At the February 2019 Regional Training Day for the South region, Global’s Technology Training Manager Roger Hall delivered a talk about studios and playout systems… with a difference!
“I thought it might be fun to see if I could fit the entire contents of a radio station – I’m talking mixer, microphone, playout, monitoring, headphones, FM transmitter and all the associated cabling – into the pockets of my trousers, and then build it while explaining what each of the bits do,” said Roger. Here are the top ten tips that came out of his session.
1. On The Level
This is THE most important thing to remember while in a studio: keep the level of the audio you are generating from the mixing desk at around 5.5 on the PPM (Peak Programme Meter) scale. Other desks (typically American made ones) might have a VU (Volume Unit) meter, in which case aim for about the zero mark. You can basically stop reading now, but if you do want to know more …
2. Line Up, Line Up
… how do you know if your kit is at the right level in the first place? In a free audio editor such as Audacity you can Generate > Tone, Effect > Normalize it to -18dB (decibels) then play it into your desk. Adjust each channel so that when the fader is all the way up the levels are at PPM 4, and you should be good to go.
3. Cue The Music
You don’t need a massive expensive desk to make radio, the Behringer Xenyx 502 I used in my demo is currently available for £32.99 from Amazon! However, being able to listen to something on a channel before you put it on air is very useful. Depending on the desk this might be called PFL (Pre Fade Listen), Prefade, Preview or Cue. Press that button down on a channel while audio is playing into it, and without putting the fader up (and therefore it going out on air) you can hear what’s going on.
4. Give Me Your Feedback
Feedback (that horrible loud squealing noise) happens when the output you are listening to goes into the microphone, which goes back out of the output, which goes back into the microphone … and so on. A good mixer will have the ability to silence the output going to the monitoring loudspeakers when a microphone is turned on so this doesn’t happen. Or just use headphones …
5. (Don’t) Turn It Up!
… speaking of which, as tempting as it is, don’t crank up the volume too much when one of your favourite tunes comes on. Tinnitus (a constant ringing or buzzing in the ears) can be caused by exposure to loud noise. As far as we know it is incurable and can be very bad news for a radio career in the long term.
6. Straight Talking
Make sure everyone speaks into the right part of the microphone, otherwise they will sound too quiet, distant or “off mic”. In most mics you are looking for what is known as the diaphragm – the bit that moves and converts your voice into an electrical signal. It might be at the top (think of the sort of mic typically used for singing) or on the side (like an old style 1950s mic).
7. On The Outside
Doing outside broadcasts – literally a broadcast that originates from outside of the usual studio – is easier than ever. Skype or FaceTime will enable you to get decent quality audio from a smartphone over the mobile phone data network back to base. You’ll just need to connect the receiving device to the mixing desk, either using the headphone jack or on later iPhones via a Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter. Some modern desks even allow you to connect devices to them via Bluetooth!
8. Playing Up
A play-out system is a way for a presenter, producer or tech op (technical operator) to play out songs, idents and other bits of production easily from a computer. The problem is, there are dozens and dozens of different ones to choose from! It’s worth figuring out what you want from it. Do you want it to be cheap, simple to use and easy to maintain? Or do you want it to have loads of features, be really reliable and provide a real life professional radio experience? You can start exploring the options with this list from the SRA website.
9. Waste Of Space
If your broadcasting complex is a little on the small side (i.e. it’s a cupboard), see if you can move any of the kit outside of the main studio. You can use KVM (Keyboard/Video/Mouse) Extenders to put the PCs in a different place to where the mixing desk and microphones are. It also cuts down on the amount of computer fan noise you might hear when you’re on air!
10. More, More, More
And finally, where can you find out more? If I want to learn about something new, or there is a term I’ve not heard before, I start by just looking it up on Wikipedia (there are plenty of Wikipedia links in this blog for example). Then go to every SRA Training Day, Conference, Awards and radio networking event you possibly can. If there is an industry professional there that’s given up their time to go along it means they love talking radio probably more than you do, and would be more than happy to answer questions and geek out with you!
I hope that has given you a bit of an insight into getting the best out of a radio studio and maybe a few ideas on where to go next. And if you see me at one of those radio events please say hi. You might just regret it though if you’ve got a train to catch …
Roger Hall has been with Global as their Technology Training Manager and Technical Consultant for 12 years. Prior to that he did technical support and training for RCS UK, who now provide the GSelector music scheduling, Zetta play-out and Burli newsroom systems. He is an alumnus of B-1000 Radio at Brunel University, and was Secretary of the Student Radio Association from 1995-1997.