Radio World polled
several of our contributors who have production duties on their
résumés, asking about some of their favorite tools and practices.
Participating were Al Peterson, assistant chief engineer for Radio
America; Dave Plotkin, director of production and creative services,
1010 WINS(AM) in New York; Christopher Springmann, founder, producer,
engineer of “Life Love & Health”; Tom Vernon, long-time radio
veteran; and Curt Yengst, CSRE, assistant engineer at WAWZ(FM), Star
99.1, in Zarephath, N.J.
speaks into a CAD E100S with Pro Tools in the background.
Al Peterson: The
Earthworks SR line has been a favorite of mine for awhile now. I’ve
never been a fan of mics with an exaggerated bottom end. They sound
great in headphones and give the male voice that rumbling power we
all like to believe we have, but in the end I like the flat response
with clarity at the top. I bought an SR mic right off the floor at an
AES show some years back and I’m still using it. Ruler-flat out to
about 30 kHz, and if I want to dial in extra thump or more shimmer, I
can do that in software.
Dave Plotkin: My
all-time favorite mic is the RCA 77B. The combination of the warm
sound of the ribbon and the Art Deco look puts it at the top of my
list. Needless to say it’s fantastic for recording live music. The
Shure SM5B would fall second in line followed by a more practical and
affordable preference, the Shure SM7B.
Springmann: Neumann BCM104 and the CAD E100S for broadcast;
Sennheiser MKH60 for “urgent,” in-your-face L.A.-sound
V/O. Sennheiser MD46 mics for location work.
Curt Yengst: For
radio, I like the EV RE series. They’re built like tanks and sound
good. For studio work, I sometimes miss my AKG C414. It’s a Swiss
Army knife of a microphone. My current favorite is the Rode NT-2. I
also love my Gyraf G7 tube mic that I built from a set of plans.
Beast of a thing, but sounds great for vocals.
Do you have a
like the Allen & Heath XB-14, for the built-in telco channels and
mix-minus among other cool features. I have two Edirol R-44
four-track recorders with mixer functions, which we always use for
backup recordings and occasional location work.
sort of partial to the old Tascam DM-24 digital mixer, probably
because I own one and know my way around it. At Star 99.1 we use
Yamaha 01V96s for production, and we’ve been very happy with them.
Our main consoles are Wheatstone Audioarts D-75s. I love them because
they can handle both digital and analog sources, and are easy to set
if I had to pick a favorite console I would choose a former industry
standard PR&E BMX-III. I have two myself. Although, there really
is very little need to have a mixing console anymore when doing
production. Everything can be mixed in the software. It’s
amazing how far we’ve come.
How about favorite
software platform? Plug-in(s)?
Yengst: While we
use Adobe Audition at Star 99.1, my favorite audio platform is
SAWStudio. I like it because it’s got the feel of a good
old-fashioned analog console and multitrack. Plus it’s got the
best-sounding summing buss I’ve ever heard. I use it primarily for
recording and mixing music projects. For radio work I sometimes use
the audio features in Sony Vegas. As far as plug-ins go, I actually
tend not to use many. SAWStudio and Vegas already come with the
basics, and I augment them with a few of the freebies I’ve featured
in my recent “Free Software” articles for Radio World.
Plotkin: I am a
fan of Adobe Audition. It’s designed for the radio production and
creative director. It can be as powerful or simplistic as you make
it. It’s an easy program to learn for the entry-level producer and
sophisticated enough for the seasoned pro to be satisfied. I prefer
the Waves Gold Bundle with Renaissance plug-ins to add to Audition
don’t have a favorite per se. I work primarily under Windows but
have dabbled in Linux audio software for several years. I was a beta
tester for Cool Edit back when it was a Syntrillium product and still
enjoy using it. I teach college-level classes in Adobe Audition. At
home I’m using Mixbus by Harrison (with the Ardour-based audio
engine) and I have Audacity loaded on everything.
In between, I’ve
used them all: SAWStudio, Vegas, the DSE-7000 and Audicy, the Roland
DM-80 ... It’s a long list.
I really should be
better friends with Pro Tools. The product is everywhere you can
think of, but I’ve just never been able to cozy up to it. It’s a
great suite, but it’s expensive and not compatible with VST or
LADSPA plug-ins, which I use a lot.
favorite tool or widget?
Radio Systems CT-2002 studio timers. We have three, and live and die
by them. I’m also quite partial to the Telos Hx2 hybrid, a
brilliant, feature-rich, sophisticated instrument and
moneymaker, especially now that we no longer use ISDN.
classic — the Symetrix 528E mic processor. I love the challenge of
getting it to sound just right.
Tom Vernon: My
favorite tool with my MacBook Air laptop is the Digigram 442 Cancun
USB Interface. With it, I can mix four microphones, and I get a
robust headphone output. With a full charge on the laptop and the
Cancun plugged into USB, running Audacity, you’re good for about
Yengst: My Swiss
Army knife with the LED flashlight and 8 GB memory stick built in. I
never leave home without it.
soldering gun. Nothing gets done until the cables work.
Are you all-digital?
an interesting question. I am the guy people come to when they need a
cart, record or reel transferred. However, all editing and producing
is done in software. We do operate on a Harris VistaMax Digital
network. Digital and analog both have their advantages. There is
nothing like that “analog sound.”
