Talking Your Way to the Top: An Introduction to Careers in Broadcasting

by R. Craig
Talking Your Way to the Top: An Introduction to Careers in Broadcasting

With more than 12,000 radio stations, 1,500 television stations and 800 cable TV stations in North America, careers in broadcasting abound. Hard-working, technically savvy people can engage in careers that are not only fun but important to the general population.

"The industry is morphing. It's getting more technical, more computer-based," says Mary Jo Conniff, placement director and vocal coach for the Academy of Radio and TV Broadcasting, Phoenix, Ariz. "But the way I see it, there will always be a market for DJs, for instance. There will always be a market for board operators. I don't see it ever ebbing or stopping being something people want to do."

Everyone knows the glamour jobs in radio and TV: disk jockeys, show hosts, announcers, sportscasters, reporters. But for every star on the air, a broadcast outlet employs dozens more that are equally important - from the sales and marketing staff that funds the operation to the board technicians and cameramen that bring shows to the audience. Writers create copy and scripts for the announcers.

On the technical side, editors create finished programs using pre-taped video or audio, trimming footage and integrating music, sound and special effects as necessary. Engineers make sure broadcasts are transmitted smoothly. Technical directors manage the production of programs. Technical job growth is expected to keep pace with average job growth, according to an industry guide published by the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Camera operation will likely outpace average job growth, the Institute notes.

For most broadcasting careers, graduates should "Think big, start small," according to the National Association of Broadcasters. Even luminaries such as Tom Brokaw started small (he played Elvis songs as a DJ for his Webster, S.D. hometown station). As with most careers, graduates must work their way up.

Del Cockrell, president of the American Broadcasting School in Oklahoma City, Okla., says students can't be afraid to be a big fish in a little pond. "We have many graduates who start out in small markets where they may not make huge money, but they're happy there."

Graduates should be willing to work "unpopular" shifts such as holidays and weekends in order to get their foot in the door, Cockrell reports. First jobs usually involve a variety of tasks. The most frequent entry positions include disc jockey, TV camera operator, news or sports reporter, promotions assistant, sales person and mobile DJ.

Recent graduates should not expect huge paychecks when they start out. In general, TV pays better than radio and commercial stations pay better than public ones.

As is common in most every type of career, salaries are higher in large, metropolitan markets. In order to gain the experience necessary to break into better paying markets, broadcasters usually change jobs frequently, moving to bigger and bigger markets.

"You make as much as your talent shows. You make as much as the audience you command," Cockrell says. "If you're willing to work hard at it, the sky's the limit. If you just want to play a few CDs and take a nap, you're not going to make much."

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