Broadcast Mics – The Classics

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Electro-Voice RE-20

The venerable Electro-Voice RE-20 microphone.

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When I think of radio and broadcasting (new media or traditional), microphones come to mind as the most up-front, intimate part of the gear that gets us “on-the-air”.

Of course, there are thousands of microphones out there. …everything from the inexpensive electrets in our laptops to the classic studio standards. When talking about studio recording microphones, names like Telefunken and Neumann come to mind.

In radio, Electro-Voice, Sennheiser and Shure are the staples, with the Heil PR series making its mark as a relative newcomer. The Rode Broadcaster, also fairly new on the scene is highly regarded.

I am certain that in other geographical areas, the names would be different. As well, I can almost hear the email inbox filling with suggestions of names I have overlooked. I purposely designed this show as a small, virtual tour of my experiences in the control rooms of stations, both past and present. No doubt, there are many others, but these few mics we will demonstrate have had a profound effect on me as a broadcaster.

Radio broadcast microphones are selected for their tough-as-nails physical attributes along with their smooth response. Unlike a recording studio environment, radio broadcast mics are usually (that trend is changing) dynamics and not overly sensitive, both physically and sonically.

In no particular order, we’ll try out the:
Electro-Voice RE-20 (street price at publish time – $399)
Electro-Voice RE-27 (street price at publish time – $449)
Heil PR-40 (street price at publish time $320)
Rode Broadcaster (street price at publish time $419)

Although absent from this audio cast, the following are just as deserving of broadcast fame:
Sennheiser MD-421II (street price at publish time $379)
Shure SM-7B (street price at publish time $349)


Post Production – Don’t Do It!

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Let me correct that title by saying “extensive Post Production Editing”.

Last week, as I was jumping around the boards and Social Networks, several people mentioned they were post-producing their Podcast and how long it took. Since they were audio, I couldn’t help but wonder what could take so long? Many people prefer to process and normalize in post – that makes perfect sense, but only takes a few minutes. Be careful not to cut out every small blunder in your cast. Let’s face it; those are sometimes the best parts!

I know, …there are times and situations when serious post production is necessary. I’ve had things fall, spill my water or coffee along with other cataclysmic events and decided to edit away. I’m convinced that the freedom to record at different times of the day along with the ability to do re-takes adds a completely different feel to a cast. Recording when you’re tired and after a long day is always a recipe for many re-takes.

The point, however, is to get used to a “radio” workflow. How many perfect radio shows have I ever had? The answer is none.

How about phone interviews? Do you record your voice and the callers on 2 separate channels and then process them separately? How about just recording a mono channel and leave it at that – mistakes/levels and all? Some of the classic and most important interviews of all time were never processed afterwards on separate channels.

Admittedly, there are many, many times I would have liked to edit things out.

As a 19 year old kid, I was working afternoon drive time and filling in on weekends. My most fervent distraction was the request line. I still remember the vertical row of LEDs flashing on the control room phone, each signaling a listener that couldn’t wait to talk with me. How many cues did I miss while talking with listeners? It was all live and if a cart didn’t fire, the splice broke or if you were on the phone when that :28 second (it was supposed to be a :30!) spot ended, then the dreaded dead-air just happened. Tertiary and secondary tones helped, but what if I forgot to turn on the sequencer? Dead air again.

The very worst was the realization that you had a “live” read coming up in 2 seconds, without a pre-read. …now those were classic moments in broadcast improv

There were many other issues that could ruin that potentially “perfect show”. How about an hours worth of stacked Fidelipac carts falling on the turntable playing Dan Ingrams Top 40 Satellite Survey and hearing the screech of the needle as it bounced across fresh vinyl. If only video cams were around to see me running into the control room door and frantically reaching for my phones just as the song faded out. Of course, the Optimod or Vol-U-Max locked-on and raised the noise floor of amplitude-modulated static nicely, but listeners didn’t complain at all. The GM and PD were another story.

With voice-tracking, automation and the loss of those beautiful QRK turntables with wooden tone arms, operator error is a bit less common, but still happens.

The long list of “million-plus” talk show hosts forever use the grammatically incorrect “uh, ah, and so” fill-ins along with the dreaded double “uh” as well.

Software has made it very tempting to sanitize our shows, but I say – leave it as is. Unless you need to bleep something out or run into the audio equivalent of a natural disaster, let it go and put it on the air. These mistakes, whether they be verbiage or other are part of our character.

I constantly try to tame my poor verbal habits, but the truth is that we’re all human and we all make mistakes. Have fun with it!


Presonus Monitor Station

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Monitor Station

The Presonus Monitor Station

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My Presonus FirePods are among the oldest (Podcast specific) gear in Studio1A. They just work. I’m tempted to try the new FireStudio series, but the FirePods are just so good and work transparently with my gear.

I got in touch with Presonus about the Monitor Station, which really intrigued me. I had no idea if it would work in the slightly unconventional way I envisioned.

