Radio board operators get their name from the technology they use to mix audio: a mixing board. Essentially, a mixing board is a device that accepts audio inputs, allows the operator to change volume levels and add effects on the fly, and outputs the results as high-quality audio suitable for radio broadcast.
The primary duties of a board operator vary, depending on the size of the radio station, the nature of the program and other factors. For example, in a small radio market, an on-air host might handle board operation duties, as well as perform announcements and play music. But at a large radio station, a board operator might perform these technical duties while the on-air talent performs in an adjoining room. Board operators must know how to set up and troubleshoot mixing boards, microphones, electronic and mechanical components specific to the radio station, and computer software used for editing and broadcasting audio.
Volume Equalization and Effects
Volume mixing is the most basic board operator duty. If one on-air host speaks loudly and the other speaks quietly, listeners will have to adjust radio volumes constantly to follow the conversation. To avoid this, the board operator equalizes the volumes of the microphone channels, providing a level and consistent audio broadcast. Board operators also often add effects, such as reverb, which makes voices sound bigger and airier.
Another typical board operator task is to assist in the creation of production audio. For instance, on-air hosts might need to record customized radio commercials for advertisers’ products and services. The board operator helps record the audio, edits it to meet time constraints and then plays the commercials during the broadcast. Board operators also play pre-recorded commercials during radio breaks, in line with the advertiser’s requirements.
Board operators also have to handle some radio-specific responsibilities. For example, because radio is live, most radio stations have built-in audio delay. The board operator must activate the delay whenever something not suitable for live broadcast is uttered, for example, by a foul-mouthed caller. This means board operators need to understand industry best practices concerning compliance with broadcast guidelines provided by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.
Education and Training
There are no standard education requirements a candidate must meet before becoming a board operator, but an associate’s degree or professional certification in audio engineering can help candidates obtain entry-level positions in the radio industry. Much of a board operator’s training happens in the early stages of her employment, but previous formal experience in audio engineering might also be necessary for obtaining an entry-level job, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.