Make ’em go “WOW!”

From time to time we publish some tips for broadcast engineers.  Today’s tips come from Gary Beebe, BSW Special Projects Engineer. (Jim Dalke, WG Editor)

To create “WOW”, you need to keep the audio quality at its best all the way through your station, with no shortcuts.

That is, don’t play mp3 files or anything that’s been overly processed. Play only uncompressed linear audio direct from the CD. If you use a satellite music service, be sure the audio is high quality. (You would be surprised at the “garbage” some stations are re-transmitting.) Don’t take a low-quality internet stream from your program provider, either.

When you record audio to your PC or portable recorder, use .wav or .PCM (linear file with absolutely no data compression). Back when hard disk space was expensive, it made some sense to record compressed .mp3 files. But these days data storage space is cheap. Don’t record as .mp3 or any other compressed data format. (You won’t get “WOW” if you are playing .mp3 audio… trust me.)

Be consistent with the microphones in your studio. For example, if you use RE20 in the on-air studio, use the same model in the Production Room too. This maintains a consistency to the “flavor” of the station voices, no matter where they are doing their work.

Use mic processors (286S, 528E, M1 are among the most popular). Don’t rely on the program processor to manage the mic sound… it needs to be optimized for the overall audio program. Process the mics separately and individually, and make sure all the mic processors are adjusted to sound the same. Ideally, the listener should never hear the voice distorting, going loud and soft, or so “boomy” as to be unclear. When properly adjusted, the sound from the mics should be consistently loud, without that “gritty” sound so common on over-processed stations.

The telephone hybrid you use can make a significant difference, especially if phone calls are central to your program. Several models have automatic caller leveling, which keeps the caller’s voice consistently loud. And the HX1 has its own multi-band processor built in, which optimizes the highs and lows (yes, it adds a bit of “WOW” even to a phone call.) Very impressive sound, and easy to use.

Another part of “WOW” is the program processing.  It used to be that you could be “loud” or “clean”, but not both at the same time.  With the latest digital processing techniques, multi-band compression and multi-band limiting, it’s much easier to maintain competitive loudness, while still having a “relaxed and open” feeling to the audio. The more bands of compression, and the more bands of limiting you use, the less damage will be done to the sound. A popular mid-priced unit is Wheatstone VP-8IP. The 4 bands of AGC and 8 bands of limiting allow it to sound unusually clean, clear and “open” while being louder than anything else in its price range. For those of you engaged in all-out loudness wars, some of the $10K+ units go up to 31 bands of limiting.

And don’t forget the most important part… your on-air talent needs to project “WOW” every time the mic is on. And the programming, whether it’s music or talk, needs to be so much more interesting than the competitors, that listeners would turn to your station even if the other “WOW” components weren’t there. But once you’ve hooked them, the high-quality presentation and high-quality sound will keep them stuck to your place.