A radio operator often receives and transmits information using a variety of radio devices. Within this field are different types of operators who may specialize in one area, such as ham, aviation, marine and field radio operations. In many cases, people need to be licensed by their respective government agencies before pursuing amateur or professional work. Such a license often requires successful completion of an exam, although field radio operators may gain employment based solely on educational pursuits.
The ham radio operator is often one who engages in amateur practice. For some, this activity is recreational, while others use ham radio for public services. Amateur radio operators are usually not paid for their services, although many provide volunteer emergency communications during times of crisis. A number of different systems often exist for hams to interact, which allows them to learn news from around the world or meet people in distant locations. These radio operators may use Morse code on a telegraph key, verbal communication on a personal or hand-held radio or visual picture transmittal with television.
Amateur radio is often overseen by a respective government agency, which is in turn coordinated by the International Telecommunications Union. In some areas, ham radio operators are required to hold licenses. Ham radio in the United States, for example, is governed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and people must first pass the FCC test before practicing. In the United Kingdom, three different general licenses are available for amateur radio enthusiasts. Those licenses determine the maximum number of radio band watts the operator can use.
Aviation radio services may also provide opportunities for those seeking radio operator jobs. To illustrate, pilots often use aircraft radio stations to obtain altitude clearances or help when faced with flight difficulties. Ground radio stations, on the other hand, may provide alerts to pilots regarding landing delays, wayward aircraft in the vicinity, or weather changes at final destinations. Similar to ham radio, licenses are often required for aircraft and ground radio operators. In Canada, for example, people must pass the Radio Operator Certificate exam administered by Industry Canada.
A marine radio operator may be able to find work aboard certain vessels as well as on land. Some government agencies require licensed operators on board vessels of specific weight or on those that carry more than a certain number of passengers. In these scenarios, the radio officer may use multiple communication devices to contact other ships and shore headquarters. Radio operators may also receive and record time signals, weather conditions and other information relevant to the safe crossing of their vessels.
On-land job duties may include monitoring several different radio channels, with messages often coming in from recreational boats and freighters. Information transmitted to vessels may include weather reports and water conditions, which are often logged by on-land radio offices. The radio operator may also respond to emergency situations, and training for such may be provided on-site. Incoming and outgoing boats are likely to be monitored as well to verify safe returns.
In addition to the military, a field radio operator may be employed at police or emergency dispatch centers, security companies or project consulting firms. Job duties may include examining and testing radio equipment, maintaining contact with dispatched personnel and using the radio unit to transmit information. The radio officer in this situation may also install equipment in vehicles or satellite offices and log messages for future reference. Some employers look for people with degrees in telecommunications or sound engineering, while others may require radio operator licenses appropriated by government agencies.