Broadcast engineers lead a technical crew in supporting the production of broadcasts in television, radio and new media
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.
You may work across a variety of locations and situations, working in studios, on set, in post-production operations or 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.
Broadcast engineers are also sometimes known as systems engineers, operations engineers or project engineers.
Your tasks may vary according to your location and whether you're based in television, radio or new media, but you'll most likely need to:
- maintain specialist equipment for video production, broadcast and satellite transmission and interactive media
- set up and monitor audiovisual links between units in different locations
- install and test new facilities and equipment
- set up and operate editing facilities in post-production suites
- analyse and repair technical faults on equipment and systems
- minimise loss of service when equipment fails by quickly identifying and implementing alternative methods of service provision
- set up and operate equipment and transmission links during outside broadcasts
- design and install custom audiovisual circuits
- design and manufacture hardware and systems
- develop and implement best practice in health and safety for the workplace
- interpret and respond to instructions and requests from producers, directors and other colleagues
- communicate effectively with members of the team and other colleagues
- keep 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 are generally around £20,000.
- Apprenticeships and training schemes, are usually paid and come with other benefits, such as obtaining a degree while you train. As an example, the BBC pays £19,500, plus London weighting of almost £5,000 for its engineering degree apprenticeship.
- 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 trade union for the media and entertainment industries Bectu provides advice 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
- Your working environment can vary from the comfort of a studio to extreme conditions on location. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- You'll be required to address technical problems quickly and efficiently and with broadcasting schedules to meet your working environment can feel pressured. There is considerable overlap between engineering and IT skills, and you'll need to keep up with new technologies as they develop.
- To successfully secure freelance work, you'll need to be highly organised and manage your own promotion. You may also need to be more flexible in terms of location and willing to travel.
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.
The BBC runs trainee schemes and apprenticeships in Design, Engineering & Technology, such as its a three-year Engineering Degree Apprenticeship (Broadcast and Media Systems).
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.
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'll 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.
With several years' experience, it's possible to progress from broadcast engineer into management roles within the industry.