Blueskin Bay FM/Tutorial
- this Tutorial on Radio Broadcasting in New Zealand is about broadcasting in New Zealand generally. Specifics at Blueskin Bay FM may differ
- 1 Equipment
- 2 How to handle the equipment
- 3 Sound processing
- 4 Logging or recording the outgoing signal
The most important piece of equipment is the voice.
Once the microphone is turned on, the airwaves are either transmitting your voice to the listeners, or, there is silence.
Some people are blessed with a natural and ideal microphone voice. (Think Richard Burton, James Earle Jones.) The rest of us have to use what we have and the listeners have to put up with it.
Talking into a microphone comes with confidence and practice. For a beginner, confidence is best gained by practice. The sharper the brain, the better, but essentially, anyone can do it.
Bear in mind the things that you cannot say, and then everything else is permissible. What you may or may not say is represented in the phrase ‘talk as if you are conversing with your grandmother. If she would not approve - don’t say it’.
Normally one would usually just back-announce the previous track (optional), give the time and/or the station ID (both optional), and introduce the next track.
Think in advance of what you wish to say, but remember that once the microphone is turned on, the mind tends to go blank. To combat this situation, it may help to write down the salient points of what you intend saying. However, a voice reading from a page instead of speaking from the brain tends to sound very flat, stilted or artificial. It may require practice.
Equipment in the studio is likely to consist of:
- a microphone or two, with a windsock over each microphone,
- a mixing panel,
- a telephone with on air facility,
- an "On Air" light,
- a CD player or two (two are required for a programme of CDs only.)
- a record turntable and tape deck for older-style music recordings
- a computer or two
- a sound processing unit
- a means of logging or recording the outgoing signal
- a transmitter for each frequency the signal is broadcast on
- adequate lighting, writing paper, pens/pencils, sound proofing, waste bin, and table space for the sorting and handling of discs, weather notes and community notices
- adequate storage for discs that are in day-to-day use
- a swivel, height adjustable chair on wheels
Not all this equipment is completely necessary - some studios will get by on a lot less. Full-time talk-back radio may have only microphones, telephones, mixer, processor, a computer, plus relevant peripherals. Some studios may have more equipment than shown above.
The microphone takes noise/sound from its immediate surround and converts it to a low electrical impulse to be taken by the cable to the mixing unit.
There are quite a few varieties of microphone. Some types are for noise, some music, some voice. There are hi and low impedance microphones. The more specialised the microphone, the better suited for specific voices, instruments or locations.
Microphones can be cordless, in which case they have a tiny FM transmitter within them that produces a radio signal picked up by a receiver and fed into the mixer. These are ideal for stage work and outside broadcasts The usual way to select them is by how they directionally receive a sound - front only, front and sides, all around.
To confuse the issue, some microphones will have one or two switches on the barrel. If there is one switch, it is probably an On/Off switch. If there is a second it will be to change the impedance. In both cases, in the normal course of operation, don’t touch either.
There are different styles of windsock too, for specific uses, but the foam rubber "eggshell" type is satisfactory for general use. These stop spoken Ps, Bs, Ts and Ss from ‘exploding’.
The mixing panel brings the electronic signals from all the attachments together at preset or variable volume levels, and sends one signal out to the sound processor.
On the panel there is usually a ‘cue’ setting that enables the operator to listen through phones or a studio speaker to a specific music track to correctly preset volume levels, to determine the length of introduction to a track and indeed to tell precisely where a track will start. This can be done without being mixed with the ‘out’ signal. Thus, when the track is started, the levels have been preset and any voice-over introduction is timed as necessary.
A studio phone preferably but not necessarily with its own number that can be switched through the mixing panel is required for putting callers on air. In larger studios, the phone is answered by the programme producer who will determine what the caller has to say, before the call goes through to the studio. There could be equipment to handle any number of callers too, and to mix them so that each caller can talk with other as well as the announcer.
Studio phones are best activated with a light rather than a ringing bell, so that the ring does not go on air if the microphone is open, and also operated through the panel so that the announcer does not physically have to pick up the receiver to talk.
"On Air" light
A light within the studio that comes on when the microphone is on alerts everyone in the vicinity that silence prevails. When this light comes on, studio sound monitors go off or very low in volume so that no ‘electronic feedback’ is experienced. When the microphone is turned off, the light goes out and monitors return to their previous setting. (Some non-studio sound mixing panels are the reverse, and have a light showing when the microphone is muted.)
