Audio Quality on Radio Today

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And about levels

Levels. If I had a euro/dollar/yen for every time I've heard someone say "you don't have to worry about levels, the audio processor will fix it", maybe I wouldn't be a millionaire, but I would be able to buy a lot of lottery tickets which might make me one.

In the halcyon days before clever audio processors, men with glasses and a tweed jacket, and a finger on an attenuator, used to continuously scrutinize the audio levels leaving a studio and heading towards the transmitter, lest a stray peak caused some over-modulation.

Then the audio processors came along, with their ability to react to audio peaks even faster than our bespectacled friend, so he was pensioned off and before long the above mantra entered the vernacular.

I wish it hadn't, and I spend a good deal of my time on earth trying to disabuse radio people of that notion. Desk (console) levels are important: First, to ensure that the processor (which is doing a lot more things than simply emulating an earnest man) gets fed with the best level for it to work with, and second but not least, to ensure that the transition between consecutive items of program material is consistent.

Have you ever listened to a news broadcast in which the news guy says something like "Arnie Farnsbarn reports", and Arnie's voice level creeps slowly up from the doldrums, only becoming clearly audible just before he performs his outcue? That's because the newsreader's mic level was far higher than the clip, and the processor took time to recover.

The processor couldn't fix it.

Hard limiting

I know of a gentleman of these shores who earns his living training folk to be radio people. Producers, journalists, jockeys of discs. In his module on audio editing, he actually instructs his pupils to pass their completed piece through a process known in Adobe Audition as Hard Limiting.

C2F I call it; the C stands for Clipping, decency prevents me from explaining what the F represents in this sense.

Actually, it's introducing distortion. I spend my whole life designing radio station systems which exhibit as little distortion as possible, only for some idiot of a teacher to tell people to put it back in.

"It makes the audio sound louder," he says. Well, it actually makes it sound distorted. Our listeners' radios have a volume knob to use if they want it louder or quieter - but they don't have a distortion knob if they want less of that.

The upshot is this: New, clever, oh-so-shiny digital technology might do things better, faster, bigger, but it seems to require a new type of expertise to ensure that the results aren't worse than the bad old analog days.

It requires probably more training these days to instill the knowledge needed to make the most of the technology that arrived at our doors, and to avoid the pitfalls that came along for the ride.

It requires restraint, understanding, experience, and - pride in the fine results of your work.

Without these faculties, we are simply not making the most of the achievements of others, far cleverer than ourselves, who have bestowed upon us the marvels of modern broadcast technology.

So there you have it – that’s why flies, and bad audio quality on radio, annoy me.

There’s no need.

Linton is a director of Total Broadcast Consultants Ltd. in Ireland.

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