I know I’ve moaned about this before. I know I’ve even sent a complaint in via official channels. A nice techie man bothered to assemble a reply, including a promise he would send a memo to presenters and producers. I thought it would be fixed.
But it wasn’t, and it isn’t.
I’m talking about the ever changing volume levels on BBC Radio Merseyside.
Obviously, when somebody listens to the station via FM everything sounds ok. This is because there is a special bit of equipment known as ‘Optimod‘ which automagically makes all the volume levels sound exactly the same, and instantly. This, in its simplest form is audio ‘compression’. And, a radio station ‘compresses’ its audio and also ‘limits’ it. The ‘limit’ is to stop it from ever being too loud and blowing equipment up, distorting, or making the listener’s head fall off.
BBC Radio Merseyside only has a ‘limiter’ working for its DAB (Digital Radio) outlet. Sure, nothing will ever get ‘too dangerously loud’, but the ‘levels’ are up and down and loud and quiet depending on what is happening. Typically, most music and songs will always play out extremely low in volume level. Then when the presenter speaks it’s extremely loud. Sometimes the presenter will be speaking loudly and then he’ll play a trailer and that will be even louder. Or he’ll talk to somebody over the phone. The voice on he phone will be so quiet compared to the presenter’s that the only way to actually follow the conversation is to sit by the DAB radio turning the volume control up and down during the conversation.
This is all extremely ridiculous.
Why is the BBC allowing this to happen?
Now, when I was a lad working in radio studios, part of the training and very much the expectation, was that the person operating the mixing desk (usually the presenter) made sure that everything got mixed to the same audio level. Indeed, back in the day when record players and CD players were being used, the level would change from record to record or CD to CD. And the task was to respond to this and manually ensure that everything ended up coming out at the same level. That included altering the volumes for the microphones when there was more than one person in the studio, and when taking phone calls.
At the end of this ‘manual’ process, the listener was then additionally protected by an audio ‘compressor / limiter‘ to smooth out the edges. This was very much a precaution and was never supposed to be relied on full-time to keep the audio levels sounding the same.
These days, nobody seems to care and radio production values are non-existent. Levels are allowed to wander all over the place because the now lazy mixing desk operators think the audio processing will sort it all for them. And, to a major degree they are right, it does sort it for them, keeping everything smooth and at the same level despite their inadequacy on the mixing desk.
However, BBC Radio Merseyside has no audio ‘compressor / limiter‘ in operation for its DAB output. What you hear is the actual warts an’ all rough output of the mixing desk, with nobody giving a toss about adjusting it properly to avoid the poor listener having to constantly turn their volume control up and down in order to make any sense of it.
I don’t know if these slapdash production values are replicated across other BBC local radio stations, but maybe the hidden agenda is to make Digital Radio (DAB) unattractive and impossible to listen to.