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Radio Production

Instruction to the trainer:

(These text can help you in explaining the radio studio and the different equipments. But of course it is advisable to familiarize yourself as much as possible with the studio so that you are prepared to all eventualities and problems that might occur. )

I. Introduction ­

The Radio Process Although at first sight broadcasting equipment may seem somewhat intimidating, thousands of people of all ages have become involved in broadcasting and have found that the operation of the equipment can be grasped by virtually anyone. A good broadcaster should know about the equipment, its possibilities and its limitations. Only then can you use radio creatively to its fullest potential.

a) The path of sound

Radio is about sound being changed from one form to another, whereby the broadcaster can communicate with the audience throughout the station's coverage area.

An idea from the mind of a presenter is changed into sound waves that are picked up by a studio microphone. The electronic signal that is created may then be stored on an audio device (CD, Tape, MD, HD) or be sent directly to the transmitter.

The transmitter sends out the signal, which is then received by radio sets tuned to the appropriate frequency. The receiver changes the signal back to sound waves, picked up by the ears of the listener, where they are changed back to a signal to the brain where the message is registered. This process takes a fraction of a second to complete.

II. The Radio Studio

Broadcasting is the selective use of sound ­ creating the noises you wish to be heard and excluding unwanted sounds. That's why most broadcasting comes from a studio ­ a soundproofed room, filled with pieces of equipment that create sound.

Studios are acoustically treated to keep out or minimise unwanted noise, and to avoid reflection or echoing of sounds created. Studios will vary in layout and design. What they do have in common are basic types of equipment. There will be several microphones to pick up the voices of the broadcasters. Turntables, Cassettes and compact disc players (CD) are provided for the playing of music and recorded sound. Cassette decks, Mini Disc and Computer may be provided for recording or to replay material recorded on cassette outside the studio. Further, there will be speakers to let you listen to what is recorded or broadcasted, as well as several sets of headphones.

The studio is the heart of the station. Keep your dogs, food, drinks and cigarettes out of the studio. They are distractions and some will damage the equipment.

III. The Mixing Console

The centrepiece of the studio is the mixer or master. All the bits of equipment are linked to the master, which controls what, ends up going to air or being recorded. The microphones, CD­players, cassette recorder, mini disc and computer are all connected to the mixer. This central piece of studio equipment controls what is recorded or broadcasting. The mixer allows you to switch from one source of sound to another, and, as the name suggests, lets you mix together the sound from several pieces of equipment.

a) Faders

The mixer has a number of 'Faders' usually one for each piece of equipment. Faders are either rotary knobs or slide controls. The faders determine the level of signal from the equipment.

Generally microphone faders should be opened fast otherwise the first part of what the person is saying cannot be heard over the radio. While music faders should be opened and closed gradually. Remember that when a microphone is opened it will pick up most sounds in the studio, including the 'clicks' and 'clunks' made when tape recorders are being switched on. Try to develop a habit of quickly fading down the microphones before switching on the more noisy pieces of equipment such as cassette deck.

Cross fading will give a slight overlap, when for example; the start of a second record is faded in while the first is gradually faded out. To do this well it is important to know what the end of your first record sounds like. Wearing headphones allows your ears to judge the best time to cross fade.

b) Organisation

As should be obvious by now, good organisation by the studio operator is of vital importance. You always need to be at least one or two steps ahead of yourself. Planning makes mixing much easier. Always check, and double­check that the next item is cued and ready to go. It is wise to have as many items as possible cued before starting your program. If possible, have an extra record or CD standing by in case of the occasional inevitable disaster.

IV. Microphones

There are many different kinds of microphones. They are highly sensitive devices to pick up voices and other sounds. They need to be treated carefully. Microphones are usually distinguished by two factors ­ whether they need a power supply and their 'pick up' pattern

V. Compact Disc Player or CD

Lots of music, radio plugs and other computer recordings today come from CD. CDs are easy to cue. You just put the CD into the player choose the number of the track you want and push 'pause' and the CD is ready. You can also play one track after the other. But if you want to play two songs from different CDs one after the other you need two CD­players in order to continue without interruption or to be able to crossfade.

VI. Cassette Deck

Most studios will also have one or two cassette decks available. Studio cassette decks are similar to domestic models in operation. Cassettes cannot easily be cued, as the tape cannot be turned by hand. It is a matter of careful timing, to stop the cassette just before the start of the recorded segment you want to play. Having cued the cassette, it is wise to use the 'Pause' button, as the machine will gain full speed more quickly than if starting with the 'Play' button.

