Quiet-List 1997

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Re: Radio Bass



On Sat, 02 Aug 1997 01:17:56 -0700, 
Risk Control Technologies, Inc.  <rctinc@erols.com> wrote:

>We've been talking about the change in the songs the radio plays (we
>live in the Phila. Metro area), not so much the songs as the bass that
>seems to be a "value added" kind of thing... has anyone looked at the 
>change at the radio station level, and can anything be done about it?
    
   To effectively challange a minion of the powerful broadcast 
industry will be difficult.  You'll have to convince the three key 
people at the station that there's a problem: the chief engineer, 
the programming director, and the general manager.  Ultimately, if the 
problem rests with the station, it will be resolved by the slight  
adjustment of one or two controls under the direction of the chief 
engineer.
   
   You could take a legalistic approach and accuse them of broadcasting
a "distorted" version of the music.  This angle worked surprisingly 
well against the "colorization" of classic black-and-white films. 
At the very least, we now have a disclaimer at the beginning of 
home videos and TV broadcasts explaining the extent to which the 
original was modified.  The radio equivalent of this might be a 
disclaimer to be read at some early-morning hour:

    "The programming on this station has been altered from its 
    original form including, but not limited to, the boosting
    of bass frequencies prior to broadcast." 

   To prove such a case will require precise and extremely technical 
documentation, because the station is going to dismiss any complaint 
of "too much bass" as being the fault of the radio receiver.  Even 
the cheapest and simplest of receivers with a minimum of tone and
volume control still have an enormous capability for altering the 
received signal.  You must be able to show a difference between the 
signal as broadcast and the original source signal.  Some means of 
displaying, analyzing and comparing the two signals, such as an 
oscilloscope, will be useful.    
 
   Excess "reverb" is another kind of deliberate distortion which may
contribute to a perceived bass boost.  This kind of distortion is 
commonly used by Central American and U.S. Country and Western format  
stations to make the voice of the announcer/DJ sound more powerful and 
ethereal.  Anyone who has ever heard a Mexican shortwave broadcast 
will recall the ringing, god-like effect.  It will be much easier to 
blame the station for this, because there's absolutely nothing you 
can do about it on the receiving end.

   I am certain that some kind of audio processing is now commonly used
in the production of pre-recorded vocal segments, such as station-breaks
and commercials.  The resulting voice nearly always has a booming bass 
quality reminiscent of Barry White.  Another context where this kind 
of voice seems to show up is the "pillow talk" format late-evening 
broadcast.  The announcer's actual voice is probably nothing like that
which comes out of the radio. 
   
   I had assumed that broadcasters would never think of using these
distortion technologies on their "products" (i.e. pre-packaged musical 
performances) any more than grociers would think of adding extra 
flavor to theirs, but considering the technology available, it was 
probably only a matter of time before someone would try it.  
    
   When it comes to music, however, especially "oldies" music, I still 
tend to think the fault lies in the inevitable "re-mixing" which   
goes into any re-release.  Just now I turned on my wife's kitchen 
radio, tuned in an oldie's station, and heard a performance of the 
"Bristol Stomp" which indeed seemed more "bassy" than what I remember 
hearing as a kid.  But I expect this would also be the case if I 
compared an old LP or 45 version with a new CD, and the radio station 
can't be blamed for that.  

   While I was in the kitchen, I took a good look at the radio and 
found it had no tone control at all, just a bass boost button.  
I know the "loudness" button has been a standard fixture on audio 
equipment for years, which seems to indicate a perception of  
"consumer preference" on the part of manufacturers.  I remember 
as a kid I liked to turn the bass way up, but now I attribute my 
preference for treble to a more mature sensibility which can  
discern and appreciate the nuances of timbre and harmony.

David Staudacher - quiet@igc.org
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