The studio clock should have a plain dial and plain numerals (nothing fancy) clearly marked with each minute and each hour, and have a sweep second hand. It must be accurate and easily seen by the programme presenter. Ideally the face should be at precisely right angles to the announcer’s line of sight so that errors of parallax do not occur, that is when viewed from an angle it is easy to determine exactly which minute the minute hand is over.
CD players must be of good quality and reliable. But they also need to be basic and easy to operate with no fancy frills that, in the normal course of events, will never be utilised. A CD needs to be able to be inserted, the track(s) selected, and be able to start playing the instant the start button is pushed.
Very useful facilities for a CD player to have are a display of the length of the track, and a countdown of how much time is remaining on the track being played.
If more than one CD player is in the studio, they should be identical machines to avoid ‘human error’; but if they are to be operated by a remote, each machine requires its own unique remote.
Most records are 45 rpm (usually 7 inches in diameter and 33 rpm (usually 12 inches).
A turntable must be able to be held stationery while the motor is on, must have a neutral position so that it can be turned backwards, and have the ability to start almost instantaneously, that is, be up to full speed within moments of the on switch being activated.
There are a few cassettes are in circulation, so a machine that plays such tapes is desirable. Cassette tapes are notoriously difficult to cue up to play a specific track.
Tape decks can also record a segment of the programme being broadcast so that evaluation of the presentation can be considered.
The tape heads require cleaning occasionally, and tapes themselves will sometimes stick and refuse to turn at a constant speed. If a tape gets chewed up in the machine, it’s ‘goodbye tape’, and a devil of a job to extract. Cassette tapes are notoriously difficult to cue up to play a specific track.
The tape heads require cleaning occasionally, and tapes themselves will sometimes stick and refuse to turn at a constant speed. If a tape gets chewed up in the machine, it’s ‘goodbye tape’, and a devil of a job to extract.
A computer loaded with a reliable programme for professional radio station use can see the use of turntables, tape decks, cart machines and CD players minimised (or in some cases, done away with). They are usually operated using 2, 3 or 4 keys on a qwerty keyboard, or with a mouse and from the operator’s point of view are almost idiot-proof.
Loading the computer with music and keeping it running smoothly can be a computer programmer’s nightmare.
Some programmes do not allow for the random selection of tracks to be played. The most common programmes are Raduga ( a professional programme), and Zara, (a free one for enthusiasts, but also available in professional format.) The use of computers has allowed radio stations to be run free of staff, and by remote control from a central location. Zara allows for searching the files for the next track while one is being played without interfering with the track being played. This is ideal for requests or spontaneous playing of a desired track.
The sound processor is a vital piece of equipment for broadcasting. In the normal course of studio duties, there is no need for announcing staff to make any adjustments to this equipment. Its purpose is to deliver the optimum signal from the mixing unit to the transmitter. Leave the use of this item to a knowledgeable technician.
The presenter of a programme must be able to identify to Government radio inspectors if called upon to do so, what was played, when. Notes may be made on paper and filed away, or the outgoing signal can be recorded onto magnetic tape or within a computer.
APRA (Australasian Performing Rights Association) inspectors also have access to this information and it must be supplied when (and if) requested. After a period of time, it can be discarded.
The transmitter may be as small as a handbag or as large as a truck. FM transmitters tend to be more compact, and can be safely stowed on a shelf within the studio or an adjacent room. Often this transmitter is a secondary transmitter, sending a microwave radio signal from an aerial on the roof directly to the primary transmitter for rebroadcasting on the station’s legal frequency, which will be located on a suitable site some distance away. Licence fees are payable for the use of all frequencies - primary and secondary.
AM transmitters are usually located at the broadcasting antenna and are usually fed from the studio with a signal down a telephone or dedicated land line. Sometimes they too, are fed from a microwave transmitter at the studio. The output of a transmitter is measured in watts. The Titahi Bay transmitter of 2YA in Wellington is the most powerful non-military transmitter in the southern hemisphere at 100 000 watts. FM stations operate at far lower output, and small local station, known as LPFM (low power frequency modulated) run at 0 .5 of a watt. They are not permitted to exceed this power.
Once in operation, no adjustments to transmitting equipment is necessary except for adjustment by qualified staff. Studio station staff do not have to touch this equipment.
A hazard for transmitters is possible lightning strike.
Studio staff must answer phones, take messages, make notes, and record copyright details. To do this, adequate bench space must be available. Pens must be available. The playing of discs, carts records and tapes also means that jackets, covers and cases have to be constantly emptied, and filled after playing. Therefore, a studio should have adequate bench work-space.