The idea behind the Monitor Station is to, well …monitor. For me, being able to monitor my audio in real-time isn’t an option, it’s a requirement. The Monitor Station allows audio routing in different ways while providing a central monitoring post with 4 (volume adjustable) headphone jacks.

Plug in 2 or 3 sets of professional powered speakers, including a sub-woofer if you like. Switch using latch (one speaker on turns the other off) or open (multiple speakers on at once) – the choice is yours in the setup config.

The Monitor Station also has a consumer level aux/phono input (using consumer connectors). A built-in electret mic with momentary-on switch is included, but you can also use your own talkback mic as an option.

To sum it up, the Monitor Station has 2 pro (stereo or A/B) inputs using TRS connectors, an aux/phono input and 3 outputs with multiple routing options. You can also route inputs to a separate Cue Source and even use the talkback system as an intercom that won’t be recorded.

Back to the 4 headphone connection amplifier (with discrete levels). They can each be switched to monitor the main or cue buss.

I must admit that after having 3 different reference monitors that it was overkill. I only needed 1 and decided to keep my Yamahas. A cool idea is to ‘test’ your mix using Mix Cubes. The Cubes and their ideology will be for another show.

I had a completely different idea for using the Monitor Station. Listen in and hear how it turned out!


Vocal Strips and the Final Processor – Vidcast

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Vidcast Direct Download

TC Finalizer Express

The TC Electronic Finalizer Express

Aphex 2020

The Aphex 2020MkIII FM Broadcast Processor.

It’s a simple concept and several people this week, from different parts of the world, asked me this question… What is the best way to get that “radio” sound?

The debate reminds me of the never ending clash of political parties and viewpoints. Some people strive for the “pure” sound, with the goal of sonic transparency. Others long for the punch and whollop (is that a word?) of decades old Top 40 CHR and BOSS radio – just as it was meant to be – compressed like crazy.

I’d like to think Studio1A is somewhere in the middle, with an admitted slant towards (only slightly) pushing the compressor.

It takes good engineering skills to push the limit and get punch while not being so compressed that our ears (actually our brain) becomes fatigued.

Commercial RF broadcast chains are filled with compression, leveling, AGC/ALC and a myriad of patented sonic alterations. Although the world of digital signal “routing” has simplified, and at least theoretically, cleaned up the signal chain it is more important than ever to have tight control of your audio – whichever path you select.

For the world of New Media, there are several emerging choices to achieve aural control of your signal at a fraction of old-world prices.

The simplest form of getting the sound you desire is with a vocal strip. Of course, I’m talking mainly real-time appliances vs. software. A vocal strip is designed to give you control over amplitude, passband, filtering and even some custom (voice tailored) equalization on most strips.

However; after feeding your mic into your vocal strip, where does the sound go? Feed it right back into your mixer or console. Most vocal strips will transform and boost your mics signal up to line level, so feed the vocal strip right into your mixers line-in. Most consumer type mixers offer a line in that is basically an attenuated mic pre-amp on the first channel or 2. This will add noise to your signal, vs. a non pre-amp (true line level) channel. The question remains whether you (or your listeners) will perceive this noise if you use an attenuated mic in on your mixer?

Everything else being equal, there’s no question that .0001 Total Harmonic Distortion is cleaner than .001 THD – but can you really hear the difference? More importantly is how the figures were measured, but that’s for a completely different show.

The output of your vocal strip enters a channel on your mixer. For our purposes, you would then take the sum output (usually main outs) of your mixer to a Final Processor. This processor has the final say on conditioning your audio, such as split-band processing, ALC/AGC and soft or hard limiting. This last piece of hardware outputs your audio to its means of transmission whether it be a computer, transmitter or stream.

This simple audio topology will help get you closer to achieving a big consistent sound.


A Vidcast is born

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Panasonic AG-HVX200A

Well, the Studio1A Vidcast tests were definitely a hit considering stats and emails.

I did receive 1 email that reminded me of my own fears launching video. The first issue is just how long each cast would take to produce and post-produce. The 2nd concern was more of the 1st.

I quickly found out that things like lighting and studio layout along with wearing the proper color shirt had to be taken into account (my plaid wardrobe is extensive). Multiple takes were a necessity in changing camera angles to properly show an item. …and then, there’s the issue of a 2nd person in studio to aim the camera after the static shot ‘intro’.

Another issue is the length of the Vidcast in proportion to the file size.

The last issue may just be the most important. I wonder just how many people would rather ‘listen’ to this Podcast since they do so during their morning or afternoon drive time.

Contrast the drive time audience with the boom in YouTube, Blip.TV and dozens of others, not to mention the untapped potential of Apple TV.

I’m finding the best route, so far, is to offer both mediums, visual and audio in no particular order based on show content. Sometimes, I think a Vidcast will really help explain an item as we open the virtual ‘window’ in Studio1A, turning knobs and punching (not literally) buttons. Other times, expecially when I drone on during long shows with Laura, an audio-only format may be a better fit.

So; be sure to join us as we continue to experiment with the formula and evolve.