Job description

Radio operators transmit, receive and document communications using radiotelephone equipment. They exchange messages with ships, aircraft, offshore oil rigs, logging camps, mining crews and other remote operations. They also respond to distress calls and dispatch necessary emergency teams.

Radio operators may broadcast weather and warnings, monitor air waves for intelligence personnel, and send and receive coded messages. They also maintain and repair radio equipment.


    • Operate radio equipment to communicate with ships, aircraft, offshore oil rigs and other operations
    • Manipulate controls to adjust volume and modulation or tune to specified frequencies
    • Broadcast weather reports and warnings
    • Monitor emergency channels for distress calls, and dispatch appropriate emergency teams
    • Collaborate with receiving operators to exchange instructions and establish transmission protocols
    • Send, receive and decipher coded messages
    • Use recording equipment to chronicle signals and broadcasts, especially for intelligence analysis
    • Find source of signal and its bearing using direction-finding protocols and equipment
    • Utilise radio devices to locate and contact aircraft and ships that are missing or in distress
    • Examine and test new equipment before installation to ensure proper performance
    • Use electronic testing apparatus, hand and power tools to repair radio equipment as needed
    • Monitor and maintain security devices and assigned power generators
    • Maintain station logs of communications for activities such as flight testing and fire locations

Skills and qualities

Public safety and security
Active listening
Selective attention
Reading comprehension
Critical thinking
Time management
Social perceptiveness
Attention to detail
Social orientation
Stress tolerance

Job outlook

Projected growth
The projected growth rate of employment in the US from 2018 to 2028, based on data collected through the BLS Employment Projections (EP) programme. The national average growth rate for all professions is 5%.


New jobs
The number of jobs projected to become available in the US between 2018 and 2028, based on data collected through the BLS Employment Projections (EP) programme.


Automation risk
The probability of computerisation, based on data published in ‘The Future of Employment’, a 2013 working paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne.


Career progression

Many radio operators get training through the military, which may offer enlistment bonuses when there are openings for operators. You can also take advantage of partnership programmes where large telecommunications companies grant first interviews to veterans.

While the precise role of radio operator is a small field, experience with communications and radio equipment is applicable to related roles. You may consider advancing to a job as airfield operations specialist, or transition to a role as a 911 operator.

Working conditions

Average hours

40h/ week

Typical schedule

Full Time

On a rota

Some radio operators work full time during normal business hours, but schedules depend on the industry you work for. Those who must monitor emergency transmissions 24/7 for the government or military, for example, will have night and weekend shifts. Most operators work in climate-controlled stations, but field radio operators may experience difficult weather conditions and physical challenges.


Bottom 10%




Top 10%


Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.

Qualifications and training

Education level

High school

On-the-job training

Study time

2 years

Most radio operators only need a high school diploma or equivalent, and receive on-the-job training. The Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE) offers specialist certifications, and some vocational and online schools provide relevant coursework and test preparation. Many radio operators receive training during military service.

You will likely also need to be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The official website lists the criteria for mandatory licensure, including type of station and frequencies used.

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2022

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