Storage of a session’s music programming within easy reach of the chair at the microphone makes it easier to present an organised programme. The smaller the medium (eg discs, and especially music files on a computer) the easier it is to provide storage, provided they are stored in some form of order.
As each presenter is of a different build, any chair provided should be adjustable and must be comfortable enough to allow a presenter to sit in the one position for hours on end. As standing straight up to vacate a chair will usually bring the body into contact with the microphone gooseneck stem and/or the desk lighting, it is imperative the chair be on wheels so that it can be moved away from the desk prior to getting out of it.
Under the chair should be a thick rubber mat provided for the purpose of preventing rapid wear on the carpet by the wheels of the chair. This mat should extend to the furthest point that an occupied chair is likely to be pushed to.
Headphones (or "cans") are usually provided by each announcer, but a spare pair or two should be available within the studio. They should be stereo phones. (In most studios, a different signal can be heard in each ear, eg cueing, radio feed from another source, telephone and producer cues plus the outgoing signal being generated by the presenter).
Headphones can be of lightweight or heavyweight construction depend on the presenter’s preferences. A pair of reasonable quality retails from $10.00 to $ 60.00 for the ‘professional’ ones.
How to handle the equipment
using the microphone
Bring your own windsock (the foam thing over the end of the microphone) as sharing can spread germs.
Talk naturally. Do not raise your voice, whisper, or alter your voice. Talk as if the person you are talking to is sitting just over the other side of the desk. Try not to copy another person’s style. Your voice is unique and your method of using it is what will gain you an audience.
Try not to hesitate, although this is determined by the speed at which your brain works. Therefore, to talk about something complicated, it is best to make some notes. Likewise, for reading out numbers (Lotto, race results, phone numbers or whatever), have them written down and do not rely on memory. If you stumble over a number, repeat it. All factual information must be correct to the best of your knowledge. If stating an opinion, make sure that listeners will know it is an opinion.
Usually the microphone is on some kind of adjustable gooseneck or boom. Have it so that it is about 50 mm (2 inches) from your mouth, and if looking off to the side while talking, move your head around the microphone rather than turning you head away from it.
It is necessary to check your voice level on the mixing panel before first talking through the ‘cue’ provisions of the panel. For a mixer without this facility, check the level as soon as possible after starting your session. Once set, further adjustment should not be necessary, given that the level for each announcer will be different.
On occasion, mistakes are made with diction, controls, music, or announcements. It is ok to mention your mistakes and perhaps encourage your listeners to laugh at you, but don’t keep apologising for yourself.
ALWAYS treat a microphone as if it is turned on unless you have made a conscious and deliberate check of the switch. Many a well-paid announcer has learned this lesson the hard way.
using the mixing panel
A cue facility allows you to preset the output level of your voice and all the other inputs. A studio speaker and/or the headphones will relay what will happen and at what levels when switched to ‘on air’.
The most important switch on the panel is the mic. ALWAYS treat the microphone as open until you have rechecked it. This will save embarrassment and possibly even lawsuits.
Most mixing panels these days have slide controls showing levels through LED lamps. Older ones have rotary ‘pots’ with a needle gauge showing the level referred to in terms of Vu.
The correct output level is "1", and each point above this is an extra 10% of output. Never run output volume in the red.
The panel allows for the fade-in or fade-out of music. For talk-over, reduce the music input from the device playing it, to about 50% of the on-air level, don’t compete with the music by talking with it at normal volume.
using the telephone
If the phone rings while the microphone is open, do not answer it unless you know exactly who the caller is. It is OK to take the receiver off its cradle to prevent it ringing further if the ring is not programmed as a silent one -through a light system. If the caller is aware they are ringing into a radio station, they must be aware that such activity and perhaps delays in answering will occur.
Phones that are switchable through the mixing panel will have their own unique instructions.
Do not put a caller on air unless they are aware of it, and be prepared to chop such a call off air immediately if bad, inflammatory or defamatory language ensues.
using the turntable
Records come in all conditions so the stylus ("needle") and pick-up arm must be able to cope with surface dirt and noise, and must be heavy enough not to skate across the record. The stylus must be kept scrupulously clean of fluff, dust and dirt. The turntable must be level and checked periodically to ensure that it stays level, likewise the weight of the stylus should be checked occasionally. In theory it should apply a downward pressure on the record of 3 to 5 grams. A ten cent coin or similar placed on the stylus cartridge is sometimes adequate to keep the stylus in the groove if it is prone to bouncing out. For a record that’s noisy due to wear and dirt, a fine spray of water from a spray bottle can eliminate a lot of noise. Be prepared to wash a record with warm (not hot) soapy water if necessary. Discard bent and broken records, and records coated in foreign substances eg paint.
