A radio mechanic is a technical professional who builds, operates and repairs the equipment necessary for radio communications. Radio mechanics test new equipment, develop new technologies that make it possible to communicate more reliably and over longer distances, replace defective parts, troubleshoot malfunctioning radio equipment and complete repairs for individuals, organizations and the military. Many mechanics must also be innovators with a talent for improvising workable communication solutions in harsh environments and inclement weather, using limited parts.
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A radio mechanic is an applied scientist and communications professional who builds, repairs, enhances and protects radio equipment. Some radio mechanics work in the public sector, selling electronic equipment and performing repairs on broken home radios and car stereos. Others specialize in inspecting and certifying radio equipment used in civil aviation, the freight industry and the military. Radio mechanics must often identify and fix problems on the fly, with limited access to repair equipment and spare components.
The duties of both civil and military radio mechanics may extend to erecting and repairing communications towers, positioning equipment within the tower and adjusting the antennas for optimum reception. Others specialize in inspecting radio equipment and accessories; these mechanics must be thoroughly familiar with applicable building and communications regulations and are responsible for ensuring that all equipment is correctly and safely installed and poses no danger to people nearby. During an inspection, a radio mechanic must also examine the relevant electrical connections and determine if they are properly grounded and insulated.
Many radio mechanics are responsible for operating cranes and other heavy lifting equipment; these professionals must use this equipment to position the large, heavy components of a radio array, and must often do so without help. Other mechanics enjoy the luxury of co-workers assigned to help with these tasks. However, even radio mechanics employed by large, wealthy companies are often expected to be proficient with hand and power tools and to conduct most repairs themselves.
Radio mechanics typically have experience and qualifications in applied science, electronics or engineering. Those who wish to enter the field without these academic qualifications often do so by enlisting in the military and receiving the necessary training during their time of service. Radio mechanics must enjoy working with their hands and have a talent for finding and fixing problems. Most mechanics are also gifted diagnosticians who can quickly and accurately troubleshoot malfunctioning radio equipment and implement an effective solution that restores communications, often using a very limited supply of available repair parts. To do this, these professionals must have an encyclopedic knowledge of circuitry, hardware and other radio components, and must be able to recall this information instantly; the ability to identify problems and fix them on the go is particularly important for military radio mechanics in a combat zone. All types of radio mechanics must keep up with the lightening-fast pace of worldwide technological innovation by reading professional journals, networking with other mechanics and seeking continual education and further training. Many companies who employ radio mechanics will pay for this training and require the mechanics to complete several continuing education courses every year.
Radio mechanics may work in many different environments. Local mechanics who sell consumer radios and execute basic repairs may work at an electronics retailer or home hardware store; others have a home or basement workshop and advertise their services on billboards, television or the Internet. Military radio mechanics may work in a shop or office on a base or other military installation; they may also be dispatched into combat zones, where they need to keep radio communications intact in dangerous areas where flying bullets, bombs, missiles and guerilla attacks are constant threats. Even civilian radio mechanics may have to travel frequently, especially if they work for a government, major corporation or university and are responsible for inspecting equipment scattered over a large area. Because radio communications are so important throughout the world, many radio mechanics have to work overtime shifts, nights and weekends; in many cases they must also be "on call" 24 hours a day to address any emergencies that arise, even on major holidays. A radio mechanic should also be prepared to work in the wilderness and often at great heights; radio towers are often placed on mountains so as to avoid signal interruption, so mechanics who are installing these towers or performing maintenance on them have to be comfortable working in the wilderness. Aircraft (civilian and military) and seafaring vessels are other common workplace environments for engineers and radio mechanics. This is crucial work, since radio transmissions are often the only method of communication available in such settings. American radio mechanics who work in aviation or on marine vessels must be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission; those in other countries must submit to other applicable licensing regulations.
Radio mechanics may be hourly or salaried employees. Within the United States, the average radio mechanic earns about $20 per hour; salaried mechanics make an average of $40,000 annually. The radio industry is quickly growing throughout the world, and is one of the few industries that has continued to explode despite significant economic crises in many countries.