Broadcasting Sound Operator
Broadcasting sound operators capture the best sound for television or radio broadcasts, or for film. They operate a wide variety of sound equipment.
Also known as
- Sound Operator
- Radio Sound Operator
- Recording Sound Operator
- Audio Operator
Broadcasting sound operators work in television or radio broadcasting, or film. They work in studios, on film sets, in post-production units, and on location with outside broadcast units.
In television studios, broadcasting sound operators work on the studio floor. Their job is to capture the right sound for any programme. They make sure that the studio sound system is working properly.
They set up, position and operate sound booms, microphones and loudspeakers. They fix microphones to people who appear in the programmes, and operate mobile microphones to pick up sound without viewers noticing what is happening. They are also responsible for maintaining equipment.
During recording, they monitor the sound through headphones.
Broadcasting sound operators who do this work are usually junior members of the team, and are often known as sound assistants. Responsibilities might vary depending on the type and size of the programme or production.
In radio, broadcasting sound operators operate mixing desks, recording equipment and music players. They may use technical equipment to create sound effects. Work takes place in radio studios, which are usually smaller than television studios.
On location for television and radio broadcasts and on outdoor film sets, broadcasting sound operators rig up and take apart equipment. When covering outdoor events like football matches, political rallies and cultural events, they check the quality of the link back to the studio.
Digital equipment and computers are commonly used in this type of work.
Broadcasting sound operators sometimes need to work away from home for location recordings and outside broadcasts. They may have to work in all types of weather.
In post-production, broadcasting sound operators use a range of technical equipment to mix sound, create sound effects and add narration. They may also remove any unwanted background noise, eg, from outdoor recordings.
More experienced broadcasting sound operators usually do mixing and editing work.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
As a broadcasting sound operator, you need:
- A strong interest in producing or recording sound at high quality.
- An understanding of basic physics and sound equipment.
- To cope with working long hours and sticking to deadlines.
- Stamina and the ability to stay calm and work well under pressure.
- To enjoy solving problems and being part of a team.
- To be numerate and literate, for example, to take sound measurements and follow written instructions.
- Good organisational skills, to co-ordinate the different sound elements.
- Punctuality - the rest of the broadcasting team will rely on you being there at the right time.
- A reasonable level of fitness, as you'll spend a lot of time on your feet and will need to hold equipment, which may be heavy.
Pay and Opportunities
Salaries for broadcasting sound operators vary depending on which part of the industry they work in, whether they are employed or self-employed, and their role and responsibilities.
The pay rates given below are approximate.
Broadcasting sound operators earn in the range of £16,000 - £19,000 a year, rising to £24,000 - £33,500 a year.
Hours of work
Broadcasting sound operators often work long and irregular hours, including nights and weekends.
What's happening in this work area?
Competition for broadcasting sound operator posts is strong. Opportunities for permanent positions are limited, as employers tend to favour freelance broadcasting sound operators.
Where could I work?
Employers include the BBC, independent television and film companies, commercial radio stations, and satellite and cable television firms.
Opportunities for broadcasting sound operators occur with broadcasters in towns and cities throughout the UK.
Opportunities occur for broadcasting sound operators to become self-employed, freelance operators, often employed on short-term contracts.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised in local/national newspapers, trade industry publications, at Jobcentre Plus and on the Universal Jobmatch website.
Vacancies can also be found through specialist engineering recruitment agencies, internet job boards and the websites of professional engineering bodies.
Entry Routes and Training
Probably the most important entry requirement for this type of work is practical experience.
To enter a course or training scheme, you usually need to have some knowledge, understanding and practical experience of sound equipment.
You can get this experience through hospital or local radio, as an amateur DJ, or by taking part in amateur dramatics or music recording.
You can study sound operating at a variety of levels. Many courses combine sound recording with television and video techniques - they may include sound for the theatre.
