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‘Depressing,’ ‘Concerning’ Compensation For Engineers

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One reader sounds off on the results of an engineering salary survey and reveals trouble ahead.

It took about a day to get an insightful response from one former TV chief engineer to my story in mid-July on the just-released salary survey of broadcast engineers from SBE.

The headline of my story was: “Average TV Chief Engineer Salary Approaches $80,000.” Reading it, however, revealed the true annual average was $77,122 and the median was $70,000.

“[T]his revelation is both depressing and concerning. Being a former chief engineer, and speaking for myself, I eventually came to the conclusion that it was not a sustainable profession for several reasons,” the email said.

Among them, being a chief is “not conducive to a consistent family life,” ‘[t]he hours are generally unpredictable” and most chief engineers are “the first responders when it comes to transmission/off-air issues,” he wrote.

Some in station or group management might be tempted to take a dim view of this reader’s analysis, but that seems shortsighted.

The TV industry is undergoing a period of accelerated and profound change in its core technologies, and the people who will help shepherd it through these transitions—baseband to IP, ATSC 1.0 to 3.0 and the Big Stick to SFNs, to name a few—will be chief engineers.

Of course, some will say IT professionals are the answer. Maybe, but if you talk to broadcasters, it won’t take long until they bring up the cultural differences between the two and how those differences play out in keeping a station on air 24/7.

Even if the differences can be smoothed over, there’s a bigger problem with relying on IT professionals. Namely, broadcasters will be competing with huge industries for IT talent to keep things humming.

Presumably, to compete, broadcasters must compete in terms of salary and benefits. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the median salary of those working in computer-related professions was $82,860 per year. That, by the way, was the average five years ago.

I tend to agree with the observations of the former chief engineer who responded to the salary survey story.

“I have believed for a long time that the industry will come to a reckoning in regard to finding and keeping the right people for these roles,” he wrote. “…[T]here are twice as many engineers retiring as there are entering the profession.”

“…[W]ith new life being breathed into what seemed to be ‘legacy’ technologies, such as RF, SFNs, etc., it will make this issue even more apparent in the not-so-distant future.” 

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.