By Sean Ross of @RossOnRadio
I had suggested that only about half of Ross On Radio readers would share my indignation about the often botched opening levels of songs: the carless inputting of music into station playback systems that can make even the hottest intros sound mushy on the air, or disappear under a jock break. But the other half, I predicted, would all write me an e-mail. And many did.
“Count me in the group that bitches about low intro songs endlessly. And the top-of-the-hour ID followed by the right song,” wrote Bill Tanner, group PD of Summit Broadcasting. And another former PD of the legendary WHYI (Y100) Miami checked in as well (see below).
“OMG, yes. Goodness, yes. When I was taught to set levels by David Lloyd, he taught me to set levels for the intro. Not the ‘loudest bit’ as most practitioners will tell you, but the intro, and then ride down the levels as the song got louder. And I did. And he was right. So right.” – James Cridland, Future of Radio Newsletter
“Amen! For a while, I thought I was the only one. Great stuff.” – Charlie Mitchell
“I think the obliteration of a song’s first impression has hurt most radio formats. So many songs begin with a distinct personality that makes them stand out and grab the listener’s attention. This converts what used to be a foreground presentation into a background situation, making the commercials stand out even more because the spots start cold, or with some sort of production element that no one talks over. Sales and advertisers might think that’s great, but through years of conditioning, the first second of the first spot likely causes listeners to switch or [mute] stations if they are within arm’s reach of the buttons.” – Barry Mardit, Barry Mardit Media Consulting
“I like that you write about things that no one really thinks about, but should. There’s no excuse for having something sound less than great due to volume. If you can rip the song from CD, that’s the way to go. Most rippers will normalize the track to a consistent volume. I’ve dubbed in songs in real time and adjusted the levels manually if they start very soft. I want to make it right. Also, one or two people should really do [all the dubbing]. They know what to do every time.” – Mark Summer, PD Bristol Broadcasting, Paducah, Ky.
“What you’re talking about is a huge pet peeve of mine, and it kills me. I’m glad somebody with a big bullhorn finally brought it up.” – Mike Erickson, Wheatstone Audio Processing
“Radio stations are not iPods.. To keep a sound and a flow is to make sure the production value is kept up as well … Even if a listener has no idea what it means. It’s the little things keep people around. The best stations pay attention to the little things.” – Craig Russell
“Thanks to [the column], I’m listening to every single opening beat to every piece of imaging and every song I play today.” – Nick Russo, KILT (The Bull) Houston
“I am thrilled that someone still carries the pounding intro banner! I never found a solution for ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,’ one of life’s great disappointments.” – Robert W. Walker, WalkerSound
“The other one that always gets me is ‘We Will Rock You’ into ‘We Are The Champions.’ Most stations just let the silence between the songs play out, then let the audio chain come up to the level of Freddie Mercury’s vocals on ‘Champions.’ When I was APD/MD at WLUP in 1996-97, I fixed that problem. After the final guitar note of ‘Rock You,’ wait half a beat, then have Freddie match the volume of Brian May’s guitar from the previous song. Ride the gain so when the guitars crash in on ‘Champions,’ everything is at the same level. Then compress the hell out of it. With AM, this was never an issue; the compression would just eat it up. ‘Suspicious Minds’ never faded out, and ‘Miracles’ by Jefferson Starship started at full volume and stayed there.” – Vinny Marino
“We lost [proper song-to-song] flow when combo operations started, and more when computers, weak expectations, and poor talent kicked in. I miss flow and momentum. I really get the impression people don’t listen to their own stations. And how about the rejoins from stopsets on station streams?” – Robert Unmacht, publisher, Tom Taylor Now
“I love this one. It’s the disappearance of small but important points like this that makes me wonder if music station PDs even exist any more.” – Tom Schuh
“Stations also hammer—compress and clip—the life out of already compressed music, thinking it’s an advantage. I beg to differ, as I believe more dynamic actually sounds louder. I have heard the sweeper decimate a good open. Lack of attention, or lack of time to attend to all things, has helped ruin radio.” – Bob Wood
“If you listen to airchecks from when ‘Hungry Like the World’ was a current, the laugh is even longer than the version that most people play in 2016. It was always this slightly remixed version. The sequencer/keyboard part is way down in the mix, too. It took me forever to find the right version.” – Java Joel Murphy, WAKS Cleveland
“The moaning at the end, like the opening laugh, was really pumped up on the U.S. album mix [of ‘Hungry Like the Wolf.’”] It was buried deeper in the mix on the U.K. version. This made me think of other songs that had interesting intros or endings. I always rode the gain as high as I could at the end of the Police, ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,’ where you hear Sting sing, ‘It’s a big enough umbrella, but it’s always me that ends up getting wet.’” – Max Leinwand
“A few years back, Ross Wilson from [the Australian band] Daddy Cool was here, and I mentioned how a compilation years back had edited out the first false-start guitar note on ‘Eagle Rock,’ [a major Australian hit], then had been used as masters and spread over many reissues. He was not happy and then found the master tapes, which were used correctly for some Daddy Cool remasters.” – Brent James, 4KQ Brisbane, Australia
“Recently, I launched Classic Hits B103.9 Big Rapids, Mich., with Dom Theodore. I worked on the music and audio, keeping in mind a few things people don’t do, and drawing on my days at WCBS-FM New York, and my last six years working with our audio customers.
- How the music sounded on the radio in the 1980s, by finding the right versions
- Keeping in mind that many shifts would be voicetracked, so the music and processing had to compensate, when there might not always be someone there to adjust levels.
- Having an audio processor that could make the corrections to levels when needed, but not sound like it was always chasing the audio.” – Mike Erickson