You're On In Five: An Introduction to Broadcasting

by April Karbowsky
You're On In Five: An Introduction to Broadcasting

Oprah... Howard Stern... Larry King... Dan Rathers... Rush Limbaugh... Barbara Walters...

Years ago each of these people started at small radio or television stations and now they are all at the top tier in the world of broadcasting. They all have similar passions... they stay current on what's going on in the world and then communicate their knowledge and ideas on these topics to the public. If you feel the way they do, a career in broadcasting may be a good fit for you. You may want to be in the forefront of broadcasting with a job as an announcer or sportscaster, or if you prefer, a job in a support position may be more satisfying. These positions can include producers, directors, editors, copywriters, camera operators, and many more.

History vs. Present

Traditionally, broadcasting has been the distribution of audio- or visual-based programming designed to reach predetermined target markets by means of radio or television reception. Advances in technology have brought the advent of "webcasting" - a form of content delivery designed for the Internet. Webcasting includes delivering content produced for internet-only distribution, as well as a current trend whereby large communications companies adapt live or pre-produced broadcast material for insertion on radio or television websites that are part of their existing roster. For example, NBC News televises The Today Show each weekday morning and, by early afternoon, clips from featured interviews on that particular day's show have been fed to a webcast on NBC's online partner site, MSNBC.

Even when new content is being created to be delivered on an Internet-only basis, the personnel involved in the entire process can be relatively the same as those involved in the production of more conventional broadcast programs. A difference is seen when it comes to getting the programs out to the public. Sites involved with webcasts have an added need for professionals with a high degree of expertise the area of content delivery mechanisms for the Internet. This includes working knowledge of webcast applications, coding expertise, and the understanding of networks, digital and streaming technologies, and in some cases, privacy and security issues.

Some industry professionals do not consider webcasting as a part of broadcasting simply because of the very nature of broadcasting itself. According to Dictionary.com, the definition of broadcasting is that it is "a medium that disseminates via telecommunication" with telecommunication defined as "the science and technology of communication at a distance by electronic transmission of impulses, as by telegraph, cable, telephone, radio, or television." Franc Kozamernick of the European Broadcasting Union stated in "Webcasting - the broadcasters' perspective" in 2000 that "the distinction between conventional broadcasting and the Internet begins to blur." Since that comment was made, webcasting has made impressive technological strides, and though it utilizes a very different method of information delivery than those involved in traditional broadcasting, it is still a means of getting information out to a wide contingency of individuals. For the purposes of this article, it will be included as a type of broadcasting.

What Is Broadcasting?

Some radio stations have various formats throughout the day - mixing talk, news, and music, while others have one general theme - such as an oldies station or all talk formats. In the case of television, stations may provide programming for children in the early hours, housewives in midday, family entertainment during early evening hours, and have more adult-oriented shows in the later portion of an evening, or they may be dedicated to one particular format - such as HGTV, which airs home and gardening information all day long.

The success of a station is measured by levels of listener or viewer retention that is gauged on a steady basis by professional monitoring services, such as Neilsen Media Research for television or Arbitron for radio. A station's success depends not only on the on-air personality's performance, but also on the coordination of programming, the quality of production, and the various other functions that go into making the on-air programs entertaining and informative to the station's target audience.

Careers in broadcasting can be broken down into five basic categories: On-air announcing, program direction, production, writing, and other jobs.

On-air Announcing

Announcers are the most easily recognized of the broadcast personae. You tune them in to find out about your news, sports, and weather. They give you topic-loaded insider comments about some of your favorite shows, read commercials to you, interview guests on talk shows, or preside over panel discussions.

In news broadcasting, announcers are primarily concerned with the delivery of on-air reports, while television stations will also hire announcers to host variety and talk shows.

