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PRSS Program to Cultivate New Technical Talent

Aims to address engineering “brain drain”

The author is manager of communications and outreach for NPR Distribution.


To some extent, every industry suffers a steady exodus of skills and talents when people retire, enter other lines of work or otherwise bid farewell to their former discipline. Public radio is particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon.

If you visited the most recent PREC conference, you may have noticed that the majority of attendees were on the “wise” side of life. If public radio is to continue growing and thriving, particularly in a multimedia world, it is crucial that we increase the number of people, at all skill levels, devoting themselves to this essential industry.

To assist with the “brain drain” that public radio faces, NPR Distribution has launched the Public Radio Engineering Training Program, a technical certification initiative designed to create, preserve and update mission-critical professional skills essential to the broadcast radio industry.

The PRETP offers individuals interested in a career in RF engineering an educational path to skills accreditation, with the hopeful result that a new generation of technical leaders and innovators will be developed to keep pushing public radio ever forward.


Three different levels of certification are available in the PRETP, with offerings dedicated to entry level, mid-level, and advanced-level certifications.

The entry level certification, known as Certified Public Radio Operator, is focused on those who are new to the industry and want to develop technical skills specifically around RF. These could be recently graduated engineers considering different disciplines or seasoned technical professionals working in other disciplines who wish to join the radio industry.

The mid-range program, Certified Public Radio Technologist, and the advanced-range program, Certified Public Radio Engineer, are more geared toward those already in the radio industry who are looking to supplement their current engineering or IT experience with an RF focus. Participants in these two programs can look forward to a deeper dive into RF engineering, and they will also be immersed in antenna systems course work.

Each level of certification will have required reading and course material and will conclude with an exam by the Society of Broadcast Engineers, a professional organization for engineers in broadcast radio and television that offers certifications in various radio frequency (and video and audio technology) areas for its members. Throughout the process, NPR Distribution will track each participant’s progress and issue the appropriate certifications upon completion of the courses.

At the 2019 Public Radio Engineering Conference, NPR Vice President of Distribution Michael Beach announced the new training program alongside a brief PowerPoint presentation. This slide breaks down the different curricula for each level of training.

[PREC: The Need for Mentoring]

The Certified Public Radio Operator certification is considered the entry level starting point for participants and has no prerequisites required. The course material will be drawn from the SBE Certification Handbook for Radio Operators and will also feature a basic satellite skills training course supplied by the Global VSAT Forum. Participants must pass the SBE Radio Operator certification exam and obtain GVF Satcom Professional Certification before they’re able to take the more advanced PRETP course. Upon completion, participants will be confirmed to know basic knowledge to operate radio station equipment and systems and will understand FCC rules and regulations.

Certified Public Radio Technologist is the mid-level program for those in IT or engineering disciplines and requires that they have obtained the entry level operator certification. This course will focus on FM and AM antenna systems and will require the passing of the SBE Broadcast Technologist Certification Exam, which includes questions on electronic fundamentals and FCC rules and regulations. Upon completion, participants will know how to set up, operate and maintain station equipment, and they will also have a working knowledge of FCC regulations.

The Certified Public Radio Engineer is the advanced-level program and requires participants either have the “technologist” certification or have five years of RF engineering experience. This certification will also focus on AM and FM antenna systems and will require the passing of the SBE Broadcast Radio Engineer Certification Exam, which will include questions on electronic theory, safety and FCC rules and regulations. Upon completion, participants will be certified as being able to set up, operate and maintain station equipment including transmitters and terrestrial and satellite antenna systems. Successful graduates will also have specialized knowledge of FCC rules and regulations.


The PRETP has been designed with station economics in mind, with each course being offered for much less than other common certification programs. The price for the entry level Certified Public Radio Operator has been set at $1,700 per participant. This includes all courses and materials, the SBE and GVF exam fee, paid admission to the annual NAB Show and Public Radio Engineers Conference, a custom NAB guide, and one year’s membership in
SBE. This course is a prerequisite for the mid-level and advanced-level certifications, and all participants must pay the set fee for the course.

Both the Certified Public Radio Technologist and the Certified Public Radio Engineer programs are priced at $1,400 for SBE members and $1,700 for non-SBE members. There are also discounts available to those participants who cannot attend the NAB and PREC shows: SBE members for either certification pay $700 total without NAB and PREC admission and non-SBE members for either certification pay $900 without NAB and PREC admission.

The curriculum for each of the three courses is based on current SBE and GVF materials, requirements and testing and was designed to be laser-focused on the RF industry, providing training in areas and on subjects commonly experienced by public radio engineers. The actual exams will be administered to participants via local SBE chapters, and NPR Distribution will process test results and then issue the appropriate certificates.

[From 2015: NPRSS Launches New Service]

The PRETP is an attempt by NPR Distribution to help cultivate a new generation of radio talent to carry us into the future. As public broadcasting works to maintain and strengthen its place in the always changing media landscape, a well-stocked army of trained engineers can only help lead the way.

More information about the program, including an application document, is available at

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