Broadcasting Career Field Structure
Broadcasting is the electronic transmission of images and/or sound. Radio and television are the main broadcasting media. The radio and television industry is made up of a large number of relatively small and independent stations that are individually owned and operated. Approximately 327,000 people were employed in the radio and television broadcasting industry in 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
In television, large stations located in metropolitan centers can employ several hundred people, whereas a small station in a small city may employ as few as 35 people. In radio, the smallest station may employ only four or five full-time people. Many television stations and radio stations are affiliated with one of the national networks. An affiliate station is not owned by the network, but merely has a business contract under which it is supplied by its network with a considerable amount of programming. This programming may consist of national or international news and news analysis, which can be put together more efficiently and cost effectively at the network headquarters.
In television, the typical affiliate is supplied with programs during a portion of the morning hours, a portion of the afternoon hours, and a portion of the evening hours. During the remaining time, the station develops its own programming. This programming may be locally developed and presented live, or it may be videotaped for later showing. Stations also purchase programs from various organizations that produce shows for general sale or else have acquired the rights to them. Each station develops the particular program format that in its judgment will best serve its market.
Cable television networks operate under some of the same arrangements as commercial television stations. Some cable networks are advertiser-supported. These networks may carry original programming or purchase rights to rebroadcast shows that originally aired on commercial television. Other cable networks are subscriber supported. These networks tend to run motion pictures, special broadcasts of sports or entertainment events, and movies produced specifically for cable.
Cable systems may also transmit material that is not limited by the restrictions of language, subject matter, or motion picture audience ratings that affect commercial television broadcasts. Pay-per-view cable programming often covers special events that the viewer can opt to pay for on an event-by-event basis.
Radio is structured similarly to television, but there are some significant differences. With the rise of television, the amount and variety of programs offered in radio was reduced. In radio, the network’s major responsibility is to supply news and feature programs of national interest that would be difficult for the individual station to produce. By the 1980s, satellite distribution of such programming became commonplace.
Radio and television depend on electromagnetic waves to carry signals from the transmitting tower to the receiver in the home. Each broadcast requires a certain amount of air space for a certain amount of time; otherwise interference would occur. Thus each user of space is assigned an area of the spectrum, which is referred to as a channel in television and a frequency in radio.
There are many users of the spectrum besides radio and television stations, including the federal government (particularly the Armed Forces), state and municipal governments for police and similar types of communications, and private users of all types. Private users include airlines, private communication concerns, and amateurs. Without the assignment of spectrum space by a central authority, communications would be chaotic because of signal interference.
Because of the need for regulation in the broadcast industry, Congress established the 1927 Federal Radio Commission, which in 1934 became the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC became an independent agency of the federal government composed of five commissioners appointed for terms of five years by the President. It supervises and allocates spectrum space, makes channel assignments, and licenses radio and television stations for periods of seven and five years respectively to applicants who are legally, technically, and financially qualified.
The FCC determines whether the operation of each station will be “in the public interest, convenience, and necessity.” If there is more than one applicant for a station frequency, the FCC decides which should receive the license. At the end of the license period, the FCC reviews the overall operation of the station and determines whether its license shall be renewed.
The commission also sets limits on the number of broadcasting stations that a single individual or organization can control. The 1996 Telecommunications Act removed all limits on group size nationally and raised the number of stations that a broadcaster can own in one market to a maximum of eight. This new leniency has paved the way for large station and network mergers in recent years.
The FCC issues regulations for broadcasting stations concerning engineering and operating standards and certain other matters, such as indecency. It defines indecency as any material that is considered patently offensive, as measured by contemporary community standards, and which deals with sexual or excretory functions or organs.
The FCC has also been involved in introducing digital television transmission. The FCC required major network affiliates in the top 10 markets to build digital transmitting facilities by May 1, 1999. All other commercial stations in all markets were required to construct digital broadcast facilities by 2006.
Broadcasting is affected by politics, but it is primarily a business in the usual sense, dependent on sales and profits for its continued existence. It is particularly exciting because it is like show business with a stopwatch; programming is timed down to the second, and precision and speed are crucial for both taped and live broadcasts. Broadcasting relies on the creativity of its employees to develop and hold the interest of its listening and viewing audiences. Yet, because of the unremitting pressures of deadlines, broadcasting must be geared to quick decisions and quick action.