Category Archives: Radio

Is home audio moving forward?

The other day, a friend asked a Facebook group how developments in domestic audio might shape up in the future.

Nothing, not even Dolby Atmos, beats the revelation I experienced, in the early 1980s, of

  1. being able to leave behind the distortion and interruptions of vinyl by using CD or tape; and
  2. being able to build better loudspeakers.

The story goes back fifty years, at the time of writing. In 1967, my father bolted a rescued Garrard AT6Garrard AT6, the autochanger based on the SP25, into a polished brown radiogram cabinet and wired the crystal cartridge to the input of the built-in valve radio/amplifier. The cabinet had a richly toned single speaker underneath, and this system of glowing radio dial and filaments played his classical LPs, the 7-inch singles my mother inherited from her DJ brother, and my children’s records, together with some shellac 78s from second-hand shops and relatives, played by turning the crystal cartridge over in its headshell.

Amid the clunks and whirs of the mechanism, I was hooked on music of all kinds, Radiogram circa 1955and speech recordings too from companies like Saga and Delysé. On command, even a child could make dramatic magic happen in that warm-sounding loudspeaker. The amp with its lethal HT anode kicks was IC10replaced in 1969 by a black box into which my father had installed a Sinclair IC10-based 10W amp, which lasted through the replacement of the cartridge with a ceramic item in 1971, then he built (with me holding the circuit-boards steady sometimes) the Practical Electronics Gemini stereo amp set in 1972. In the years of mass-market stereo LPs on “Music for Pleasure” among others, we played this amp into mis-matched speakers rescued from Army surplus shops. Gemini preamp“But it was a stereo hi-fi to US” (to misquote Eric Idle), and the leap forward into “sound sculpted in space” was never regretted.

A Goldring magnetic cartridge followed, and a tuner, and other improvements here and there; but, as a musician-in-training, even when young, it maddened me that the music didn’t sound like it did on the radio or in the schoolroom when we played. There were ticks and pops that you didn’t get from instruments nor did you hear radio3-1967them on the Radio 3 concerts. Sometimes the pitch wavered slowly. Nearly always the sound had a ‘fuzz’ with it toward the end of a side, particularly on French horns, muted brass and sopranos. None of this happened when I taped a cassette off the radio, and it was a crying shame that all recorded music for the masses had this gauze of dirt, this veil in front of it. I learned where every scratch was in the quiet passages of the symphonies and chamber music on the shelf, and was almost surprised when those noises didn’t occur where expected on radio performances. My parents didn’t mind the interruptions, but I knew this rubbish was not music, even though the frequency response ran smoothly from bottom to top and the amplifier’s distortion was almost below measurement. And it was sad that one poorly set-up pickup or arm could damage a precious recording for ever.

Later, in my early teens, the record-making process was unveiled to me, and it seemed strange that good tape copies of the masters were not sold to music-lovers. ella-cassette“Musicassettes” too often sounded muddy, though we rescued a reel-to-reel deck to play home-recorded tapes well; but no decent tapes were available unless recorded from Radio 3 concerts or the Big Band shows on Radio 2 which were superbly presented. As you can tell, I had no idea of the economics of producing tape versus vinyl LPs.

But soon after that I was engineering or producing my own student recordings of good concerts or bands in our departmental studio at Surrey University; and almost simultaneously with my leaving home, 1982 Sony CD playerthe CD came along. Teenagers (as I was then) can tell where 20kHz brickwall filters harm music, but at last, at long last, the music was almost completely pure. It did not waver or wobble. It was not interrupted by ticks and pops, nor by fuzz. Its quality was identical from beginning to end. There was no mourning that the beautiful passages of “En Saga” were harmed by being close to the end of the LP side. There was silence between the tracks or in the rests. Just like in the concert hall or recording session. And, later, it became clear that the recorded sound did not need to be sanitized (albeit, in the hands of a mastering engineer, very sympathetically and musically indeed) to survive the transition from tape to vinyl groove. After this, all else was candlelight. We didn’t have gas in the village where I grew up. (Note to the youngest readers: find Karajan’s statement on digital audio.)