Stations compete to find personalities that have the right look, voice, and general charisma that will attract and keep a loyal following. News announcers are paid to coordinate and deliver the news and, in some cases, they are also required to research and write their own stories. Variety and talk show hosts are required to become informed about the show's guests and the topics to discuss, make sure that the guest stays engaged in exciting commentary, know when to take breaks for commercial endorsements, and keep a show's schedule moving at the right pace.

Radio stations that are an all-music format hire announcers (usually called disc jockeys) to provide between-song commentary, and sometimes read news, weather, and traffic reports. All-talk radio stations usually require their on-air personalities to be well-versed in the topic that their show covers (political, religious, gardening, health, financial, etc.) and then the day-to-day performance is similar to that of the television talk show host.

Program Direction

Program directors have the responsibility of setting the tone for all content that a station provides. Some stations provide a broad range of styles, attempting to reach out to as many types of demographic sets as possible. Television network stations are a good example of this, offering programming for all ages at various times throughout any given day. Other stations try to fill a need for niche markets (narrowcasting), with stations devoted to the likes of home repair, classic TV reruns, game shows, cooking, or science fiction. Program directors work closely with their station's management and sales teams to determine and tailor the station's overall presence. They also decide what shows will run and at what times in an effort to draw the greatest number of viewers and increase the station's overall ratings, which then drives up key advertising revenue.

For radio stations, program directors provide the same types of services, except that instead of deciding what television shows to air, they are responsible for the creation of play lists of songs for the audience to hear and for determining what talk or information shows are to run.

Producers

Once the "tone" is set by the Program Directors, the responsibility of coordinating all of a station's specific content falls squarely in the lap of the producers. Different departments might handle news, programming, advertising, writing, and other production functions, but the producers have to ensure that they all are kept informed of assignments to be met, schedules to be adhered to, and of changes that may be made to either as production moves along. Success in production efforts provides for a smooth transition as stations switch between programs, news, weather and traffic updates, commercials, and station-identification alerts.

In either television or radio, the producer also is responsible for overseeing the production of original shows and commercials.

Writing

News writers at large stations write the news that on-air announcers and reporters will read. Before doing so, they might review reporter's notes, perform background research, confirm interview sources, and adapt newswire reports. At smaller stations it is not uncommon to find that an announcer's job description includes researching, writing, and editing his own material.

Copywriters create written material to be used by businesses to promote their goods or services. Large businesses often hire advertising agencies with copywriters to write their ads; however, many stations have copywriters available for this service. Small stations typically use staff other than copywriters to create ads for advertisers and even for the station itself.

Original entertainment programs, like variety shows or dramas, employ scriptwriters who are responsible for creating material, sometimes on a very fast-paced basis. These positions are usually difficult to find, extremely competitive, and typically available only at larger stations.

Other Jobs

Other broadcasting employees work at jobs in video and audio production, editing, engineering, camera and audio operations, technical direction, information technology, marketing, and sales. In these positions, like the others, people work under a great deal of pressure to meet deadlines. This can make for erratic work schedules, with employees sometimes working early mornings or late into the evening.

Although the broadcasting industry is known for high pressure and sometimes demanding hours, the work is generally not hazardous and many people find the excitement of this industry is a good trade off.

Typical Broadcasting Jobs

  • Audio Production
  • Television Production
  • Film Production
  • Radio Broadcasting
  • On-air Personality/Disc Jockey
  • News Reporter
  • Voice Overs
  • Copywriting
  • Acting
  • Producing
  • Directing
  • Camera Operation & Photography
  • Studio Production
  • Lighting
  • Film & Video Editing
  • Sportscaster

More job titles can be found at TVJobs.com. The linked list shows job titles (over 350) as submitted by actual people working in the field.

Another very good site to check out is ArticleInsider.com which provides an abundance of information on the different types of positions found in broadcasting.

