What Does a Panel Operator Do?

T.S. Adams

A panel operator is any individual hired to operate any kind of control panel. Although the job title is used in various industries, it's most often used for the person who runs a broadcast console during live or pre-recorded broadcasts. Also called a board operator, the term is most commonly used in the radio industry, where these individuals are a critical part of the supporting staff for on-air talent, helping to keep broadcasts moving smoothly and effectively, maintaining timekeeping duties, and managing other inserts for shows, such as commercials, music, and other special announcements.

In the radio business, a panel operator adjusts the different microphone levels.
In the radio business, a panel operator adjusts the different microphone levels.

Although a radio panel operator performs many different tasks during a standard shift, his or her general objective is to support the on-air talent who may actually be performing. Before managing all of the aspects of a live or recorded broadcast, the panel operator must make sure the equipment is in working order and any material that has been pre-recorded is ready for broadcast. If there are problems with the equipment, he or she should make sure they are fixed before broadcast, or find suitable replacements or work-arounds.

A radio panel operator’s general objective is to support the on-air talent.
A radio panel operator’s general objective is to support the on-air talent.

Panel operators are responsible for the majority of non-speaking roles in a broadcast performance. They often provide performers with cues related to the timing of the show, letting them know the amount of time remaining in the broadcast or until the next commercial segment. Additionally, a panel operator works managing phone lines; sets the quality and volume level of microphones and other sound effects; inserts segments into programs such as news, weather, and traffic; and ensures that shows proceed on schedule.

In addition to having the technical skills to operate the equipment in a broadcast studio, panel operators must also be able to think on their feet. Live broadcasts rarely proceed without snags and hitches; when a problem occurs, it falls upon the panel operator to smooth it over through any means necessary. This requires a significant level of improvisational skill, which develops through long experience dealing with on on-air problems. Regardless of whether those problems involve a guest who has yet to appear or a segment that is running over its allotted time, all of these fall to the panel operator to correct.

After the broadcast, the panel operator's work isn't done. The panel must be turned over to the next operator, and any equipment used cleaned and stored appropriately. Recorded material usually needs to be archived. He or she may also need to work with technical staff to resolve any problems that were found before or during the broadcast.

Another common issue for panel operators is dealing with on-air talent. The egos of performing artists can often prove difficult to manage, requiring a calm demeanor, along with effective persuasive communication skills. An operator must be ready and willing to absorb stress from on-air talent in order to ensure that the show proceeds as intended.

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