Garbage in – garbage out; especially true when playing your music through a modern, hard-working audio processor. Stations that sound great play music that sounds great. This means the source material is as close to perfect as possible. No MP3s. No downloading songs using BitTorrent. With the cost of hard drive storage being so low these days, there’s no excuse for not ripping and storing your music library in a linear format – no bit-rate-reduction (data compression). If you must obtain data-compressed music, be sure it’s at a high bit rate. 256kbps minimum for AAC; 384 kbps minimum for MPEG Layer II. Check your songs for full frequency response using spectral analysis; you can connect a PC with a good sound card to your console output and watch for songs limited to 15kHz or less. Replace these cuts as you can. YOU are the final gatekeeper of your station’s source material integrity.
2) Perfect phasing on all songs, jingles, liners and promos
Check your phasing in mono, especially with spots and promos from outside the station. Entire commercials can drop 10dB or even disappear from the normal level of your station if they’re out of phase. If your format plays a lot of pre-1970s stereo recordings, limit your stereo separation. Earlier stereo recordings were often mixed extreme left, extreme right, and center. Fine when listening in stereo, murder in mono. The “winged out” left and right instruments and vocals can modulate less than the center mix material in mono. So, to your mono listeners, the music might be way off in the background and the vocals up hot, or - if the vocal or vocals are left/right - they will be buried under the music.
Shameless plug alert: All Omnia processors have the capability of reducing your stereo separation by 3dB or 6dB if desired. Listeners can’t tell even a 6dB reduction in actual stereo separation, but doing so will reduce level changes for mono listeners. Reducing stereo separation will also reduce multipath distortion in mountainous areas and downtown urban canyons.
3) Clean and direct air chain
Some of that grunge and distortion might be coming from your STL, or a cheap or old mic processor. Maybe there’s a distribution amp in your air chain. Isolate your problem, as to give your processor the very best source material you can in order to allow it to operate at peak performance. One technique for finding weaknesses is to put a CD player and your audio processor at the transmitter site temporarily. Feed a great-sounding CD to the processor and then the transmitter. Drive around and make sure it sounds fabulous. If it doesn’t, pick a reasonable processing preset. Make sure your FM transmitter is tuned for lowest AM noise. You could even have a combiner or antenna problem creating AM noise.
If the CD sounds great on-air, look to your studio, rack room, or STL for the problem. Your competitor is delivering perfect, CD-quality audio to the processor and transmitter. That’s your goal, too.
4) Paying at least some attention to audio levels
Multiple person morning shows (sorry, gotta tell the truth) are notorious for not only pinning levels into the stratosphere, but for also running with all the mics wide open all the time so that the whole show sounds like it is broadcasting from an oil drum. Add calls to the mix, and things can quickly get out of hand. True that many morning studios resemble Grand Central Station at rush hour, but a little bit of level management guidance will go a long way, especially if you bring food into the studio to get their attention!
5) Great, yet judicious audio processing
It’s politically expedient to judge the station’s audio processing using the GM’s or PD’s car. However, most listeners aren’t in the PD’s car; they’re listening on all different kinds of systems, in both mono and stereo. Check your sound on radios from a mono clock radio to a high-end system and everything in between.
Too many radio folks put their trust in an audio processor to solve other audio problems. Ain’t gonna happen. For your station to sound as good or better than your competition everything has got to be “right.” Great source material, no distortion right up to the audio processor input, then, properly working transmitter and antenna systems. If all that is right, then you’ll get your money’s worth from your audio processor.
We’ll talk about specifics of audio processing adjustment in another Tech Talk blog post.