Apart from the gradual increase in amplifier efficiency and very occasional leaps forward in speaker technology (my main speakers are twenty years old, though a better sub was added recently), to answer the original question, I have heard nothing since the advent of interruption-free recordings, whether digital or analogue, that improves my enjoyment of music or drama, except for one thing. The ability to compress the music to suit my listening environment is my primary nod to convenience. Where necessary, my in-car or ‘party’ music on memory sticks has broadcast-style processing added so I never touch the volume control anywhere on the road or while people are chatting over the guacamole (home made) and Cava.

What’s left? Convenience; curation; accessibility, discovery; that’s all, really — and a means of paying musicians properly, of course.

As I become older, one thing intrigues me. If I become thoroughly deaf, and need a cochlear implant, could I tune my computer, as a musical instrument, to the frequency channels and be able to hear (or compose) music arranged especially for those channels? Could that be a thing? Can there be music composed or arranged specifically to be heard at its best through the limited-pitch channels of a cochlear implant, so that permanently and profoundly deaf people might choose to try experiencing music in this way too?

I’d like to thank Mike Brown, very senior audio engineer and radio presenter, for asking the question that provoked this ramble. His website is http://www.originalsound.co.uk/, and you can read about his many regular radio shows here: https://www.facebook.com/mikeonthewireless/

Illustrations are not mine; but are similar items seen on eBay or other websites

Metadata for Culture and Heritage

As part of my efforts with the ICOMOS-UK digital committee, I’ve started to collect metadata specifications relevant to heritage and culture.

My aim is to produce a superset with copious documentation and guides to subsets, so that all data is interchangeable. After all, if the Digital Production Partnership can join European and North American delivery standards for television in this way, isn’t anything possible?

Work begins at the link below. Suggestions are most welcome.

Audiovisual Archive Metadata & Preservation

Make the Edirol or Roland UM-1 and UM-1X work on Windows 10

Roland, who make the venerable MIDI to USB interface the UM-1, and its more recent version the UM-1X, claim that they will not support Windows 10. And, indeed, when you install Windows 10 onto a machine with the UM-1X plugged in, it remains unrecognised by the new operating system.

You can fix this with a text editor. Remember also you must set your Windows installation NOT to enforce driver signing. Please see the comments (below) for how to do this.

  1. Download from Roland the driver archive for Windows 8.1. Its filename is um1_w81d_v101.zip.
  2. Unpack the archive.
  3. If you have a 64-bit machine, browse within the archive to this folder:
    um1_w81d_v101\Files\64bit\Files

  4. Open the file RDIF1009.INF in your favourite text editor.
  5. Edit line 33, changing:
    %MfgName%=Roland,NTamd64.6.2,NTamd64.7…to
    %MfgName%=Roland,NTamd64.10.0,NTamd64.7
  6. Edit line 42, changing:
    [Roland.NTamd64.6.2] …to
    [Roland.NTamd64.10.0]

  7. Save this file and exit the editor.
    One successful user reported that he plugged-in the UM-1 at this point.
  8. Browse to your Device Manager by holding down the ‘Windows’ key, pressing ‘R’, then selecting “Device Manager” from the menu that appears.
  9. Double-click on your non-functioning UM-1, which will be labelled “Unknown device”.
  10. Select the second tab: “Driver”
  11. Click the “Update driver…” button
  12. Click “Browse my computer for driver software”
  13. Browse to the folder containing the file you have just edited
  14. Click ‘OK’ to select the directory, then click ‘Next’
  15. When Windows complains “Windows can’t verify the publisher of this driver software”, click “Install this driver software anyway”
  16. Wait until you see “Windows has successfully updated your driver software.

Done! You’ve installed the Windows 8.1 driver for the Roland/Edirol UM-1X on Windows 10, even though Roland state they don’t support this device. I can confirm that the MIDI input works just fine.

Automation—The Radio Authority Spoke Out

As increasing numbers of British independent radio stations use greater amounts of automation, or voice tracking, I was amused to read what the Radio Authority (Ofcom‘s predecessor) decided about automation only fifteen years ago.

Today’s radio market is, of course, very different. Intensity of competition, especially from non-radio sources of entertainment, is a far greater challenge compared to what it was at the opening of this century.

Who knows how the market might change in the face of the post-dotcom generation? Will leadership in forming taste become too fragmented, and the vacuum need filling? In music radio, could real presenters, experiencing minute-by-minute the music they are playing, be valued once more?

