Radio and television announcers present news and commercial messages from a script. They identify the station, announce station breaks, and introduce and close shows. Interviewing guests, making public service announcements, and conducting panel discussions may also be part of the announcer’s work. In small stations, the local announcer may keep the program log, run the transmitter, and cue the changeover to network broadcasting as well as write scripts or rewrite news releases. Approximately 69,000 people are employed as announcers in the United States.
Radio and Television Announcer Career History
Guglielmo Marconi, a young Italian engineer, first transmitted a radio signal in his home in 1895. Radio developed rapidly as people began to comprehend the tremendous possibilities. The stations KDKA in Pittsburgh and WWWJ in Detroit began broadcasting in 1920. Within 10 years, there were radio stations in all the major cities in the United States, and broadcasting had become a big business. The National Broadcasting Company became the first network in 1926 when it linked together 25 stations across the country. The Columbia Broadcasting System was organized in the following year. In 1934, the Mutual Broadcasting Company was founded. The years between 1930 and 1950 may be considered the zenith years of the radio industry. With the coming of television, radio broadcasting took second place in importance as entertainment for the home—but radio’s commercial and communications value should not be underestimated.
Discoveries that led to the development of television can be traced as far back as 1878, when William Crookes invented a tube that produced the cathode ray. Other inventors who contributed to the development of television were Vladimir Zworykin, a Russian-born scientist who came to this country at the age of 20 and is credited with inventing the iconoscope before he was 30; Charles Jenkins, who invented a scanning disk, using vacuum tubes and photoelectric cells; and Philo Farnsworth, who invented an image dissector. WNBT and WCBW, the first commercially licensed television stations, went on the air in 1941 in New York. Both suspended operations during World War II but resumed them in 1946 when television sets began to be manufactured on a commercial scale.
As radio broadcasting was growing across the country in its early days, the need for announcers grew. They identified the station and brought continuity to broadcasts by linking one program with the next as well as participating in many programs. In the early days (and even today in smaller stations) announcers performed a variety of jobs around the station. When television began, many radio announcers and newscasters started to work in the new medium. The need for men and women in radio and television broadcasting has continued to grow. Television news broadcasting requires specialized on-camera personnel— anchors, television news reporters, broadcast news analysts, consumer reporters, and sports reporters (sportscasters).
The Job of Radio and Television Announcers
Some announcers merely announce; others do a multitude of other jobs, depending on the size of the station. But the nature of their announcing work remains the same.
An announcer is engaged in an exacting career. The necessity for finishing a sentence or a program segment at a precisely planned moment makes this a demanding and often tense career. It is absolutely essential that announcers project a sense of calm to their audiences, regardless of the activity and tension behind the scenes.
The announcer who plays recorded music interspersed with a variety of advertising material and informal commentary is called a disc jockey. This title arose when most music was recorded on conventional flat records, or discs. Today much of the recorded music used in commercial radio stations is on magnetic tape or compact discs. Disc jockeys serve as a bridge between the music itself and the listener. They may perform such public services as announcing the time, the weather forecast, or important news. It can be a lonely job, since many disc jockeys are the only person in the studio. But because their job is to maintain the good spirits of their audience and to attract new listeners, disc jockeys must possess the ability to be relaxed and cheerful.
Unlike the more conventional radio or television announcer, the disc jockey is not bound by a written script. Except for the commercial announcements, which must be read as written, the disc jockey’s statements are usually spontaneous. Disc jockeys usually are not required to play a musical selection to the end; they may fade out a record when it interferes with a predetermined schedule for commercials, news, time checks, or weather reports.
Announcers who cover sports events for the benefit of the listening or viewing audience are known as sportscasters. This is a highly specialized form of announcing, as sportscasters must have extensive knowledge of the sports that they cover, plus the ability to describe events quickly, accurately, and compellingly.
Often the sportscaster will spend several days with team members, observing practice sessions, interviewing people, and researching the history of an event or of the teams to be covered. The more information that a sportscaster can acquire about individual team members, tradition of the contest, ratings and history of the team, and community in which the event takes place, the more interesting the coverage is to the audience.