To cue a record, switch the mixing desk to cue for the appropriate channel, put the turntable (after checking the speed switch) into neutral with the On switch turned off, and place the stylus as close as possible to the desired spot on the record. Using your finger, wind the record forward or back to listen for the exact spot it starts at. Then wind it back a ¼ or ½ turn (experience with a particular turntable will tell you how much). It should be enough to allow the platter to come up to full speed prior to the first note starting, but almost instantaneously. Move the volume to its optimum output. Turn the sound from cue to play. When it’s time for the music, just turn the power on.
At the end of the selected track, move the volume slider to its minimum position before lifting the stylus from the groove. This eliminates any noise that may occur as the stylus leaves the vinyl, and does not cause embarrassment if the tone arm slips on being picked up.
using the "On Air" light
This should be completely automatic and not subject to any manual adjustment. It must light up the studio and the studio environs with a red light whenever the mic is open. It should be within the announcer’s field of vision. Two or more bulbs may be necessary. No-one except the announcer talks when this light is on unless invited to by the announcer.
using the tape deck
Cueing a tape to the start of a track that is not the first track can be done with experience, by checking firstly that inserting headphones into the phones jack disconnects to output line to the mixer. Then fast forward or rewind to near the start of the track. Play the tape forward until the very start of the first note then push Stop and Eject. Take the tape from the machine and wind it back with your finger or a pencil about 25 mm. Replace it in the machine, push Pause, then Play. Take headphones out of phones socket. When it’s time to play it, just release Pause. Cueing can also be done using the mixer, if the mixer has an easy to operate facility for this.
A cassette machine should be set up so that it can record the outgoing signal from the mixer. A good presenter will periodically put a blank tape in to record a 30 minute segment of their show for critical review to find out how many "ah, you know um, you know, sort of, you know, like, wow, yeah, no, you know, well" words the speech is peppered with. With such a cassette on hand one can strive to lift one’s own performance. If the wired in cassette player can not do this, is may be necessary to have a radio-cassette recorder in the studio that will record an ‘as broadcast’ signal.
using the CD player
The unit must be simple to operate and not require any extensive knowledge. Most machines have different methods of operation, so if 2 or more are used in the one studio, ideally they will be identical in operation.
Very few studios have retained the instruction books for their CD machines, and as each may have different methods of programming, trial and error may be the order of the day.
Basically, they need to open and close on one button; a track or a variety of tracks on a CD need to be able to be selected for playing; and playing needs to commence immediately the Start button is pushed. When a selection of tracks is playing, a CD player requires a pause button so that the following track can either continue after the current one, or, on pushing Pause, does not commence until required.
Once the selected track(s) has/have been played, the player will stop automatically. If further tracks are to be selected for playing, delete all previously selected tracks prior to making further choices.
If a CD machine is one that does not start to play a selected track as soon as the Start button is activated, then when setting up a CD, push Start and immediately push Pause. Releasing the Pause button at the appropriate time usually means the player will then start playing at once.
If the CD unit has a clock on it showing the length of the track, it is more advantageous to run this clock so that it counts down to the end of the track, rather than counting up. (If it counts up, you have no idea when the track will end unless you have noted the length of the track prior to starting it.)
Selecting the Random facility on a CD player means that once started, the player will play all tracks on the disc in any order, and will stop after completing that task. Pushing the Pause at the end of a track will stop it playing the next track until Pause is repushed.
using the computer
If a computerised radio programme is used, it has advantages over records, tapes and CD, if only in the fact you can turn up to the studio without boxes of your programme - it’s all there, in the computer (or mp3, USB stick or other PC peripheral).
Computer programmes operate in different ways;- with Raduga, push P on the computer keyboard to start a track (it will start at once), push B to stop at the end of the track, and S will stop the current song after fading it out over 4 or 5 seconds. With Zara, P and S work in the same manner, but onscreen icons activated with the mouse will give added flexibility.
An operator should make themselves fully acquainted with the way the computer works.
The computers may be loaded with many hours of songs, and in general are best played in the order in which they appear on screen. Some programmes are amenable to being searched for a particular title, but others are not. Twenty or so song titles are displayed onscreen and will be played in the order they appear, so the announcer knows what’s coming up next. Zara programme not only counts down the length of the song, but also displays what time it will finish (based on the computer’s own clock). Tracks can be shuffled or played at random.