For another perspective, see the foot of this post.

♫ “You’ve yet to have your finest hour.” ♪

Click here to read the entire set of Radio Authority minutes.

Automation

Following on from the discussion at the September meeting, Members decided to set a limit on the amount of automated programming to be generally allowed in daytime on local radio stations. The general limits would be two hours a day on FM stations, and four hours a day on those AM stations which are obliged to broadcast twelve hours or more of locally produced and presented programming. Staff could negotiate different limits, on request, in accordance to specified criteria. The stations would each be written to setting out the limits and giving an opportunity for representations to be made in respect of individual formats.

This decision on automation was not made on the basis that automated programming was necessarily undesirable. On the contrary, Members recognised that automation had a valuable part to play, particularly for overnight programming and for specialist shows.

However, they felt that the “localness” of stations would be jeopardised if programming were allowed to be automated for more than limited periods during the day and also the “liveness” of the medium, a feature of radio highlighted by the Authority in its White Paper submission in July 2000.

They also considered that listeners have a reasonable expectation for presentation to be live, and that too high a level of automation could undermine the trust that exists between the station and its audience. This in turn would affect both the quality of programme output and the reputation of the industry as a whole.

It was a fundamental part of the Authority’s statutory duties not to permit such a situation to occur. Consequently, the Authority decided to impose constraints on the amount of daytime automated programming without prior consent.

Meanwhile, Andrew Gray writes about the same topic HERE.

University of Surrey Tonmeister Lecture

Thank you, Institute of Sound Recording! I was very touched by your welcome yesterday, though have never been introduced as a “Legendary Tonmeister” before. To be honest, that description is better owned by the likes of graduates such as Francis Rumsey, Mike Hatch or Jim Abbiss to name but three.

A full house of 2nd-year and final-year students, along with distinguished staff and alumni, came to hear my stories of music production, laughed in (some of) the right places, and asked a few challenging questions. If you were there and didn’t manage to speak up in the time allocated, please make contact through this blog or through the department.

Interest was expressed in being able to hear or see again the extracts of music and film that were critiqued, so I shall upload them in a way that might be useful to you in the near future.

The IoSR kindly organised some decent playback kit; my inability to see any of my lecture notes was my fault alone, so some of the material below wasn’t used in the lecture. Nevertheless, when it is written-up, it may possibly make sense.

This isn’t a blog version of my talk — you must come to the lecture for that — but you might it helpful to have notes of the recordings I used.

Each and every extract of a recording is accompanied by a critique of the performance or technique exhibited, so can be shown publicly in this context under the doctrine of Fair Use (in the USA) or Fair Dealing (in the UK, Europe and many Commonwealth countries).

Some recordings, e.g. the Stokowski, Stravinsky and Delibes early stereo examples, and the critique of the Elgar and Duke Ellington “accidental stereo” recordings, are still to be added. As is the tape of the Walter Gieseking Beethoven concerto performance recorded in Berlin in January 1945 where you can hear the bombs falling in the slow movement, again in stereo.

