SEPTEMBER 2016 - Vol 7, No.9
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Audio Processing Lessons and War Stories
There is no shortage of audio processing stories to go around. We’ve all heard variations of the one about the fake processor racked up in front of the real one and it looks so convincing, it is tweaked by the corporate engineer in town for the day. There are tall tales of broadcasters sneaking around transmitter sites at night, snapping pictures of blinking lights, and of a certain well-known “golden ears” flying in on the red-eye donning a disguise so the other guys wouldn’t know he’s there to install a new processor.
We thought we had heard them all, until we called Ron Parker to talk about audio processing from the programming and talent point of view. Ron joined WCBS-FM New York as part of the talent during that seminal point in broadcast history when the FM ended its infamous Jack FM era and returned to Classic Hits, setting off one of the more brutal processing wars then or since. (Our Mike Erickson was the CE of WCBS-FM at the time).
Ron has been a program director for stations in Houston and Dallas, and has held programming positions for stations in Florida, Georgia, and in markets San Francisco, Phoenix, and of course New York. He currently lives in Texas and is a staff announcer for SirusXM.
WS: Let’s start by clearing up this misunderstanding about programmers and loudness. Do program directors really want loudness at any cost?
RP: No. I can tell you that I’ve been in a lot of loudness wars and I never thought that the louder you get, the farther you go. I also can assure you that the louder you are, the more ratings you don’t get.
WS: There is that $64,000 question, though. How do you know if your station is too loud or not loud enough?
RP: It’d be great if a listener said, ‘Hey, I’m listening to station XYZ because it’s the loudest thing on the dial.’ That doesn’t happen. How you know is you listen to all the different types of songs that the station plays. In other words, how does a loud song compare to a soft song? If a soft song sounds great, and then a Van Halen song comes on and it sounds distorted, you don’t have the right processor settings. That is why it takes so long to get the settings right, all that comparison between the different songs.
WS: I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of good and bad examples of audio processing over the years. What do you hear these days?
RP: The best sounding station I’ve heard is a Spanish station that Mike (Erickson, Wheatstone audio processing field engineer) set up. It’s not the loudest, but it is the smoothest sounding, all around, solid station, and it jumps out of the radio. But too often I go up and down the dial, and in many major cities, I hear a lot of high-end distortion. Either things are misadjusted or, I hate to say it, broadcasters are turning it up for PPM. HD is supposed to be this nice, clean CD quality and I just don’t hear that enough.
WS: What do you think broadcasters are looking for in their sound?
RP: They want to sound different. I worked for one station that actually had three audio chains, one for the microphones, one for the commercials, and one for the music. The music had its own processing chain, as did the mics and the commercials, and they would mix all processing chains before the transmitter. What this did is give us a very NPR-like sound on the microphones, and the commercials were played at slightly uncompressed lower volume than the music so the commercials were a little more subliminal than the music. It was a very distinct sound and I think stations are looking for more of that.
WS: I suppose separating processing channels like this makes it easier to optimize the processing for music, for example, because you don’t have to worry about commercials or voice. You know, we see that kind of spot processing with the processing built into our I/O units in the WheatNet-IP audio network. Processing is a lot more flexible these days. What else have you noticed about processing that’s new?
RP: The great thing about processing now and I think about Wheatstone here, are the presets. These are so great to start with as a good reference point.
WS: Those presets are hard-won and come from hours and hours out in the field, listening to and adjusting stations in different markets.
RP: It really makes a difference.
WS: What advice can you give engineers who are working with management and programmers to set up a new or existing processor?
RP: If you’re running a pure top 40 station, definitely start with the top 40 generic presets. I’d say give the PD a chance to hear four or five settings of top 40 generic presets. Try Dance, Rock, Country, etc. It’s going to make the process so much easier and faster, but you’ll still need to give each setting some time. It can’t be done in one day and a good program director or engineer will still listen off of a couple of generic radios. By the way, I think it goes without saying that you should always bring a laptop along with you in the car so that you can punch up changes and hear them immediately.
WS: What else can you suggest to the engineer who genuinely might not understand what the programmer is looking for?
RP: Ask for specifics. If the program director says he wants to hear a little bit more bass, probe a little. Bass covers a whole range of frequencies and you certainly don’t want to punch in muddy bass. I would ask him to be more specific. For example, I might say to the engineer, “I think we need a little more bass between 60 and 90 Hz.” Sometimes it’s hard for engineers and programmers to talk the same language!
WS: Isn’t that the truth? That is actually one reason why we developed the AirAura X1, which is more intelligent about settings in that it knows certain combinations of adjustments go together. If limiting changes, for example, attack and release times adjust automatically. Broadcasters tell us it’s a great go-between for programmers and engineers who often have to work together to develop the station sound.
