It will be short, like my patience to listen to broadcasts from the homes of presenters and contributors.
We are 667 days away from the new normal and have accepted several new mantras as “normal”. One of them is the concept of home broadcasting. In its simplest form, this involves a performance or on-air presentation from the home of a radio presenter.
In the old standard, this would have been called an outdoor broadcast, with a broadcast taking place outside the studio complex. Radio stations have spent millions of Rand on vehicles, equipment, and connectivity links to ensure that programming can run seamlessly, so that the end product remains professional and listenable (from a technical perspective). Some commercial OB units that I have seen and worked in trump many community radio stations and permanent studio facilities.
If we’ve spent millions in the past, why are we now accepting a sound that looks like two cans of baked beans tied together by a piece of string?
During the chaos caused on the N1 in Johannesburg by traffic authorities this past weekend, I and thousands of others spent hundreds of hours listening to the radio. I started listening just after 11 a.m. and arrived at my destination three and a half hours later. During this time, I moved away from three established broadcasters who took the baked bean box approach for remote broadcast.
It literally looks like someone is sitting in a box and that is, in my opinion, unacceptable to offer to an audience that has chosen to consume their product, many of whom are doing so on high end audio devices.
I’ve written before about the value of tech staff and the show’s ability to keep going. Seasoned broadcasters will tell you that every OB presents a technical challenge and that no two remote broadcasts are the same. They will also tell you that a trained technician manages to broadcast far from the studio complex. Words like calm, prepared, organized and knowledgeable are often used to describe the behavior of good OB technicians.
Connectivity, software and hardware have changed dramatically over the past three years, and I see little reason for radio stations to buy baked beans wholesale. I think we need to challenge the diffusion value chain in the case of baked beans.
Is the person in a distant location (like their home) watching themselves and choosing the best possible position. At the start of the pandemic we saw footage of broadcasters sitting on their beds, we are not at the start of the pandemic anymore.
TV and radio professionals who have worked in the field will tell you stories of being under a duvet, wrapped in curtains, or standing in a closet full of clothes as they do live crossings or vocals. . If you’re broadcasting from home, you need to carefully consider your surroundings, from floors, walls, and windows to electronic and human interference.
What is your technical configuration? There are some amazing compact units that don’t compromise on quality, study these and get something that meets your broadcast needs. You cannot connect your output signal via wi-fi, get a network cable to add that extra layer of stability and quality to the signal you send. We also can’t rely on air-pods for surveillance and microphone capability, they’re great for what they were designed to do, not broadcast.
Does the technical producer in the studio listen to the show? The main broadcast studio is still typically where all remote signals are received, processed, and sent to the transmitter and web stream. The technical producer must make judgments about the audio quality, he must tell the presenters that there is ambient noise or that their position on the microphone is bad.
They have to cut them off and reconnect when the sound of the baked beans is overwhelming. They must be technically fluent to ensure that all staff at remote sites can hear music from guests and each other. Teams need to communicate off-air more than ever so that links and crossovers are fluid and everyone is on the same page.
Now we have to better accept that when we go to someone who is down the line (i.e. somewhere else) and hear nothing, we have to move on and stop calling it like a Marco Polo game around pool swimming.
Kudos to the stations and crews who did well in the broadcast. In many cases, it is transparent and smooth. I’m pretty sure this doesn’t happen by accident and that there have been quite a few tweaks and preparations done before. Well done, your audience deserves the best possible product at all times.
For those who don’t go the extra mile, enjoy beans on toast, you definitely have a lot of cans lying around.
Tim Zunckel is the Regional Media Business Advisor – Sub-Saharan Africa – at Internews. He is an audio ambassador, trainer, creative and media mentor. He writes in a personal capacity and can be found on all popular platforms, @timzunckel
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