Yengst: At Star,
most of the inputs to the console are digital, including the mic
processor outputs, AudioVault outputs and CD players. I think just
the phones and traffic ISDN come in analog. From there it’s a
completely digital signal path to the transmitter. We don’t use an
IP network for audio. It’s all AES/EBU.
work, yes. At home, no — I’m analog right up to the Mixbus
You are old enough
to have survived the transition from analog to digital; what do you
miss most about analog? How has digital made your life easier?
was a definite tactile satisfaction to doing a mix by ear with real
faders under your fingertips. Certainly if you botched a move on a
non-automated mixer, you would have to go back and do it again. And
the next day, with fresh ears, you would hate the mix you did the day
before. But all in all, I think that’s what I miss most.
I don’t miss
recording to tape. Alignments, calibrations, head relapping,
tensioning, degaussing, oxide shedding ... you can keep all that. I’m
pleased to find out, during a tape demonstration to my class, that I
can still edit out a popped “p” at 15 ips with a razor blade. But
sorry to say these days, that’s like boasting that you can still
change the wick on a whale oil lantern.
Life is easier in that
editing and timing extended segments can be fast and precise (I do
long-form talk programming), and time-stretching means everything
ends right on the tick.
On the other hand, life
gets harder in that product obsolescence is not determined by you
anymore. Operating systems reach end of life and you are obligated to
shift everything upwards (ever try to run Cool Edit under Windows
8?). New versions of software may not be backwards-compatible with
older versions, much less that $2,500 sound card you bought only four
years ago. And with products like the Adobe suite moving up to “the
cloud,” you don’t really even own your own editing equipment
Back in analog days,
you could still find a rubber pinch roller for an Ampex reel machine
built more than two decades prior. Even today, The Cart Guys out in
Tucson sell kits to keep Fidelipac and Dynamax cart machines running.
But if you called Studer tomorrow to say your Dyaxis digital editor
needed parts, I don’t know what they would say at the other end.
Plotkin: When I
started in radio, most everything was analog. I miss the “hands-on
feel.” Splicing tape, cueing records and carting up spots. It may
sound silly, but when dubbing a commercial onto cart, I miss the
challenge of starting the cart machine a millisecond before pressing
play on the reel. While splicing tape was an art unto itself, you can
do so much more digitally. I would be at work until 2 a.m. every
night if we still had to produce everything on tape. Digital editing
has made it much easier to create more intricate audio pieces.
However, I wouldn’t trade my analog education for anything. It’s
what gave me the basis for being an excellent editor and trained me
how to use my ears ... not just look at a waveform.
remember the transition to digital very well. What I miss the most
about analog is the unique “sound” that the equipment had,
particularly vacuum tubes. There was an art and science to tuning up
analog tape recorders, and when you got it right, not only were the
specs on the money, but that unique sound was there as well.
Digital makes things
easier, however, because it is ready to go the moment you turn the
power on. No warming up equipment, no last-minute tweaks or
adjustments. It either works or it doesn’t.
Yengst: As far
as the transition from analog to digital goes, I think we’ve
handled it well. What I like about it is that it takes less cable to
move the same amount of channels, some of the gain-staging headaches
are gone, and when handled properly, it does sound cleaner. What I
miss about analog is that it was more forgiving. If something got
overdriven, it just clipped and got a little crunchy sounding. You
also didn’t have to worry about clocking signals, sample rates, and
jitter. You just ran some cable and made it happen.
little background and context. I sort of came late to pro audio. I
started “Life, Love & Health” in 2003, after spending 25
years in the advertising, annual report and magazine photography
business, just as digital was overwhelming and
replacing film. Fortunately, the same thing was happening
in audio capture, editing, production and distribution. My first
recorder was an HHB MDP 500 MiniDisc recorder, quickly replaced by
two Marantz PMD660s, which were replaced by the Roland R-44. Thus,
I missed tape entirely.
I don’t miss anything
about analog. Nothing. I am not sentimental about old inefficient
technologies like typewriters, film and photo labs, plus endless
driving; or tape recorders. All of these technologies had their day,
era or centuries, some much longer than others, like film.
Digital has made life
so much easier, efficient and fun. The “Lifesaver Factor”: the
ability to instantly review, then make a duplicate of a WAV file
and archive it, and/or move it to an FTP site or remote server,
way beyond the original recorder, the world’s cheapest career
nondestructive editing, never physically “touching” (literally)
the original, is a joy.
Do you do more or
less in-house production than you did in the past?
Plotkin: We do
an enormous amount of in-house production and imaging. We have fun
creating agency-quality spots for our clients and constantly
challenge ourselves with new station imaging and creative ideas.
doing way more in-house production at Star 99.1 than we’ve ever
done. When I started there as a board operator back in the late
’80s/early ’90s, we had one production room. Now we have four
production suites, which are always busy, and a couple people have
limited production capabilities at their desks. I even have SAWStudio
installed on my laptop in my office, in case I want to get into the
Virtually everything is done in-house except for projects that
require a collaborative team approach and a higher level of outside
skills, especially video productions.
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