For maximum flexibility, the current state of creative audio art has
drawn on tools from radio stations, recording facilities and project
The basic process of creating content offline for use on-air has not
changed much. It used to be that a background of music, composed and
arranged specifically for a sponsor's use, was played by a live
orchestra, and an announcer or singer extolled the virtues of the
sponsor's products. Today, the creative producer uses a computerized
index to find a CD containing pre-timed thematic music, or he may
download it directly to hard drive and mix that under the announcer's
copy. Using various processing and digitizing tools, the producer can
equalize, compress, limit and vary the length of the spot, then
record it to a CD or save it in the station's on-air delivery system.
The basic function of production remains unchanged, but much has
changed in the technologies that create the final product. Despite
this, the creative art is still very much in the producer's ear and
>From the middle
Let's look at the mainstay of the production studio, the console.
When radio broadcasting started to grow technically, the
manufacturers who catered to the industry simply created downsized
versions of their on-air consoles and touted them as production
boards. Then, one simply had to adjust the relative level between one
or two mics and other audio sources like turntables and open-reel
tape decks in order to come up with a pleasing balance. In many
stations, the production studio was a clone of the on-air studio,
which allowed it to serve as a backup in case of a breakdowns or
maintenance. Today, a radio production console differs markedly from
the on-air console - it is specifically designed for recording rather
than transmitting information.
Production consoles can sport many features not found in the on-air
studio, primarily equalization. Proper use of equalizers can make the
difference between just any voice and an interesting presencewith
dynamics. Judicious EQ can heighten the listener's sense of enjoyment
and appreciation of musical tracks, and make them more pronounced or
intense when buried under the announcer's voice. Many consoles also
offer the options of channel-by-channel compression/limiting, reverb
or echo, and send-receive to outboard special effects processors.
Each of these finds its way into the sum of a given production in the
hands of the creative producer. (For more on processing for
production, see FEATURE on page 34.)
Depending on the capabilities of the audio editor you use, the
console may not be at the center of the studio. Some editors provide
a complete mixing interface, and only a small console may be needed
for level control and basic routing.
Processing is employed quite differently for production as compared
with on-air. Processing can be used for the effect it creates or as a
way to compensate for a shortcoming. A compressor can be set to
reduce the level of the background audio automatically to allow a
voice to cut through. Multiband processing is now finding its way
into the production studio as well. Regardless of how it is used,
care must be taken to prevent overprocessing before the station's
main on-air processor. Processing for effect is a creative tool that
can easily be overused. When used judiciously, effects processors can
add just the right ingredient to make the final production shine.
Effectively routing various audio sources and effects processors can
be a challenge. In analog installations, patch bays are an economical
and practical method of routing. With digital sources, the choices
are not as easy. Compact audio switchers (both analog and digital)
are available for small tasks. Most can also be remote-controlled.
Multiple console buses can be used as well if they are available. The
method of routing you choose should provide enough flexibility for
the producer to focus on the final product and not on what to do to
make it happen.
Microphones for production are, in general, the same as those used
on-air, although a higher-quality mic may be chosen for production
because of the safer environment. (That is to say that a mic in a
production studio will not likely see the same amount of use or abuse
as in the air studio.) Using the same mics in production as on-air
maintains an aural consistency. Likewise, the same mic processor
should be used. Some producers have several different types of mics
available in order to capture different voice treatments as well as
cater to the differing announce styles and methods of mic technique.
Many producers like to have dynamic and condenser types on hand to
deal with screamers and whisperers - without too much aggravation and
Monitoring facilities are critical to production studios. A good pair
of reference speakers is required to enable close evaluative
listening to make appropriate adjustments and enhancements. A
smaller, near-field pair of speakers should be available to compare
the sound to a different listening environment. Because the station's
on-air processing can alter the tonal balance significantly, it can
be helpful to audition a finished project through a replication of
the on-air processing to hear exactly what the listener will hear.
Most current production consoles offer several choices of monitoring
feeds for headphones and monitors.
Correct monitor placement is critical. Typical production studios
have a console and a digital editor. Many times, these two devices
are not positioned in the same optimum monitoring position. In these
cases, it is helpful to the producer to have a second set of monitors
placed around the second listening position. If most of the
producer's time will be spent at the editor, the primary monitoring
position should be placed around the editor.