RP: I have been thinking for a long time that there are just too many controls. So many things you can adjust and that makes it harder, not easier in some cases. What you just described is great and a much more advanced version of presets.
WS: What is one of your pet peeves when it comes to the sound of a station?
RP: The one thing I personally hate, and I have to think listeners think it’s a bother too, is contemporary music stations -- or any station, really -- that are so unprocessed that the levels are all over the place. I do not like misadjusted leveling, and I hate it when the jock’s voice gets buried in the song or when it’s ten times louder than the song.
WS: Gee, anything else?
RP: Yea. Unfortunately, I have seen groups where the corporate engineer flies in, sets the processor to the corporate settings, and leaves the same day. They fly in, and fly out; they lock it up and don’t touch it, and that really misses the point about setting your sound to the local market. Don’t get me started!
WS: Okay. Tell us a good processor story and we’ll let you off the hook.
RP: Probably one of the best tricks I ever pulled off was when I was in a competitive war with another radio station. It’s the middle of the night and I’m with the corporate engineer who wants to punch up the sound of the station. So I call the competing station up and say “Hey, we’re having a party and we’ve got you on all night. Can you give me the names of the next ten songs?” So, I get the list of the next ten songs, we match them, and that way we can compare. For about 45 minutes we got to tweak song by song.
WS: That’s one we haven’t heard!
Audio IP and Crisis Management
Let’s suppose you arrive at the usual time to find that your train is delayed. You then scramble to catch the B train, but by the time you get there, it is whistling down the track without you.
That leaves the C train, which departs in five minutes but arrives nowhere near your destination. You could take a connecting train that will get you close, but that’s going to add more time onto your travels.
What you’ve just experienced is a crisis in routing. When one route changes, whether due to track, train, studio or switch, there’s a delay or detour in traffic, be it packets or passengers. And that can never be good for broadcasters, who are easily the most punctual people on the planet, having spent years timing programming, newscasts and ads down to the second.
We bring this up to make a point, of course.
Live broadcast production is nothing if not a crisis in routing, and that’s where IP audio networking can make a difference.
Take something as routine as routing the correct IFB to talent. Mix-minus setup used to soak up a lot of time before IP audio networking came along. Now, in the case of our WheatNet-IP audio network, when a field reporter’s microphone goes live, the system will automatically send a mix-minus to the reporter’s earpiece. Intelligent I/O BLADEs that make up the network provide the pathway and the routable controls. Access to all sources is immediate, along with all the presets and any associated logic that go along with each feed for turning mics and elements on/off or changing settings.
In fact, the IP audio network itself can provide the backbone for an IFB system that runs from one studio to another or to any remote location that’s networked in. No big IFB router or creative patchwork needed. All channel assigns, mixing and routing are recalled from the IP control surface, which means it is now much easier to change things up in the studio as well. IP audio networking makes it possible to manage multiple successive newscasts from any one studio, right down to each talent in succession getting the correct throw from the studio.
But what about that failed link, switch or any number of other crises in routing? IP audio networking handles that, too. In an emergency, the I/O BLADEs that make up the points of access in the WheatNet-IP audio network have a number of tools for facilitating recovery from a lost source. You can even set up a script to automate that process, so if source X goes silent while studio Y is on the air, the system will fire a backup salvo to route an alternate audio source to the studio.
In short—a solution to a crisis in routing.
That’ll Teach ‘Em
Can you believe this is a high school radio facility? The Clark County School District in Jeffersonville, Indiana, operates three separate high school studios. Wheatstone’s flagship LX-24 control surfaces are at the center of each, all networked together by our WheatNet-IP audio network integrated with DJB Radio automation and production software. Now that’s teaching our kids right!
AirAura X1 Wins Best of Show at IBC
On the heels of winning the NewBay Media Best of Show Award from Radio World and Radio Magazine at NAB in April, AirAura X1 picks up another victory at the IBC Show in Amsterdam! The NewBay Media Best of Show Award from Radio World-International Edition brings the total number of awards to three!
The AirAura X1 brings very high end processing to a very reasonable price point, and has been racking up rave reviews (and ratings) everywhere it's deployed.
Avoid Mic Flight
In 2007, Arbitron introduced the PPM rating system, replacing the previous system of handwritten logs with automatic electronic monitoring. This new system brought more accurate, minute-by-minute measurement, and with it a disturbing discovery: Arbitron found that many listeners started to channel hop as soon as the music stopped and the DJ came on, a trend that has become known as “mic flight.”
