Mike – Broadcasting engineer
Mike Hall is a freelance broadcasting engineer working in the Olympic Media Centre during London 2012. Throughout the Olympics, Mike is part of the team at the European Broadcast Union (EBU) making sure that countries throughout Europe can all see the very latest coverage of all of the sporting action.
Who or what inspired you to become an engineer?
I think that I always had a desire to get into television and originally wanted to be a cameraman. I also loved finding out what went on ‘behind the scenes’. I remember going to a careers fair and seeing a range of job options available to me in that area and from then I decided to join the BBC’s engineering training scheme which looked more interesting and more varied than being a cameraman would have been.
What does your typical day at the Olympic Media Centre involve?
On the run up to the Olympics it was a case of connecting cables to equipment and configuring the equipment so that it operates in the way you want it to operate. That can involve using computers to programme the equipment, looking at the hardware and setting switches and configuration options on the hardware, as well as connecting and terminating different cables. Then as the Games progress it becomes more a case of fault finding and operating the equipment to make sure that the customers all over Europe are getting the coverage that they want.
Here at this Olympics, the working hours of the team are 7am-2am split between 2 shifts, so you either do the early shift or the late shift. Other broadcast engineering roles can be 24 hours, especially when covering the Games in other countries as you have to cover the time difference.
Where do you normally work?
I work as a freelance broadcast engineer which means that I work for lots of different employers including Sky TV, ITV, and various satellite companies. I usually cover the news working for ABC, the American Broadcasting Company.
What do you love about your job and what would you change?
I love that I am able to cover work on the Olympics as I think this is really the peak of what you are able to go and do as a broadcast engineer. I have in the past been to some really interesting places around the world and have worked on 4 football World Cups and this is my seventh Olympic games. I really don’t think I would change anything about my job!
What qualifications did you take at school/college?
I took A-levels in Maths, Physics and Chemistry.
Did you go to university? Was a degree required for your role?
I studies for a maths degree at Hull University. A degree was needed to get onto the training course and then I was trained by the BBC on their engineering training scheme for 3 years.
What gives you the most job satisfaction?
I enjoy problem solving. If there is a fault, it is satisfying for me to identify the nature of the fault, and then ultimately solve it.
How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field?
I think that the starting salary for a broadcast engineer is somewhere in the late £20k’s/early £30k’s.
What’s the most unexpected thing about your job?
I think it is the fact that there is such a huge range of things that we deal with. Most people may see an engineer as someone who fixes the TV or the cameras, but I am more concerned with routing the signals and people may be unaware of just how many signals go from here back to the different European countries around the world.
I remember going to a careers fair with my Dad when I was about 10 years old and one of my friend’s fathers was a chef on an oil rig and he told us all about his work. This was a real eye opener moment for me as I found out about a lot of jobs that I had absolutely no idea about. I think this may be the same kind of thing with a broadcast engineer as people assume that if you work in TV you are either a presenter or cameraman, but there are so many people involved in all of the different aspects of the programme making that it is really exciting.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Get a good grounding in basic science skills, especially maths and physics. If you are looking to demonstrate what you are doing at interview have evidence of the science skills that you have done before in the back of your mind.
What do your friends and family think about your job?
They think that it is quite cool that I get to go to so many World Cups and Olympic games, but they do assume that I am there in the athletics stadium watching the 100m final and not in the media centre watching it all on TV screens. It’s just that I am a lot closer to the action than they are. Occasionally though I do get to go to some of the events, although not so far during London 2012.
Would you say you have a good standard of living/work-life balance?
Yes! I chose a freelance route for the flexibility it would give me so that I could manage my family time a bit better. The nature of broadcasting is that it is a 24/7, 365 days/year job so you normally end up doing shift work as an engineer. This might mean that you end up missing every other Christmas, however as a freelancer I can manage my own time and choose when to work.
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?
I have children so any spare time that I have I choose to spend it with them.
What has been your best Olympic moment so far in London 2012?
Jessica Ennis winning gold in the heptathlon. That was a brilliant day’s TV for the BBC and for the country as a whole.
How were you chosen to work for the EBU/Eurovision for the Olympics?
I have worked for the EBU before for the Olympics and they approached me to come and work for them again for London 2012. Originally I got involved with the Olympics through a colleague who worked for the BBC at the time and was looking for engineers to go and work with him at EBU.
What will you take away from your experience of working at the Olympic Media Centre during the London 2012?
Overall, it will be the good memories of the friendships that have formed within the team. This is a really nice environment to work in with really friendly people from all over Europe. Such a diverse mix of professionals are brought together for a relatively short period of time but get the work done in a fun way.
What are your aspirations for the future? Where do you see yourself in five years time?
I am thoroughly enjoying my job at the moment and would like to stay where I am in a hands-on role. Other people will have aspirations to go into management but I like to be at the heart of things here in the media centre.
What would you most like young people to know about what you do?
I would like them to know more about the diversity of the things we deal with as I’m sure most of them assume that as engineers just fix televisions but there is so much more to it.
If you were an athlete for a day, which sport would you compete in?
I would love to be in the 100m final for the glory, but also I think fencing looks very cool and I’ve never tried it so maybe that would be the area for me!
With thanks to Nigel Phillips for providing Future Morph access into the International Broadcast Centre and providing all of the ‘behind the scenes’ information required.