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What does a Master Control Operator do?

By Matthew F.
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Every cable television is run out of a small room in a television station’s office. The master control operator is the lifeline of a television station. All over this world, broadcast signals are being run by one, maybe two people at a time. This is one of maybe two positions every television station in the United States that requires someone to be there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The only other position required all day long is typically from the broadcast technician or engineers.

The job of master control operator requires minimal journalistic knowledge for anyone going into the TV business. Positions in this field are the one job at a television station which does not require a degree in journalism. The educational requirement asks only for a high school diploma to be able to be hired as a master control operator. The hours might be delegated to the graveyard shift for people coming directly out of high school or college.

On a day-to-day basis, the master control operator will have to deal with things ranging from local news programming for television broadcast to breaking news events to nationally broadcast sporting events. During the local programming, local operators are also in charge of running the commercials you see in between the shows you are watching. In national programming, the commercials are run out of the national office. During the commercial breaks, master control operators switch from one commercial to the next. Typically, during the normal commercial break, they are switching from the show to a set of four commercials and then back to the show.

Every show at the station — whether CNN, ESPN or your local broadcast affiliates — runs on a tight time schedule. Commercials are sold in spots for every show and are supposed to run within seconds of the times they are sold for. Live news telecasts are among the hardest times for a master control operator. Throughout the entire show, they are giving times to the show’s director their time in and out of commercial breaks. This allows the director the ability to drop or shorten elements of the show in order to stay in time.

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Discussion Comments
By anon315252 — On Jan 23, 2013

@anon169354: Those computers are not being monitored by a master control operator. All the operations are switching to traffic operations, making a master control obsolete.

By anon169354 — On Apr 20, 2011

@anon162299: albeit that more and more positions are being taken over by computers, there is still the need for someone to operate those computers.

By anon162299 — On Mar 23, 2011

Master Control is a dying position. More and more jobs are being replaced by computers. You are better off working in news or production.

By anon108124 — On Sep 01, 2010

Master Control is by no means the only position in a tv station that does not require a degree in journalism. One does not need a degree to work in news production. Several of the news production managers at my workplace have not had a college degree at all.

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