South African commercial radio station OFM entertains its audience with a mixture of adult contemporary music, news, weather, traffic and other relevant information. Broadcasting 24 hours a day from its studios in Bloemfontein in the Free State Province, OFM is a lifestyle radio station that likes to connect with its audience through plenty of telephone interaction.
As phone-in programs are such an important part of its remit, OFM wanted to ensure that these reflected the same high audio standards as the rest of its programming. But there was a problem the audio levels on phone-ins were not always regular and that, says OFMs technical manager Jan Van Der Walt, was something worth investigating.
One of our biggest technical challenges was the poor quality of the telephone conversations we were broadcasting, he explains. As almost all of our content is live, this became quite a problem. It was particularly noticeable when callers were using cell phones and were in areas of poor signal, but we also had problems with some fixed line calls where the position of the callers phone could influence the level of the incoming audio. The result was that the energy level of the telephone audio was often lower than the standard audio we were broadcasting. This meant that the phone calls sound much softer, which in turn made it difficult for audiences to hear, especially if they were driving and were trying to hear the radio above the ambient noise around them.
Given OFMs location in one of the most scarcely populated parts of the country, and given its huge footprint geographically it broadcasts to the Free State, most of the Northwest province, parts of the Northern Cape and the Sothern parts of Gauteng it was imperative for the radio station to sort out its audio level problem.
Many of the people who listen to us often drive huge distance, in excess of 800km, Jan Van Der Walt says. Obviously it can become very annoying if you cant hear the telephone contributions.
In search of a solution, Van Der Walt visited South Africas Media Tech show and came across Junger Audios products via its South African distributor Tru-Fi Electronics. Van Der Walt was particularly struck by the stand-alone 2-channel D06 LEVEL MAGIC¢ processor, which offers both analogue and digital inputs and outputs. This automated Level and Loudness control device relies on an adaptive level control algorithm that is designed to adjust the level from any source at any time, with no pumping, breathing or distortion. It works by simultaneously combining an AGC, a Transient Processor for fast changes and a look ahead Peak Limiter for continuous unattended control of any programme material, regardless of its original source.
What I wanted was an audio processor that would just fix the levels that were wrong, rather than changing the entire program, he explains. Personally, I am always scared of over processing because I believe that the challenge of great audio is to let it sound as close as possible to the natural origin of the sound. What I liked about the Junger Audio D06 unit was its ability to work only with level and not process the audio. It seemed to me that this might be the right option for us because I could use it to just correct the phone levels.
Tru-Fi arranged for OFM to demo a unit for a couple of weeks and as time was an issue it installed a two-channel D06, even though OFM thought it might need a larger 4-channel unit.
Van Der Walt says: My original plan was to buy the bigger 4-channel unit and put the phone line through one channel, the news sound contributions via PC through a second channel and use the remaining two channels for play-out of the entire programme. However, because the D06 only has two channels we decided to wire it to the AES in and outputs and put the final programme through it. The results were way beyond anything I expected. In fact they were so great that I refused to allow Tru-Fi to take the unit out I just bought the demo! We use an Axia live wire system, so it doesnt matter where the unit is physically installed, but in my case it lives in my main control room and all of our main programme output goes through the D06 before it is fed to the processor and the STL.
Installing a Junger Audio D06 has solved FMs level problems with telephone calls and resulted in much happier listeners because they can now clearly hear all of the programme content, regardless of where they are listening or where phone-in participants are calling from.
The best thing about the D06 unit is how easy it is to use, but I also like the fact that it is transparent and does nothing to the audio except fix the level, Van Der Walt adds. We are really happy with it and it is working very well for us. There couldnt be a better name for this product than LEVEL MAGIC because the Junger Audio D06 really does do magic with the levels that used to be a big problem all over our shows.