highly experienced personnel. Because many radio and television stations are small, workers in this industry often must change employers to advance. Relocation to other parts of the country frequently is necessary for advancement.

Other Qualifications


Job Outlook

Employment in broadcasting is expected to increase 11 percent over the 2004-14 period, more slowly than the 14 percent projected for all industries combined. Factors contributing to the relatively slow rate of growth include industry consolidation, introduction of new technologies, and competition from other media outlets. Keen competition is expected for many jobs, particularly in large metropolitan areas, because of the large number of jobseekers attracted by the glamour of this industry. Job prospects will be best for applicants with a college degree in broadcasting, journalism, or a related field as well as relevant work experience.

Consolidation of individual broadcast stations into large networks, especially in radio, has increased as the result of relaxed ownership regulations. This trend will continue to limit employment growth as networks use workers more efficiently. For example, a network can run eight radio stations from one office, producing news programming at one station and then using the programming for broadcast from other stations, thus eliminating the need for multiple news staffs. Similarly, technical workers, upper level management, and marketing and advertising sales workers are pooled to work for several stations simultaneously. In the consolidation of the radio industry, several major companies have purchased numerous stations nationwide. These companies plan to achieve cost savings through consolidation and economies of scale, limiting employment growth.

The introduction of new technology also is slowing employment growth. Conventional broadcast equipment used to be relatively specialized; each piece of equipment served a separate function and required an operator with specialized knowledge. Newer computerized equipment often combines the functions of several older pieces of equipment and does not require specialized knowledge for operation. This reduces the need for certain types of workers, including those responsible for editing, recording, and creating graphics. In addition, increased use of remote monitoring equipment allows technical workers in one location to operate and monitor transmissions at a remote station.

Job growth also is being constrained by the use of radio and television programming created by services outside the broadcasting industry. These establishments provide prepared programming, including music, news, weather, sports, and professional announcer services. The services can easily be accessed through satellite connections and reduce the need for program production and news staff at radio and television stations.

Radio broadcasters expect continued growth in revenues as national media companies that own multiple cable stations, network television stations, and/or radio stations use their combined marketing power to include radio advertising packages with other marketing deals. The new national scope of radio networks allows radio to more effectively sell advertising to large national advertisers to better compete with television networks. The major threats to the radio industry, especially smaller, marginal stations, are from car CD (compact disk) players and from satellite radio, which functions like cable television with subscribers paying a monthly fee.


Weekly earnings of nonsupervisory workers in broadcasting averaged $703 in 2004, higher than the average of $529 for all private industry. As a common rule, earnings of broadcast personnel are highest in large metropolitan areas. Earnings in selected occupations in broadcasting for May 2004 appear in Table 2.

The principal unions representing employees in broadcasting are the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).

Related Occupations

Occupations at large broadcast stations and networks fall into five general categories: Program production, news-related, technical, sales, and general administration. At small stations, jobs are less specialized, and employees often perform several functions. Although on-camera or on-air positions are the most familiar occupations in broadcasting, the majority of employment opportunities are behind the scenes (Table 1).

Program production occupations.
Most television programs are produced by the motion picture and video industry; actors, directors, and producers working on these prerecorded programs are not employed by the broadcasting industry. Employees in program production occupations at television and radio stations create programs such as news, talk, and music shows.

Assistant producers provide clerical support and background research; assist with the preparation of musical, written, and visual materials; and time productions to make sure that they do not run over schedule. Assistant producers also may operate cameras and other audio and video equipment.

Video editors select and assemble pretaped video to create a finished program, applying sound and special effects as necessary. Conventional editing requires assembling pieces of videotape in a linear fashion to create a finished product. The editor first assembles the beginning of the program, and then, works sequentially towards the end. Newer computerized editing allows an editor to electronically cut and paste video segments. This electronic technique is known as nonlinear editing because the editor is no longer restricted to working sequentially; a segment may be moved at any time to any location in the program.

Producers plan and develop live or taped productions, determining how the show will look and sound. They select the script, talent, sets, props, lighting, and other production elements. Producers also coordinate the activities of on-air personalities, production staff, and other personnel. Web site or Internet producers, a relatively new occupation in the broadcasting industry, plan and develop Internet sites that provide news updates, program schedules, and information about popular shows. These producers decide what will appear on the Internet sites, and design and maintain them.