If the computer is connected to the internet when tracks are loaded into it, the title of the song and the artist are automatically filed, but not all CDs transferred to the computer files are accurate with this information, so what you see, is not necessarily what you get. Be prepared to make corrections to the programme by using the mouse to right click on the relevant line, left clicking on Edit, typing in the correction and pushing Enter on the keyboard. Usually this can not be done while that particular track is playing, so wait ‘til it’s finished, then make the alteration. If the computer is not on the internet when the tracks are transferred, no information about a track is available.
Disadvantages with a computer are that a VDU (computer screen) has to be clearly visible to the announcer. These can be cumbersome. A mouse and a keyboard have to be in easy reach. Occasionally the computer won’t be able to find a file and will come to a stop. When this happens, a record, cart or CD can be immediately activated if one is lined up. Therefore it’s a good idea to have one lined up ready to go anyway. The computer problem can be solved in various ways depending on what the problem is. Sometimes the easiest way is to shut the programme down, turn the computer off, count to 5, and turn it on again.
Computerised studio work can be done in conjunction with all other methods of presentation. They can be used to insert Station ID, Weather, News or Notices, introductions, Sign On and Sign Off themes.
Computer programmes are available to record cassette tapes, 78s 45s and 33s, reel to reel tapes, film soundtracks etc, and be able to replay them with the touch of a finger.
Headphones are over the ears for many hours at a time. All staff should own their own head phone sets to prevent infections and as they are worn for long periods, they need to be comfortable. A cheap lightweight pair will suffice, but foam or leather padding is a must, not only for the sake of comfort, but to prevent high humidity building up in the ear canal which in turn can lead to wax problems and infections.
A primary cause of deafness is continual bombardment of the eardrums by loud noises, and therefore keep the volume only as loud as necessary.
The sound processing unit is a piece of electronic equipment that adjusts the volume of specified frequencies up or down so that the studio signal being forwarded to the transmitter can be modified to give the best possible performance as a radio signal to be broadcast to the listeners. They can chop off base overtones, or enhance them, likewise treble sounds and the high range sounds.
AM and FM sounds are modified to different standards, and in the larger studios even some modifications are made to the output to compensate for the voices of specific announcers.
There should be no need for studio staff to adjust this unit, it should only be touched by a technician qualified to do so.
Logging or recording the outgoing signal
Most music broadcast to a wider audience is legally required to have royalties paid on it, so that the composer, singer, record company and the like can collect what is due to them. In New Zealand this is handled by the Australasian Performing Rights Association (Apra). Any music played where the public can hear it, -shops, offices, cinemas, factories, alleyways, malls, halls, bars, shows, etc must pay this fee, even if they are merely relaying what is coming over a radio and therefore already has a fee paid on it.
Under the same laws, music may not be copied without a fee being paid.
To pay our share as a broadcaster, the content of what’s going on air must be recorded (pen and paper, or on tape or computer), and if an Apra inspector calls, this information is to be made available. The inspector’s job involves a lot of averaging, so they may sample just a page or 2, or may even work out what is played from auditing a similar station. Or they may take all the records for the last 6 weeks to pore over them. Or they may never pay a visit. The station’s fee is constant; the inspector has to work out from what he considers is being broadcast, how to divvy up the fee.
Some music can be downloaded from specific internet sites that has no royalties payable. The owners of such music allow anyone and everyone to disperse the music in any way they see fit. Such music is clearly identified when downloading and copyrighted music cannot be treated as this "copyleft" material.
Broadcast content is also subject to scrutiny by the public and Ministry of Commerce and Broadcasting Standards Authority Radio Inspectors. Should the need arise within a reasonable time, the content of a programme must be made available. It behoves presenters not to broadcast any programme or item that may later be the subject of an investigation.
(Some radio stations will have a radio receiver operating within the studio, and it is this, the incoming signal, rather than the outgoing signal, that is recorded. This method records precisely what listeners would have heard.)
Station staff must be diligent in properly noting what is being broadcast if the task is being done manually.
Without this piece of equipment no-one can hear what is produced within the studio unless a closed circuit broadcast is all that’s required, or the programme is being ‘streamed’ online. Once set up, there is usually no need for any adjustment except by technicians qualified to do so.
Transmitting antennae are prone to lightning strike which will put the transmitter out of action and hence, the station goes off-air. Usually, the only indication a presenter has that this has occurred is that the "as broadcast" monitor goes silent. If this occurs, notify the technical staff as soon as possible.
Edited from original material written and kindly provided by Trevor Norton