Index Description Date/Location Medium
1 Preussische Staatskapelle Berlin cond. Herbert von Karajan — Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 8 in C minor, WAB 108 (III: Finale) 29 September 1944; Berlin Stereo tape
2 Michael Flanders & Donald Swann — A Song Of Reproduction (At The Drop Of A Hat) 2 May 1959; The Fortune Theatre, London Stereo tape
3 Paid in Full performed by Eric B. & Rakim, written by Eric Barrier and Rakim Allah 1985; Powerplay Studios, New York City Stereo tape
4 A Journey Into Sound — Train sequence, narrator: Geoffrey Sumner 1957, London Stereo tape via LP Decca SKL 4001
5 Under The Bridges of Paris played by Edmundo Ros and His Orchestra; Ping, Pong demonstration 1957, London Stereo tape via LP Decca SKL 4001
6 Cincinnati Pops Orchestra cond. Erich Kunzel; The Year 1812 (Festival Overture), by P.I.Tchaikovsky 1978; The Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio Soundstream digital + video
7 London Symphony Orchestra cond. André Previn: Images for Orchestra (I: Gigues) July 1979; No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road Prototype 14-bit stereo digital recorder
8 Something played by Steve Marcus (tenor saxophone), J. Inagaki & Soul Media 1970/71, Tokyo NHK 13-bit digital recorder
9 USA TV ad: Ronco Record Vacuum Unknown and best forgotten Unknown
10 Latin lesson April 1938; Eltham College, Mottingham, London BBC disc 870625
11 Let’s Begin played by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra January 1933, New York City Victor, shellac disc 24453
12 Corner Pocket played by Harry James and His Orchestra 1976, Wylie Chapel, Hollywood LP disc
13 Money from the album Jazz Side Of The Moon Sepember 11–12 2007, St Peter’s Episcopal Church, New York City 24-bit stereo digital recording
14 I Can’t Quit You Baby performed by Led Zeppelin on the album Led Zeppelin Olympic Studios, London, 1968 Stereo tape
15 I Got A Woman performed by Ray Charles 18 November 1954, WGST, Atlanta, Georgia Mono tape
16 Alan Blumlein’s first stereo test 14 December 1933, EMI auditorium, Hayes, Middlesex British Library shelf mark 9TS0003378 two-track disc
17 Alan Blumlein’s first stereo test film 1933, EMI auditorium, Hayes, Middlesex Film, and two-track disc
18 Channel 9 (Australia) Today programme: Blattnerphone Restored 1992, Telstra Labs, Melbourne VHS off-air video / Blattnerphone tape
19 Preussische Staatskapelle Berlin cond. Herbert von Karajan — Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 8 in C minor, WAB 108 (III: Finale) 29 September 1944; Berlin Stereo tape
20 Boston Symphony Orchestra cond. Pierre Monteux; Delibes: Coppelia suite December 1953, Manhattan Centre, New York City Stereo tape
21 Norelco 150 Cassette Recorder demo 1964, United States Duplicated Compact Cassette
22 Una furtiva lagrima from Donizetti: L’elisir D’amore February 1st 1904, Room 826, Carnegie Hall, New York City Single-sided shellac Victor 85021
23 Thomas A. Edison: Electricity and Progress for the opening of the New York Electrical Show October 3 1908 Edison Gold Moulded cylinder (unissued), NPS object catalog number: EDIS 39835

BBC Local Radio — Light in the Darkness

The British radio listening figures, the RAJAR survey, are out for the fourth quarter of 2014. They make generally disappointing reading for the management and staff of BBC local radio stations, showing drops in listenership of up to 62%. Many other types of local and regional radio have lost listeners, too. On the other hand, the cultural beacon that is BBC Radio 3 has recovered from two rather bad quarters’ results.

The whole table is here.

But let’s not worry about all BBC local radio. Someone should be knocking on the doors of at least one station, BBC Surrey and Sussex, and asking what they’re doing. Their figures have gone way up this RAJAR, measured year-on-year, which is remarkable given what the rest of the country has seen. Three out of the six quarter-on-quarter measures show a drop, but that is common in quarterly results that show merely seasonal changes.

Something I remember from my earlier career was that a station’s presence among its listeners was paramount and, within that, locally relevant and well-curated speech generated many returns to the station’s programmes.

Until the 1990s, the BBC local station kit for each of the (often smaller) areas contained a radio car, liveried reporters vehicles and plenty of Glensound outside broadcast kit or even a multi-track recording van. And the station’s engineers would often create other portable transmitting apparatus e.g. BBC Radio York’s “Radio Shoes”, _44550154_obkitposed282a back-pack transmitter that could be cycled or walked into the city’s pedestrian centre. These devices, fully branded, allowed properly-trained reporters and broadcasters to be both visible and audible to large numbers of people at public events, shopping centres, transport hubs, etc.

On a typical Monday-to-Saturday breakfast show in the 1980s and 1990s, three stations that I personally know of would think nothing of getting four different locations on the air from the radio car with properly-researched reports or colour pieces, those stations being BBC Radios York, Shropshire, and Hereford & Worcester. Now that regions are generally larger, the smaller staff surely cannot maintain the same quantity and quality of physical presence?

In my opinion, solutions will be much more difficult than my harking back to the olden days. Budgets are massively stretched, and the market fragmented to an extent we never imagined. Yet someone at BBC Surrey and Sussex likes to get the local issues on the air, and follow them seriously, as I have observed. And the figures go up from one year to the next.