VII. Mini Disc Recorder

Portable mini disc recorders are often used for field interviews. As recordings on the mini disc can be edited with the mini disc device itself it is more practical than CD or MP3 recorders. Mini disc is easy to cue, select the track and use the 'Pause' button. To start release the 'Pause' button.

VIII. MP3 or Voice Recorder

MP3 Recorders or Voice Recorders become more and more popular for field recordings. If you buy a device make sure it has an input for an external microphone. Because the built in microphone do not record radio quality. MP3 recorders can be connected to the mixer through the headphone output. It is easy to cue just select the file you want to play and use the 'Pause' button. To start release the 'Pause' button.

IX. Computer

Most new studios today have a computer with sound card and sound recording and editing programmes. This is very practical, as editing and mixing is possible on the computer. The computer can also play back recorded sound, sound from the Internet and from CD or USB Flash Drive. Attention if you record on the computer and play back at the same time you risk 'Pause' feedback. It is important to either play from or record to the computer. The file format usually used for radio is MP3 or WAV. For simple radio sound­editing Audacity is an Open Source, free software.

X. Meters

The studio mixer and some of the recording devices will have meters built into them. A clear understanding of the use of these meters is crucial for good recording and broadcasting.

The meters indicate the level of the sound signal. Whether recording or broadcasting you should aim for the best possible level of sound. If it is too low, additional background noise will be heard. If it is to high, the sound will distort. The only way to know the level of the sound is by reading the meters. The level of sound should not be confused with volume. You and the listener can adjust the volume on headphones, monitors, or a radio receiver as desired. The use of the meters is quite simple ­ aim to have the indicator going into the red part of the meter as often as possible but not permanently. For the spoken word the peak should be somewhat louder than for music. It should be remembered that within any piece of music there is be a range of levels. You should not be adjusting the levels constantly, but should set the level control so that the loudest part of the piece will make the needle or light bounce up to the red part of the meter.

XI. Speakers

The studio will be equipped with loudspeakers and headphones, which let you hear what you are doing. To avoid 'feedback' speakers must be cut out as soon as a fader for a microphone in the control room is opened. This makes it important to use headphones. To produce a radio program without constantly monitoring what is being broadcast is like taking photographs without bothering to look through the viewfinder or display of the camera. Constant monitoring over headphones and watching of the meters is essential for a good quality production.

XII. How to assemble a Mobile Recording Studio

A mobile studio can be used for live transmission from a certain place, such as a public forum, community gathering, a town fiesta to transmit broadcasts from that place to the main radio station and from where it will be broadcasted to the radio listeners.

This can be done either with a small transmitter, if the location is not too far from the main station or via telephone connection or via internet connection. The last one is called streaming. More information on streaming you find on www.streambox.org or http://www.shoutcast.com.

Here we explain how to connect the different devices for a mobile studio. The centrepiece is a small mixer, with at least four tracks. To this mixer you connect the devices you need for the recording or broadcast, such as microphones, CD­ player, MiniDisc recorder, cassette recorder and a computer for recording or streaming. The mixer has different inputs and different outputs. All the devices you connect do have an output (line out) (CD­Player, microphones) and some also have an input (line in). For portable recorders or CD­players the earphone socket can serve as output and the microphone socket can serve as input. The output of each device must be connected to the input of one of the tracks at your mixer. The output of the mixer, must be connected to recording device (cassette recorder, computer, MiniDisc recorder). The output of the mixer can be the socket called Rec, Master or main output. To connect the devices to the mixer a number of cables are needed. It is very important that to have the right cable and the right plugs that fit to the mixer and the devices. If you want to listen over speakers to what you have recorded you can also bring portable speakers and connect them to the headphone output. For this you would need a two-way adapter for the headphone socket. But careful: For recording over the microphone you need to turn off the speakers or place them far a way from the microphones to avoid feed back. The most important monitoring instrument is still the headphone, never operate a mobile studio without your headphone on.

The best is to test the whole studio a few days before the actual event to find out what is missing. It is also advisable to bring electric extension wires with a number of sockets as all your devices need electricity.

Isis ­International Manila, August 2006
Source: Ethnic Public Radio Training Program
Public Broadcasting Association of Australia