The announcer who specializes in reporting the news to the listening or viewing public is called a newscaster. This job may require simply reporting facts, or it may include editorial commentary. Newscasters may be given the authority by their employers to express their opinions on news items or the philosophies of others. They must make judgments about which news is important and which is not. In some instances, they write their own scripts based on facts that are furnished by international news bureaus. In other instances, they read text exactly as it comes in over a teletype machine. They may make as few as one or two reports each day if they work on a major news program, or they may broadcast news for five minutes every hour or half-hour. Their delivery is usually dignified, measured, and impersonal.
The anchor generally summarizes and comments on one aspect of the news at the end of the scheduled broadcast. This kind of announcing differs noticeably from that practiced by the sportscaster, whose manner may be breezy and interspersed with slang, or from the disc jockey, who may project a humorous, casual, or intimate image.
The newscaster may specialize in certain aspects of the news, such as economics, politics, or military activity. Newscasters also introduce films and interviews prepared by news reporters that provide in-depth coverage and information on the event being reported. News analysts are often called commentators, and they interpret specific events and discuss how these may affect individuals or the nation. They may have a specified daily slot for which material must be written, recorded, or presented live. They gather information that is analyzed and interpreted through research and interviews and cover public functions such as political conventions, press conferences, and social events.
Smaller television stations may have an announcer who performs all the functions of reporting, presenting, and commenting on the news as well as introducing network and news service reports.
Many television and radio announcers have become well-known public personalities in broadcasting. They may serve as masters of ceremonies at banquets and other public events.
Radio and Television Announcer Career Requirements
Although there are no formal educational requirements for entering the field of radio and television announcing, most large stations prefer college-educated applicants. The general reason for this preference is that announcers with broad educational and cultural backgrounds are better prepared to successfully meet a variety of unexpected or emergency situations. The greater the knowledge of geography, history, literature, the arts, political science, music, science, and of the sound and structure of the English language, the greater the announcer’s value.
In high school, therefore, you should focus on a college preparatory curriculum, according to Steve Bell, a professor of telecommunications at Ball State University. A former network anchor who now teaches broadcast journalism, Bell says, “One trend that concerns me is that some high schools are developing elaborate radio and television journalism programs that take up large chunks of academic time, and I think that is getting the cart before the horse. There’s nothing wrong with one broadcast journalism course or extracurricular activities, but not at the expense of academic hours.”
In that college preparatory curriculum, you should learn how to write and use the English language in literature and communication classes, including speech. Subjects such as history, government, economics, and a foreign language are also important.
When it comes to college, having your focus in the right place is essential, according to Professor Bell. “You want to be sure you’re going to a college or university that has a strong program in broadcast journalism, where they also put a strong emphasis on the liberal arts core.”
Some advocate a more vocational type of training in preparation for broadcast journalism, but Bell cautions against strictly vocational training. “The ultimate purpose of college is to have more of an education than you have from a trade school. It is important to obtain a broad-based understanding of the world we live in, especially if your career goal is to become an anchor.”
A strong liberal arts background with emphasis in journalism, English, political science, or economics is advised, as well as a telecommunications or communications major.
Certification or Licensing
A Federal Communications Commission license or permit is no longer required for broadcasting positions. Union membership may be required for employment with large stations in major cities and is a necessity with the networks. The largest talent union is the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Most small stations, however, are nonunion.
You must have a pleasing voice and personality in order to find success as an announcer. You must be levelheaded and able to react calmly in the face of a major crisis. People’s lives may depend on an announcer’s ability to remain calm during a disaster. There are also many unexpected circumstances that demand the skill of quick thinking. For example, if guests who are to appear on a program do not arrive or become too nervous to go on the air, you must compensate immediately and fill the airtime. You must smooth over an awkward phrase, breakdown in equipment, or other technical difficulty.
Good diction and English usage, thorough knowledge of correct pronunciation, and freedom from regional dialects are very important. A factual error, grammatical error, or mispronounced word can bring letters of criticism to station managers.
If you aspire to a career as a television announcer, you must present a good appearance and have no nervous mannerisms. Neatness, cleanliness, and careful attention to the details of proper dress are important. The successful television announcer must have the combination of sincerity and showmanship that attracts and captures an audience.
Broadcast announcing is a highly competitive field. Station officials will pay particular attention to taped auditions of your delivery or, in the case of television, to videotaped demos of sample presentations.
