The author is consulting engineer for KMZQ(AM)/Kemp Broadcasting.
As a second-generation broadcaster, I knew at 8 years old that I was going to be a broadcast engineer.
I was exposed to radio from birth as a son of legendary KFRC San Francisco top 40 DJ Dr. Don Rose, lucky enough to be around some of the greatest engineers in the industry.
One thing I learned about audio processing is that you have to have a built-in reference. You must remember how music and voice are supposed to sound, and then use that as an absolute reference. The other thing is you have to be competitive — the market place will ultimately dictate how you need to sound. If your station sounds great and you’re competitive, you’ve done a real service to your station and your listeners.
After years of chief engineer positions in San Francisco, I decided to go it on my own as an engineering consultant. My favorite client is Will Kemp, a Las Vegas businessman and lawyer. He’s one of the most serious broadcasters I ever met, with a passionate fever to win. Will started building Kemp Broadcasting in 2000; I was fortunate to be involved from the beginning. Will Kemp asked me to consult on technical aspects of putting his new AM station on the air. I liked working with him so much that I moved my family to Las Vegas. We built the studios in the same location as Kemp’s other Las Vegas station, KVEG(FM), and built a four-tower 50 kW transmitter site. KMZQ — the “Q” — went on the air in May 2008 with a classic rock “best of the ’70s and ’80s” format.
As part of the transmitter facility buildout, I installed the same popular AM processor that I had used in the past. Will Kemp was instantly disappointed. He knew what AM radio could sound like, and this wasn’t it.
No matter what I tried, we sounded okay on our monitors but not on radios in the field. Thin, not enough high-end, I couldn’t get it to be punchy; kick drums dragged down the lower mids and it was inconsistent across different program materials. And to top it off, the user interface wasn’t great either. I knew our pattern was tricky but also knew there had to be a way of getting it to sound great.
At the NAB Show last year, Doug Tharp of SCMS and Wheatstone’s Jay Tyler told me about the brand-new Vorsis AM-10HD processor from Wheatstone. To tell you the truth, I was skeptical. I tried what was supposed to be the best and failed. Maybe it was the transmitter, or maybe the antenna array, but we had to try something.
With nothing to lose, I put the Vorsis AM-10 on the air. Right out of the box, it sounded better using the “begin here” factory preset than the previous box using custom presets that we spent many hours on. I knew at that moment that all was going to be okay. The owner drove around town while I sat in the passenger’s seat, laptop online via my built in 3G wireless card, Vorsis software connected to the processor at the transmitter. I made a few adjustments and we listened.
After five minutes of tuning, the owner had a big smile on his face. The AM-10HD turned around his opinion of the station. Overnight, a huge difference, and bliss ever since.
I was wondering about the unit’s 10 bands of limiting. After all, no other (non-Vorsis) processor has nearly as many. But the sound we achieved answered that question.
We’re now far more consistent, with the wide range of music balances typical of our classic rock format, and we’re more consistent across pattern changes and even in the nulls.
There’s no pumping. When a kick drum hit comes along, the Vorsis deals with it without affecting any other part of the music. There’s a ton of punch. We have twice the high end. The box is extremely powerful and is capable of beating even FM stations with comparable program material.
I set the AM-10HD for 10 kHz NRSC filtering since we’re not broadcasting HD. I’m really pushing it to be as loud as anything else on the dial. I did have to clean up some marginal components in the phasor to handle the modulation.
The Vorsis software user interface, which runs on a PC, is impressive. Even on my laptop in the field, there was no perceptible delay, and it had incredible metering. The unit has to date never failed, and continues to impress many local radio buffs.
I never thought AM could sound this good. We’re actually sounding as good or better than most of the FMs in the market. Our air sound reminds me of the old KFRC — where I first got hooked on radio — and the other big AMs of the past that I remember. I must say that Wheatstone has the right players and the drive to produce incredible DSP products. You owe it to yourself and your station to try this.
Bottom line: One of the best broadcast equipment purchases I’ve ever made.
Oh, and we’re using the Vorsis M-1 Voice Processor on every mic in the station. But that’s a story for another time.
For information, contact Wheatstone at (252) 638-7000 or visit www.vorsis.com.