Tech's Files: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Mar 31, 2010 2:04 PM, By Eddie Ciletti



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So How Does Radio Do It?
I approached two public radio broadcast engineers with questions to see what life is like on their turf. Both engineers were ready and willing to provide perspective.

Technical production supervisor at WUNC (North Carolina) Peter Bombar says that what technicians might view as obvious proximity effect, a host might hear as “warm,” which projects to their listeners as “appealing,” just like a recording artist’s need to be comfortable with their sound. The mic on Dick Gordon (host of The Story) is a Neumann U87. Frank Stasio (host of The State of Things) favors an Electro-Voice RE-20 as do Joe and Terry Graedon (hosts of The People’s Pharmacy). The signal path for the U87 is an analog Wheatstone console with no EQ or compression, directly to Adobe Audition, using Genelec 1030A reference studio monitors.

For a program like The Story, the majority of the interviews are through an ISDN system from remote studios that vary from “very good” to “very not so good.” Bombar explains that his hardworking staff must meet daily deadlines, focusing on achieving a meaningful and purposeful interview more than on allowing time for “mastering” or equalizing various source material.

Kyle Wesloh is manager of production and operations at Minnesota Public Radio (MPR)/American Public Media (APM), where their host mics are the Electro-Voice RE-20, a Shure KSM-32 (with “popless VAC” windscreens) and a vintage Neumann U87 (for national shows). Regional host mic settings (with or without highpass filter) are flat (no EQ, no compression). National programs use Great River preamps and EQ, and Crane Song compression. Settings are unique to each host. All of their shows use the Axia Element modular console. Both engineers must maintain consistent operating levels as set by APM, NPR and PRSS (National Public Radio and Public Radio Satellite System), some of which can only be truly achieved in post-production.

Going Off-Air
It can be argued that radio is not for golden-eared audiophiles, but I do believe it’s possible to raise a station’s low-frequency energy awareness simply by having at least one full-range monitoring system in house. Studio speakers with 6-inch woofers are amazing for their size but are down 6 dB (or worse) at 47 Hz, when at minimum they need to be up by that much.

These suggestions are intended as a starting point (salt and pepper to taste). For those concerned about maintaining warmth, the primary point is that target audiences listening on a minivan stereo or clock radio may not—or should not—hear the EQ changes. If the engineer makes corrections and/or creates presets to tackle the more egregious daily “problems,” the other processors in the signal chain can do a better job—with less gain reduction—while improving intelligibility and level consistency, all without sledgehammer signal processing. Once the host mic’s excessive low-frequency energy is tamed, the multiband processor can be re-adjusted to restore warmth (but not rumble or mud) to the overall program. Who knows, it might even improve ratings! 

Eddie Ciletti is the pirate radio captain of his neighborhood “ship,” as well as at

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