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Promotional ideas and technique. Always radio, always positive.

Silence

Here’s a post about sound levels. As studio managers, the BBC training drummed it into us that “nation shall peak six unto nation“. But not always.

This weekend is Remembrance Sunday when many radio UK stations observe a two minute silence, typically by broadcasting the atmosphere from the Cenotaph in London.

There are other ways of doing it of course. Poke a mic out of the window to capture some local atmos. Use pre-recorded effects. If you hear “Devon hedgerow in springtime” and your local station is based in Leeds then you should smell a rat. Especially as it’s November.

But whatever flavour of revered silence you choose it is supposed to be, er, quiet. So now is the time to ensure your station’s audio processing lets it stay that way.

It’s highly likely that the processor settings that work best for your regular programming would aggressively and artificially increase the background atmosphere. That would sound horrible, distracting and wrong, especially at a time when you’ve chosen carefully to draw your listeners into a solemn and thoughtful occasion.

One option is to bypass your audio processing. That’s seldom ideal though as it dramatically changes the sound of your station and could also remove safety limiting features. So here’s a better way:

Adjust the “Gate Threshold” of your audio processor so it’s comfortably above the level of the Remembrance Day silence. While the audio falls below the threshold you set, the processor will stop adjusting things, freezing the gain reduction in the AGC and multiband compressors.

If you use Orban processors, like these (pictured) at Bush House for example, the setting you’re looking for is called AGC Gate Threshold. You’ll probably find it’s set somewhere around -40dB but for Remembrance Sunday a point closer to -20dB should ensure it’s sits above the level of the ambient background.

It’s a similar story with an Omnia box although the software architecture can differ quite substantially from box to box. If you use the BW Broadcast processors like those in the DSPX range then you’ll do well to adjust both the Wideband AGC gate threshold and that on the multiband AGCs. Thanks to Goran Thomas at BW Broadcast for this tip.

Once you’ve made the change you can save the new setting to a spare preset so it’s easy to apply again next year.

All this is at the geeky end of radio production but if you care how your radio station sounds and, hence, how your brand is perceived then it matters. Technical presentation and the role of the audio processor is worth thinking about, even when you’re broadcasting silence.

(Poppy photograph: “Lest we forget” by striatic. Used under licence.)

2 Comments

  1. Since reading this post, listening to a few stations this morning it really grated with me how badly it was done in contrast to the suggested method above. My future listening enjoyment of silence is ruined!

  2. ..and for goodness sake if you are going to go for *complete* silence, be sure to disable the emergency backup playout device at the transmitter for the occasion!