Playing music and sound effects is a major portion of production.
Virtually all production libraries are now issued on CD. Today's CD
players offer cueing, scrubbing and instant start with repeatability
- something most producers appreciate. Music and effects library
suppliers have moved forward with the times as well. In the heyday of
outsourced music for local productions, only a few agencies offered
leasing of various indexed collections of pre-timed original music.
Today, dozens of suppliers offer a direct purchase license to
selected packages. Some suppliers have added special packages of
selected pieces or even single-selection purchase options. In
addition, some suppliers have made their collections available online
for preview and purchase.
With the advent of the home recording studio or project room (some of
which are much more than just home studios) facilitated by relatively
low-cost digital equipment with high-quality specs, almost every
musician who can invest in this prosumer-level gear can become a
music producer for radio. Add to this the advent of
duplicate-it-yourself CDs, and anyone can offer production music.
Interestingly, some progressive radio stations are entering into
partnerships with well-equipped musicians for the purpose of offering
new and fresh music for local spots at affordable prices. Some
stations have gone as far as building and equipping their own project
studios adjacent to their production rooms. These project studios can
be contracted for the services of several knowledgeable local players
to offer in-house music production.
Speaking of studio space, when designing a production facility, if
possible, allow for a production control room and production studio.
This additional studio may be as basic as a small voice-over booth or
as complex as a performance studio. A larger studio also can serve as
a place for bands to perform live on the air or for occasional
multipurpose use, such as a public station's fund-raising drives.
A separate studio will require additional monitoring and talkback
capabilities. Some consoles include a provision for studio
communication and monitoring. In some cases, an external intercom
system may be required for effective communication between the two or
Recorders and recording
From cutting lathes to tape recorders to CDs and other digital
recording media, the advances in audio recording have been tremendous.
Today's production studio may have an open-reel tape machine, which
probably sees little use. There are occasional spots and programs
that require a reel to reel. The CD certainly has found a suitable
home in a production studio, too. Other media, including mini-disc,
DAT and RAM-based recorders, have found uses in production. These
formats are also being used in field recording. DAT and CD have found
a home in archiving applications. The multiple-access
recorders/players that found instant success on-air have also found a
place in the production studio. All of these solutions offer
inexpensive and convenient storage and retrieval options.
For archiving purposes, it is best to choose a linear recording
format. While many data-reduction algorithms sound quite good, the
effects of multiple encoding can quickly become apparent. Further,
there is no way to know what algorithm may be used in the future for
transmission or distribution, so a linear format provides some
insurance against incompatible file formats.
The most common building block in a production facility is now the
digital editor, also called the digital audio workstation, or DAW.
Many manufacturers offer DAWs in a wide price range with an even
wider range of features. From basic stereo to multitrack recording
and editing, there is a system to fit your needs.
There is no single file-format standard among DAWs. Various recording
formats are used, although MPEG and WAVE formats are the most common.
The pro audio industry is settling on 24-bit/96kHz performance, but
DAWs have not yet settled into a common mode, either. Sharing files
between different systems also can be a challenge. Most systems will
import and export WAVE and possibly MPEG files. Some allowances may
need to be made for file sharing (see Managing Technology, pg. 14),
but different systems should work together.
Computers have natural homes on networks, and computers for audio are
no exception. Audio file sharing across the building or across the
country is common. Completed productions and contribution elements
can be stored on a central file server for easy retrieval by any
Distribution of completed spots usually meant shipping a tape or,
more recently, a CD. Faster communications methods for voice and data
allow for commercial insertion orders to be processed up to the last
possible moment. In these cases, shipping a tape or CD makes no
sense. Private distribution networks like DG Systems were created to
transport the audio files anywhere a POTS or ISDN connection was
available. Now that most stations have Internet access across their
office networks, a new path is available.
New service providers have made audio file distribution as simple as
sending an e-mail message. While the interface is not exactly the
same, the basic idea is. Audio files can be e-mailed or stored on a
central file server and then downloaded (sometimes automatically)
when needed. The commercial scheduler and audio playback system can
even check an FTP site at the beginning of the day to see if a new
version of the spot is available and automatically make the update.
These Internet services also provide tracking and verification of
receipt and transmission of traffic instructions.