Working In Broadcasting

Being a team player is important in the broadcasting field. It is imperative to remember that all personnel at a station must work together to ensure that the quality and timeliness of a station's broadcasts are met. The station needs to attract the largest audience possible, which in turn attracts advertising dollars and keeps the business operable. Advertising dollars are the main revenue source for any station, except in the case of many non-profits which try to lock in public and private funding sources instead.

To work in broadcasting, it is helpful if you have a broadcasting degree or a background in communications or journalism, although these are not necessary and many people move into good positions without them. You should know that the "glamour" jobs are hard to come by and competition for them is extremely fierce. Most of those breaking into the industry start at a small radio or television station to get hands-on practice interviewing local politicians, sports, and news personalities and producing news programs and commercials.

If your goal is to have a career in broadcasting and you don't want an on-air spot, then finding an engaging and creative position in the supporting roles of this field is realistic and attainable. Keep in mind, though, that the pay can be low and the hours long, often at times of the day when you normally wouldn't want to be working. In addition, since so many radio and television stations are small, you may have to change employers several times to advance in your career. Frequently, relocation to other parts of the country is necessary to make such a move.

Education

Colleges and trade schools offer formal programs in mass communications, journalism, and radio or television broadcasting, writing, and production. Even technical jobs are now being covered as new technologies come into place, requiring employees to have a better understanding of computers, networks, and other forms of digital technology. Courses of study can be as long as 4 years or as short as 6 months, depending on the path you decide to take.

Bachelor level programs at universities or colleges can be found with majors such as mass communications, journalism, broadcasting, media studies, etc. Typically, these programs offer an education rooted in liberal arts with concentrations in various aspects of the industry. Courses for the concentrations are designed to teach students technical, conceptual, and theoretical applications about the field and prepare them for entry-level jobs upon graduation. Some concentrations include the following:

  • Radio production & programming
  • Television or video production
  • Writing for electronic media
  • Media analysis & criticism
  • Media production
  • Public relations
  • Audio production
  • Broadcast journalism
  • Media studies
  • Business aspects of electronic media
  • Educational & instructional media
  • New media technologies

Course requirements for specific concentrations are usually predetermined by the school and leave little room for customization, however some schools allow for "independent study" classes to be chosen. In this situation, a student can select a couple of classes that satisfy a special interest. Below is a representative example of classes offered in journalism and mass communications programs at some universities or colleges:

  • Website development
  • Interactive multimedia production
  • Graphic design
  • Animation
  • Film production & editing
  • Photo manipulation
  • Television production & editing
  • Radio production & editing
  • Broadcast journalism
  • Print journalism
  • Screenwriting
  • Public relations
  • Video production & editing
  • Electronic communication
  • Internet communications
  • Media communications

Trade schools offer quicker and more intensified programs of study, usually aimed at getting students thoroughly trained in one particular area of the broadcasting field. Programs don't include studies in English, math, science, and history like at the universities. Even classes on theory, analysis, and business principles are excluded. Some time is spent on classroom lectures, however the general theme of an education provided by a trade schools is that hands-on, real-world experience makes for the most well-trained student. If a student wants to be a camera operator, study begins by learning about and then working on a camera; future videotape editors learn the editing process then work with actual tape and editing machines; and would-be newscasters work in front of a microphone or camera to hone their skills. At some schools, students also will work collectively on larger projects (i.e.: commercial production, preparation and delivery of on-air shows, sportscasts) to obtain a more broad base of experience. Training is supervised by professionals who are educators in the field and, in some cases, currently working in the profession.

Whether you are looking to work on-air or off, it is generally best to have some real work experience. This can be attained by working for your school's radio or television station as an intern or volunteer, or by approaching local stations to find other potential opportunities. These positions are usually unpaid, however you may be able to obtain college credits or tuition reimbursements instead. Hands-on-training is considered one of the most desirable aspects for a potential job candidate to have because stations want you to be able to begin working immediately and with little further instruction.

