Behind the scenes in television, there's a large technical crew ensuring the quality and the production of broadcasts - headed up by the broadcast engineer
As a broadcast engineer, you'll work with hardware and broadcast systems that are used across television, radio and new media. It's your job to make sure that programmes are broadcast on time and to the highest quality. As well as operating and maintaining the systems, you'll carry out updates and repairs.
Broadcast engineers work in a variety of locations and situations. They may carry out studio work, set work, post-production operations or be involved in outside broadcasts, where sound and images are relayed live back to a studio or straight to the network.
You'll work with a range of people including producers, studio managers, presenters and other technical staff.
The nature of the work varies according to your location and whether you're based in television, radio or new media, but your tasks may include:
- maintaining specialist equipment for video production, broadcast and satellite transmission and interactive media
- setting up and monitoring audiovisual links between units in different locations
- installing and testing new facilities and equipment
- setting up and operating editing facilities in post-production suites
- analysing and repairing technical faults on equipment and systems
- minimising loss of service when equipment fails by quickly identifying and implementing alternative methods of service provision
- setting up and operating equipment and transmission links during outside broadcasts
- designing and installing custom audiovisual circuits
- designing and manufacturing hardware and systems
- developing and using awareness of best practice in health and safety for the workplace
- interpreting and implementing instructions and requests from producers, directors and other colleagues
- communicating effectively with members of the team and other colleagues
- keeping up to date with the industry and changes in technology by building and maintaining a network of contacts and investigating new systems and techniques.
- Starting salaries for broadcast engineers vary, but may be in the region of £18,000 to £20,000.
- Those on initial training schemes may earn less, but this is dependent on the employer. For example, the BBC Engineering Traineeship offers a starting salary of £20,000 to £29,000. Schemes usually come with other benefits, such as obtaining a degree while you train.
- Experienced broadcast engineers can earn anything from £30,000 to £60,000, with high-end salaries usually reserved for those working within large broadcasting companies in senior lead roles.
The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematographic and Theatre Union (BECTU) may be able to advise on day rates for freelance broadcast engineers.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours can be long and usually include regular unsocial hours - weekend, evening and night work is common, as you'll be working shifts. You may be required to work long hours at short notice, particularly for rolling news channels and other live programming.
What to expect
- Studios are booked in advance and you must be available to fit this schedule. If there are technical or operational difficulties in a broadcast, you'll be expected to work until the job is done. Extra hours are inevitable on a regular basis.
- Your working environment can vary from the comfort of a studio to extreme conditions on location. You might be placed on location abroad and occasionally required to work in difficult conditions.
- You'll be required to address technical problems as quickly and efficiently as possible, so your working environment can feel high-pressured.
- The nature of the job is changing as new technologies are adopted across the industry, simplifying traditional broadcast hardware in some sectors (e.g. lighter cameras in documentary making and use of WiFi and internet technologies) and combining IT skills with traditional engineering skills.
- To be successful in securing freelance work, you'll need to be highly organised and skilled in your own self-management and promotion, able to use a range of equipment, up to date in your knowledge and flexible with location.
- Career breaks are possible, although this depends on your employer. Some companies require you to have worked with them for a length of time before you can take a career break.
- Television and radio stations are found in most areas of the UK. Jobs with independent production companies and post-production facilities are mainly in London and the South East. Leading employers have bases in London, Birmingham, Salford and other large cities.
- Location work and outside broadcasts (OBs) may involve working away from home on a regular basis or for fairly long periods and may also include working abroad.
Most broadcast engineers enter as trainees on new entrant trainee schemes, which are run by various broadcast companies. To gain entry onto a scheme, you'll usually require a degree in a closely related subject, such as:
- broadcast engineering or technology
- computer science
- electrical engineering
- electronic engineering
Entry is possible if you have a degree from another discipline, an HND or foundation degree or strong numeracy skills as shown by good A-levels (or equivalent) in maths and/or physics. An active interest in, and an ability to work with technology is also important.
Some companies may accept you without a higher level qualification if you have relevant science or technology A-levels and have experience or a proven interest in the work. In these instances, the scheme may allow you to work towards a degree at the same time.
The BBC runs a three-year broadcast engineering apprenticeship which leads to a Broadcast and Media Systems Engineering degree.
If you're already working in broadcasting, for example as a runner, you may be able to move into this role via internal training schemes. It's also possible to progress to this level through entry as a technician and part-time training.
Postgraduate qualifications are not required but can help you gain experience of the industry.
You'll need to show evidence of the following:
- experience in electronic engineering and using communication equipment
- sufficient colour vision and hearing
- the ability to apply digital (and analogue) theory and work from diagrammatic information
- excellent IT skills
- the ability to work well in teams
- fault-finding skills and the capacity to solve technical problems in a creative way
- strong communication and people skills
- excellent attention to detail
- time management skills
- the ability to remain calm under pressure
- a proactive and results-focused approach to work
- stamina and physical fitness.
Having pre-entry experience, such as work experience with a production company or in local television or radio, is important. Major broadcasters offer several work experience opportunities annually. These include:
Be prepared to be persistent in approaching producers, directors and other industry contacts for work experience. Find addresses and named contacts in directories such as:
Although it's important to show your enthusiasm, employers will be more concerned with your knowledge of, insight into or experience of the industry.
It's important to prepare well before asking for pre-entry work experience. Reading relevant press will help you learn more about the industry:
Searching for jobs can be very challenging early on. Networking is vital to help gain entry and progress in the industry. Talk to as many people in the industry as you can and take advantage of any work experience to develop your range of contacts.
The main employers are terrestrial and digital television channels (e.g. the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C in Wales), and the numerous production companies that provide content for these channels.
There are also opportunities with cable, satellite and digital broadcasters, for example BSkyB, as well as overseas broadcasters based in the UK, outside broadcast (OB) companies, local television, news specialists and radio production companies.
There are many production and post-production facilities and studios in and around London. The main media centre outside of London is in Salford, which is the BBC's largest presence outside of London.
Training opportunities within television companies are linked to operational needs and while companies such as the BBC may aim for annual recruitment, this cannot be guaranteed.
As well as in the national press, you can look for job vacancies at:
Jobs are also featured on the websites of major broadcasters including:
Use directories to get contacts for speculative applications. Relevant directories include:
As a trainee, you'll start by learning skills on the job over approximately the first 18 months, attending specific courses once you have proven yourself to your employer. You'll usually rotate around teams, working with experienced engineers and technical managers.
Structured training programmes may lead to chartered engineer (CEng) status if the requirements of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) are met.
Details of media courses and course providers can be found at ScreenSkills - Education & training.
You need to keep up to date with developments in technology and will often be required to undertake further training in the use of new equipment. This is usually organised by employers, but if you are freelance, you will need to build it into your planned earnings and work schedules.
You will typically start in a trainee role, in a post such as network operations assistant, before becoming a fully trained broadcast engineer. You'll then gain seniority as you develop knowledge and your reputation within the industry.
You may go on to specialise in particular systems or technology, or you could take responsibility for upgrading and modifying specialist software.
After you've completed your initial training and gained a suitable amount of experience, it's possible to move into a team leader role. Promotion is based on merit. As a senior broadcast engineer, you may be responsible for supervising and training a team of broadcast engineers and may be involved in strategic planning.
This is a competitive field. Recruitment for short contracts or fixed-term projects often takes place based on reputation (smaller companies will often approach experienced freelancers), so networking within the industry is vital to developing a career and maintaining full employment.
Within some companies, following several years' experience, it may be possible to progress from broadcast engineer into management roles within the industry.