So began the programmer’s struggle to find that balance between having DJs talk long enough to establish a unique voice for the station, but not so long as to encourage the channel hopping now measured by PPM.
Media research firm Coleman Insights came up with The Coleman Image Pyramid, shown, to demonstrate that “Base Music or Talk Position” and “Personality,” delivered primarily by on air talent make up almost half of the most significant portion of the pyramid.
Practical examples of how jocks can strike that balance include adding surprise sound clips, spacing out artist interviews so that they build interest, editing a number of listener responses to a question into one heartfelt or impactful montage, and in general squeezing more personality into less time.
For more examples, click on the white paper The Business Case for VoxPro.
Your IP Question Answered
Q: Does MADI still have a place in the IP audio networked studio?
A: Yes. A lot of the first generation digital mixers and some routers were built based on TDM, and MADI gives the users of these systems a convenient, reliable way of crossing over into IP audio networking. Broadcasters who have our Wheatstone TDM router system and want to seamlessly add on our IP audio network have one relatively inexpensive option using a MADI I/O BLADE, which is an IP access unit for our WheatNet-IP audio network that handles 64 bidirectional audio channels via a single connection. They hook into BNC connectors in the MADI BLADE for the coaxial format. An SFP transceiver slot is for fiber optic connectivity, which is generally used for longer runs (say, up to 2000 feet).
Wheatstone Interviews the Broadcast Industry:
Mike Cooney of Beasley Media Group
At this year's NAB show, we invited many people from all corners of the industry to join us in conversations about all things broadcast. Obviously, we focused on audio for broadcast because, well, it's what we know.
We didn't really know what to expect, but the results definitely exceeded even our greatest expectations. We touched on many, many subjects and heard some fascinating things about what people are doing with audio in the broadcast world. Each of these videos is a wealth of information spanning every aspect of audio for broadcast.
In this video, Scott Fybush talks with Mike Cooney of Beasley Media about efforts to solve HD latency problems and more.
- RADIO CONSOLES
- VOXPRO6 RECORDER/EDITOR
- AUDIO PROCESSORS
- TV AUDIO CONSOLES AND NETWORKING
- TV Audio Consoles
- Gibraltar/Gibraltar Network
- BLADES AND IP AUDIO NETWORKING
- WheatNet-IP Technology Overview
- BLADE-3 Technology Overview
- Mix Engine/Console BLADE-3s
- BLADEs (original)
- EDGE Network Interface
- PANELS AND CONTROLLERS
- Talent Stations
- GP Panels
- Interface Panels
- COMMERCIAL AUDIO
- WHEAT:NEWS RADIO
- WHEAT:NEWS TV
- PRESS RELEASES
- SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER
Voice of America (Washington, DC) purchased two E-1 control surfaces for an existing WheatNet-IP audio network through CEI.
WCBD-TV (Charleston, SC) purchased a Series Four TV audio IP console.
WCYB-TV (Bristol, VA) purchased a Series Four TV audio IP console.
WCTI-TV (New Bern, NC) purchased a Series Four TV audio IP console.
Cumulus (Washington, DC) purchased two LX-24 control surfaces for an existing Wheatstone BRIDGE network.
Five Towns College (Dix Hills, NY) purchased an LX-24 control surface and IP-12 digital audio console.
WVTF-FM (Roanoke, VA) expanded an existing WheatNet-IP audio network with the purchase of six I/O BLADEs.
WCVB-TV (Boston, MA) purchased a Dimension Three TV audio console.
iHeartMedia (Philadelphia, PA) purchased four additional I/O BLADEs and two EDGE network interface units.
WUIS-FM (Springfield, IL) upgraded an existing WheatNet-IP audio network with new NAVIGATOR software and an I/O BLADE.
Leighton Broadcasting (Saint Cloud, MN) purchased four WDM drivers for a WheatNet-IP audio network.
WDET-FM (Detroit, MI) purchased an I/O BLADE for an existing WheatNet-IP audio network.
Lotus Communications (Reno, NV) purchased an EDGE network interface unit and LIO-48 high-density logic BLADE for an existing WheatNet-IP audio network.
CBC (Edmonton, AB) purchased a GP-16 programmable button panel and I/O BLADE for an existing WheatNet-IP audio network through Marketing Marc Vallee.
Texas A&M University’s KETR-FM (Commerce, TX) purchased new NAVIGATOR software, an SBC-4F housing turret and several I/O BLADEs for an existing WheatNet-IP audio network.
KNHC-FM (Seattle, WA) updated to new NAVIGATOR software.
Blackburn Radio (Chatham, ON) purchased an L-8 control surface and I/O BLADEs through Ron Paley Broadcast.