Job Outlook

The employment outlook for broadcasting is expected to increase by only approximately 9 percent over the 2002-12 period, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Competition from other media outlets (internet, satellite, etc.), introduction of new technologies, and industry consolidation are contributors to the slow growth for this field. Many small stations have been consolidated into larger broadcast networks. This trend has caused employers to create ways to use existing employees more effectively. For example, a news program or talk show can be produced once and then broadcast from all of the station's affiliates simultaneously. This eliminates the need for multiple news or production teams. Other employee efforts, from technicians to upper level managers, are also being pooled to achieve costs savings across the board for large broadcast networks.

New technology also is impeding the employment growth in the traditional areas of broadcasting. Where conventional broadcast equipment used to be very specialized, new computerized equipment usually combines the functionality of several older pieces and requires less manpower and knowledge to perform even complex operations. In particular, this new equipment has decreased the need for individuals whose sole responsibility was either editing, recording, or creating graphics. In addition, this equipment can be controlled remotely, which allows the user to operate and monitor transmissions from a distance, again eliminating excessive employees.

Services outside of the traditional broadcasting industry that create and use radio and television programs also are slowing job growth. Prepared programming, including news, weather, music, sports, commentaries, and announcer services are created by these services and are accessed by listeners or viewers over satellite or internet connections (i.e.: WABC-AM News Talk Radio 77, The Christian Internet Radio & Television Network, National Public Radio (NPR), BBC News Television, Air America Radio). Similar to production techniques used at the broadcasting conglomerates, programs only need to be created once and then they are sent out over multiple media types. Again, this reduces the need for news and production staffs.

Finding Jobs

Getting a job in broadcasting is competitive, so individuals should start looking for potential opportunities before graduating. People in the industry often say that one of the best ways to find work is to be willing to do whatever a station manager wants you to do - even if it is not what you went to school for, and do it at any time of the day (evening and overnight shifts are not uncommon). This not only gets you in, but it also shows that you are willing to keep on learning and can be a team player in the process.

To look for jobs, there are several sources to consider:

A school's career placement office

Many schools work with locally and even nationally-based broadcasting companies and communications organizations to provide current job listings for future graduates. It is wise to check out these opportunities early in your educational process as job descriptions can often give insight as to courses and skills that should be obtained prior to graduation.

Trade publications

Trade publications provide another good source for finding employment. Many hardcopy publications have an online counterpart and, in most cases, the online versions have current job listings or provide links to other sites related to the trade. Some suggested sites include the following:

Trade associations

Many associations post job listings on their sites that do not show up anywhere else. In addition to national and worldwide sites for broadcasters, individuals should be sure to look for broadcasting associations listed by state as well. Examples are:

Career websites

Other than the large generally-oriented career websites, be sure to look for sites specifically aimed at listing jobs in television, radio, and communications such as:

  • TVJobs.com subscribers can access a current and comprehensive list that indicates what salaries were paid for specific positions in a given market during a certain time frame.
  • Linden Report Index - Links to jobs at television stations around the country in order of Demographic Market Area size.
  • CareerPage - a job bank provided by The National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations.

Not to be overlooked are the sites for television and radio networks, and especially their local affiliates. Often jobs posted by affiliates are ones that pertain to the station alone, not necessarily to network-level positions. Radio-Locator is a great tool as it provides links to over 10,000 radio station web pages, searchable by state, zipcode, or call letters.

Also of note is TVRadioWorld which provides a searchable database of stations on a worldwide basis and includes information on whether or not a station has webcast capabilities in place.

Summary

Careers in broadcasting can be very diversified, hectic, exciting, and challenging. With a solid education and lots of practical on-the-job experience while in school, new graduates can expect to find many opportunities to choose from. Graduates need to remember that they may initially have to make temporary concessions as to the type of work being done or the hours worked just to "get a foot in the door," and relocation may be required as well.

With hard work, the ability to think on one's feet, an open-minded attitude, and dedication to learning new skills, individuals can go far in this field and have very rewarding careers.

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