An Intermediate or Advanced Level Apprenticeship is also great place to start. You might be able to take an NVQ as part of your apprenticeship.
Other courses lead to a variety of awards, including City & Guilds and BTEC qualifications, college certificates and diplomas, HNDs, first degrees and postgraduate degrees.
Foundation degrees in broadcasting-related subjects are also available. Titles include music technology, sound studio technology and sound/broadcast engineering. These may enable you to progress onto an accredited degree course.
New entrants usually start in a trainee role, learning alongside experienced staff.
From time to time, the BBC runs training schemes. These are advertised as they come up, in the press and on the BBC website. Entry to these schemes is highly competitive.
Many sound operators in the film and television industry work on a freelance basis, and sometimes broadcasting companies will only use freelancers.
Contracts can range from one day to several months. There are specialist agencies that help freelancers to find work. Freelancers can also place advertisements in directories and the press, as well as approaching companies directly.
Broadcasting sound operators can progress to specialist posts or to team leader/supervisor positions after further training and experience.
There are no formal academic requirements for entry to this career. Practical skills gained, an aptitude for the subject and a good knowledge of physics, maths and English are very helpful.
To get onto an Intermediate or Advanced Level Apprenticeship, you’ll usually need five GCSEs at grade C/4 or above, possibly including English and Maths.
Other relevant qualifications, such as a Foundation or Higher level Diploma in Engineering or Creative and Media, for example, may be accepted for entry to this career.
For entry to a relevant degree course, the usual minimum requirement is:
- 2/3 A levels
- GCSEs at grade C/4 or above in 2/3 other subjects.
For entry to a relevant HND course, the usual requirement is at least 1 A level pass.
Other qualifications, such as a relevant BTEC Level 3 qualification, or the International Baccalaureate Diploma are often accepted. Check college/university websites very carefully.
Relevant vocational qualifications include:
- BTEC Level 3 - Live Sound and Event Management
- City & Guilds Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 - Sound Engineering and Music Technology.
A driving licence is normally essential.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A-level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
People sometimes enter after having gained sound operating skills in areas such as local radio and music recording, or in other jobs in the broadcasting industry.
Numerous local colleges or training providers offer evening or weekend courses in relevant subjects.
- 55% of people in occupations such as broadcasting sound operator are self-employed.
- 22% work part-time.
- 5% have flexible hours.
- 20% of employees work on a temporary basis.
Professional institutionsProfessional institutions have the following roles:
- To support their members.
- To protect the public by keeping standards high in their professions.
For more information on the institution(s) relevant to this career, check out the contacts below.
Apprenticeships: Get In. Go Far
National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)
Tel: 0800 015 0400
Skills Development Scotland - Modern Apprenticeships
Tel: 0800 9178000
City & Guilds
Address: 1 Giltspur Street, London EC1A 9DD
Tel: 020 7294 2468
British Film Institute (BFI)
Skills for the creative industries
Publisher: Creative & Cultural Skills
Creative & Cultural Skills
Skills for craft, cultural heritage, design, literature, music, performing arts and visual arts
Northern Ireland Screen
Northern Ireland Enquiries
British Kinematograph, Sound and Television Society (BKSTS) Accreditation
Edinburgh International Television Festival (MGEITF)
Tel: 0207 278 9515
Association of Professional Recording Services (APRS)
Address: PO Box 22, Totnes, Devon TQ9 7YZ
Tel: 01803 868600
Professional Lighting and Sound Association (PLASA)
Address: Redoubt House, 1 Edward Road, Eastbourne, East Sussex BN23 8AS
Tel: 01323 524120
Joint Audio Media Education Support (JAMES)
Address: PO Box 915, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP20 9FT
Careers Wales - Welsh Apprenticeships
Tel: 0800 028 4844
S4C (Welsh Enquiries)
Address: Parc Ty Glas, Llanishen, Cardiff, UK, CF14 5DU
Tel: 029 2046 5533