Bayshore Broadcasting (Owen Sound, ON) purchased an I/O BLADE through Ron Paley Broadcast.
KXCI-FM (Tucson, AZ) purchased an IP-16 digital audio console, M4IP-USB four channel mic processor, and I/O BLADEs.
CJBQ-AM (Belleville, ON) purchased the ScreenBuilder customized interface app for an existing WheatNet-IP audio network.
ARC Radio (Quebec) purchased an IP-12 digital audio console, M4IP-USB four channel mic processor and I/O BLADEs through Marketing Marc Vallee.
Rogers Broadcasting (Toronto, ON) purchased 19 LXE customizable control surfaces, 22 M4IP-USB four channel mic processors, 49 TS-22 talent stations, four TS-4 talent stations, eight Aura8-IP multimode processor BLADEs, 60 ScreenBuilder apps and nine BLADEs, including four with Clip Player, through Ron Paley Broadcast.
Skyview Networks (Scottsdale, AZ) purchased an I/O BLADE and WDM driver for an existing WheatNet-IP audio network.
MZ Media (Toronto, ON) purchased a TS-4 talent station.
KCRG-TV (Cedar Rapids, IA) purchased E-6 control surfaces for an existing Wheatstone network.
Ron Paley Broadcast (Winnipeg, MB) ordered an LX-24 control surface.
CKRZ-FM (Hamilton, ON) purchased an L-12 control surface, M4IP-USB four-channel mic processor, TS-4 talent station and several I/O BLADEs through Ron Paley Broadcast.
Cumulus Media (Birmingham, AL) purchased two IP-12 digital audio consoles and WheatNet-IP audio BLADEs.
iHeartMedia (Charlotte, NC) purchased a MADI BLADE for an existing WheatNet-IP audio network.
Media Engineering (Switzerland) purchased an E-1 control surface.
Caribbean Radio Lighthouse (Concord, NC) purchased an R-55e console through BSW.
Entertainment Network India (Mumbai, India) purchased WheatNet-IP upgrades for existing D-75 audio consoles through Horizon Broadcast LLP.
MCOT (Bangkok, Thailand) purchased a D-76 console through Broadcast & Studio, Thailand.
WAMI-AM/FM (Opp, AL) purchased an R-55e console.
Kim Kelly Enterprises (Las Vegas, NV) purchased an Air-5 console.
Premier Broadcasting (Effingham, IL) purchased an Air-5 console.
Alpha Media (Shreveport, LA) purchased an R-55e console.
Wheatstone Audio Processing
iHeartMedia (Phoenix, AZ) purchased an M1 mic processor.
Recording Media & Equipment (Fort Lauderdale, FL) purchased an FM-25 audio processor.
Great Eastern Radio (West Lebanon, NH) purchased an M1 mic processor.
Cumulus (Los Angeles, CA) purchased 25 M2 dual channel mic processors.
WCDK-FM (Weirton, WV) purchased an FM-55 audio processor.
WLRT-FM (Kankakee, IL) purchased an FM-25 audio processor.
Star Radio Corporation (Great Falls, MT) purchased an FM-25 audio processor.
Crawford Broadcasting (Birmingham, AL) purchased an FM-55 audio processor.
KLLY-FM (Bakersfield, CA) purchased a VoxPro6 digital audio recorder/editor.
KINK-FM (Portland, OR) purchased two VoxPro6 digital audio recorder/editors.
Beasley Broadcasting (Fort Myers, FL) purchased a VoxPro6 digital audio recorder/editor.
iHeartMedia (Rockville, MD) purchased a VoxPro6 digital audio recorder/editor.
Entravision (Sacramento, CA) purchased two VoxPro6 digital audio recorder/editors.
Saga Communications (Champaign, IL) purchased a VoxPro6 digital audio recorder /editor.
Insight for the Blind (Fort Lauderdale, FL) purchased a VoxPro6 digital audio recorder/editor.
WWCN-FM (Fort Myers Beach, FL) purchased a VoxPro6 digital audio recorder/editor.
WMFX-FM (St. Andrews, SC) purchased a VoxPro6 digital audio recorder/editor.
WQNQ-FM (Asheville, NC) purchased a VoxPro6 digital audio recorder/editor.
WSRX-FM (Vernon, NJ) purchased two VoxPro6 digital audio recorder/editors.
WGFR-FM (Glens Falls, NY) purchased three VoxPro6 digital audio recorder/editors.
East St. Louis School District (Missouri) purchased a VoxPro6 digital audio recorder/editor.
KROL Communications (Owosso, MI) purchased a VoxPro6 digital audio recorder/editor.