Exploring Radio and Television Announcer Career
If you are interested in a career as an announcer, try to get a summer job at a radio or television station. Although you will probably not have the opportunity to broadcast, you may be able to judge whether or not the type of work appeals to you as a career.
Any chance to speak or perform before an audience should be welcomed. Join the speech or debate team to build strong speaking skills. Appearing as a speaker or performer can show whether or not you have the stage presence necessary for a career in front of a microphone or camera.
Many colleges and universities have their own radio and television stations and offer courses in radio and television. You can gain valuable experience working at college-owned stations. Some radio stations, cable systems, and TV stations offer financial assistance, internships, and co-op work programs, as well as scholarships and fellowships.
Of the roughly 69,000 announcers working in the United States, almost half work in broadcast media. Some work on a freelance basis on individual assignments for networks, stations, advertising agencies, and other producers of commercials. About one-third of announcers work part time.
Some companies own several television or radio stations; some belong to networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC, or Fox, while others are independent. While radio and television stations are located throughout the United States, major markets where better-paying jobs are found are generally near large metropolitan areas.
One way to enter this field is to apply for an entry-level job rather than an announcer position. It is also advisable to start at a small station. Most announcers start in jobs such as production secretary, production assistant, researcher, or reporter in small stations. As opportunities arise, it is common for announcers to move from one job to another. You may be able to find work as a disc jockey, sportscaster, or news reporter. Network jobs are few, and the competition for them is great. You must have several years of experience as well as a college education to be considered for these positions.
You must audition before you will be employed as an announcer. You should carefully select audition material to show a prospective employer the full range of your abilities. In addition to presenting prepared materials, you may be asked to read material that you have not seen previously, such as a commercial, news release, dramatic selection, or poem.
Most successful announcers advance from small stations to large ones. Experienced announcers usually have held several jobs. The most successful announcers may be those who work for the networks. Usually, because of network locations, announcers must live in or near the country’s largest cities.
Some careers lead from announcing to other aspects of radio or television work. More people are employed in sales, promotion, and planning than in performing; often they are paid more than announcers. Because the networks employ relatively few announcers in proportion to the rest of the broadcasting professionals, a candidate must have several years of experience and specific background in several news areas before being considered for an audition. These top announcers generally are college graduates.
Salaries for announcers vary widely, but generally they are low. The exceptions are those announcers who work for major networks and stations that serve large metropolitan areas.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that median hourly earnings for radio and television announcers were $10.64 in 2004, which is about $22,130 a year. The lowest paid 10 percent made less than $6.16 an hour ($12,810 a year) and the highest paid 10 percent made more than $27.61 an hour ($57,420 a year).
Nationally known announcers and newscasters who appear regularly on network television programs receive salaries that may be quite impressive. For those who become top television personalities in large metropolitan areas, salaries also are quite rewarding.
Most radio or television stations broadcast 24 hours a day. Although much of the material may be prerecorded, announcing staff must often be available and as a result may work considerable overtime or split shifts, especially in smaller stations. Evening, night, weekend, and holiday duty may provide additional compensation.
Work in radio and television stations is usually very pleasant. Almost all stations are housed in modern facilities. The maintenance of technical electronic equipment requires temperature and dust control, and people who work around such equipment benefit from the precautions taken to preserve it.
Announcers’ jobs may provide opportunities to meet well-known people. Being at the center of an important communications medium can make the broadcaster more keenly aware of current issues and divergent points of view than the average person.
Announcers and newscasters usually work a 40-hour week, but they may work irregular hours. They may report for work at a very early hour in the morning or work late into the night. Some radio stations operate on a 24-hour basis. All-night announcers may be alone in the station during their working hours.
Radio and Television Announcer Career Outlook
Competition for entry-level employment in announcing during the coming years is expected to be keen, as the broadcasting industry always attracts more applicants than are needed to fill available openings. There is a better chance of working in radio than in television because there are more radio stations. Local television stations usually carry a high percentage of network programs and need only a very small staff to carry out local operations.
The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that opportunities for announcers will decline through 2014 due to the slowing growth of new radio and television stations. Openings will result mainly from those who leave the industry or the labor force. The trend among major networks, and to some extent among many smaller radio and TV stations, is toward specialization in such fields as sportscasting or weather forecasting. Newscasters who specialize in such areas as business, consumer, and health news should have an advantage over other job applicants.