Job: Broadcast engineer
Role: Broadcast engineers have a wide range of responsibilities, the most important of which is keeping broadcasts on the air. To do so, broadcast engineers need to be skilled at designing, installing and maintaining transmission systems. They are also responsible for testing, modifying, and verifying the broadcast station's technical standards.
Salary: Broadcast engineer salaries start at about $40,000 a year, according to Peter Warth, president of the Central Canada Broadcast Engineers trade association.
"A senior person might get up in the 80s, or if they're less qualified or have less responsibilities, it might be in the 60 range, but it depends on the organization," he said, adding that the top position at each organization earns a significantly higher salary. "A chief engineer of a station would be in the $100,000 to $120,000 range."
Education: There is more than one path that leads to a career in broadcast engineering, but most begin with some form of postsecondary education.
A large number of institutions across Canada provide diplomas and certificates in engineering, broadcasting or electronics training, but according to Mr. Warth those who want to reach the higher end of the pay scale should consider a university degree.
"A professional engineer, who is somebody that would end up in a more senior position, would get an engineering degree at U of T or Queen's or McGill or somewhere like that, and have a professional engineering status with a specialization in the broadcast field," he said.
Job prospects: It's no secret that traditional media outlets, including television and radio, have suffered since the recession of 2008, and broadcast engineers are not immune. Each station previously required its own team of engineers, but as smaller stations got swallowed up, those teams were replaced by the in-house staff at large corporations.
"There are independent consultants who do engineering design work and manage installations for hire," Mr. Warth said. "But the bigger organizations like Rogers, Bell and CBC have a large team in-house that they can use for fairly significant projects."
Mr. Warth said that job prospects for broadcast engineers are still "fairly good, but not as good as it used to be."
Challenges: Aside from having to do more with less as a result of media consolidation, the biggest challenge for broadcast engineers is keeping stations on the air, 24/7, no matter what. "That may require being at a transmitter site in the middle of the night, or being prepared to drop everything and jump in if the station goes off the air, because there is very little tolerance for being off the air," Mr. Warth said.
Furthermore, broadcast engineers are rarely included in the credits of the productions they work on. "We're the unsung heroes," he said. "We make it all work, but we never get the credit."
Another challenge is keeping up with new technology, but for many in the industry, that's actually a positive.
Why they do it: According to Mr. Warth, a broadcast engineer's motivation is simple: "It's all about the toys," he said. "They do it because they're born with a love of electronics and tinkering with things and playing with things. We started off building electronics in our basement as kids and love doing that sort of thing."
Mr. Warth said there is also the appeal of working in show business, though broadcast engineers remain further behind the scenes than most people realize.
Misconceptions: People often confuse broadcast engineers with camera operators or producers, but in fact they spend very little time in the studio. "We're in the back room plotting and designing and pulling apart equipment," Mr. Warth said. "We get our toys to play with, and that's enough for us."
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