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Contractor licensing in the State of Minnesota
by Mark Persons  W0MH
Radio World Article
April 11, 2001

Mark Persons wrote an article on new contractor licensing required in the State of Minnesota.  The article appeared in the Winter 2001 edition of the Minnesota Broadcasters Digi-Times.  It also appeared in the April 11, 2001 edition of Radio World.

Here is the text of the article:

Engineer Licensing

So, you are a radio broadcast engineer, who has 10 stations to take care of, and no spare time.  You have an FCC General Class Radio Telephone license and are a member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers.  You may also have a ham license and a state tax resale number to keep your one man business legal.  What else could you want or need? 

Well, if you operate in the State of Minnesota, you now also need an Alarm and Communications license from the Minnesota State Board of Electricity.  Information can be found at   This required certification is commonly called a low voltage wiring license.

Unknown to me, a few years ago, the Minnesota State Legislature passed a bill to require anyone running audio wiring, computer networking, or for that matter any low voltage wiring in any commercial building, to posses this license.   This only excludes homeowners who run wiring in their own homes. 

The fact that I did not have this license struck home, like lightning, when I was about to do the finest project of my career in my own home town.  It is a brand new 6000 square foot studio building capable of handling six radio stations.  This $800,000 facility was designed by architects and built by a high quality commercial construction firm. 

No one said a thing about a license until the "by the book" electrical inspector asked, "Who is doing the low voltage wiring" and let's see his license."  That is when my smile turned to a blank expression.  According to Minnesota state law, I was not allowed to lay out wiring or run a single wire in a commercial building without the license.  The building was already under construction and on a time line for completion, including the studio wiring. 

No one can get this license by filling out an application and sending a few dollars to the state.  It is far more complicated than that.  Here is how to proceed in trying to get a license:

1.   Call or send a letter to the Minnesota State Board of Electricity asking for the form to request an examination. 

2.   Fill out and return the request form and wait for return mail.  After about a week, an examination date is set and you are issued a, ´┐ŻNotice to Appear for Examination.´┐Ż  The exam date is typically one month in the future.

3.   Purchase a copy of the current National Electrical Code book for about $40.00.

4.   Study the book daily until the exam date rolls around.  This book is your "bible."

5.   In my case I had to drive 130 miles, to the exam session in St. Paul.  To do this I had to stay overnight in Minneapolis so I could arrive at the test session first thing in the morning.  Had I arrived after 8:30 AM, I would have been refused admission and would have had to reschedule the exam. 

6.   Pay $35.00 for the privilege of taking the exam.

7.   The written exam is in two parts.  The first is 25 multiple choice questions that involved researching and documenting pertinent sections of the National Electrical Code book.  Answering the question without the proper NEC references was not acceptable.  The second part was 25 multiple choice questions answered from memory.  A 70% score was required to pass the exam.  In my case, the entire exam took five hours to write.  It probably would have taken less time if I had attended a vocational school class on the subject.

8.   Exam results are not released at the session.  I had to go home and wait for the mail to arrive about three days later to find out if I had passed or failed.  In my case, the letter said I had passed the exam

9.   Then, I mailed in the following paperwork:

a.  Application for Alarm and Communication Contractor's License along with a check for $75.00.  There is a $100.00 per year license renewal fee.

b.  A $5,000.00 Alarm and Communications Contractor's Bond signed by a Notary Public.  This bond is an insurance policy, which I pay about $80.00 per year for. 

c.  A Certificate of Insurance with at least $300,000.00 liability coverage.

d.  A Certificate of Employment stating that if I quit my employer (myself) that I will notify the State Board of Electricity 15 days in advance of my leaving.

e.  A Minnesota State Tax Information Form stating that I will charge state sales tax on any items I sell in the process of working as an Alarm and Communications Contractor.

10.   After about a week, the license arrived.  None of the work, at the studio, could be done until the licensing was complete. 

A Construction Permit was required to do the studio work.  It came to $0.50 per device to be installed.  After which, the electrical inspector will sign off on the project assuming it met the National Electrical Code specifications.

Minnesota State Law 326.244 requires "every new electrical installation in any construction, remodeling, replacement, or repair, except minor repair work as the same is defined by the board by rule, shall be inspected by the board for compliance with accepted standards of construction for safety to life and property."

One problem, as I see it, is that there is no place in the law allowing a broadcast engineer to be employed full time by one radio station or group unless that group is a licensed Alarm and Communications Contractor with the necessary insurances and paperwork as described above.  Another problem is that I cannot have an assistant help me pull and terminate cables unless that person is my employee, is an employee of a licensed Alarm and Communications contractor, or is a licensed electrician.

Obviously, there will need to be some middle ground so that the work can get done without the radio station paying an arm and a leg.  

The above article plus the following were published in the April 11, 2001 edition of Radio World: 

Minnesota may not be the only state with this requirement.  Chances are most states will adopt similar statutes.  Broadcast engineers everywhere should be proactive in getting licensing or they should oppose legislation requiring licensing in their state or states of operation.

Personally, I believe the new licensing will help prevent substandard work from being done at broadcast stations.  We have all seen shoddy and dangerous wiring at studios and transmitter sites.  Electrical safety is a prime consideration here and you can't really put a dollar value on that.

National Electrical Code and NEC are registered trademarks of the National Fire Protection Association Inc.

Mark Persons is an SBE Certified Professional Broadcast Engineer based in Brainerd, MN.  He built 14 new radio stations and rebuilt many others in the past 22 years.  

Radio World welcomes other points of view and stories about problems facing radio engineers and engineering contractors.

Mark Persons, W0MH, is certified by the Society of Broadcast Engineers as a Professional Broadcast Engineer with more than 30 years experience. He has written numerous articles for Radio World over the years. His Web site is


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