Feedback, January 2009

Audio still an afterthought?

Dear editor:

I'm writing in regard to the December “Understanding TV audio systems” webcast presented by NBC's Jim Starzynksi and sponsored by Wheatstone. If there is not a complete reversal of the industry's thinking, TV audio — whether for simple programming, sporting events, etc. — will continue to be horrible at best.

If you've never had the opportunity to visit a TV truck, you may not understand the severity of the issue. I'm retired now at 72, but audio has been my life. The audio mix position in the last truck I visited was for all practical purposes the same (and bad) thing I worked in some 30 years ago. Usually the audio console is in the back of the truck, and the mixer is so close to the rear wall that it's almost impossible to move behind him. The mixer is required to wear a headset over one ear to hear director cues. The list goes on and on with things like cooling fans running, a plethora of headset traffic, etc. Attempting a reasonable mono mix was difficult.

The only conceivable way to do a reasonable 5.1 stereo mix on a remote broadcast would be to give the audio mixer his own truck with an environment similar to the one most people have in their homes. The mixer needs this space to understand how the mix is working. He would need an assistant to monitor the communications system for cues to be able to do the mix job properly. With broadcasting's minimalist approach to audio, it's safe to say this will never happen.

With broadcasters unable to simply keep a constant audio level on, say, a local newscast between the video inserts, announcers and commercials, expecting them to do a good job with 5.1 is never going to happen for the same reason.

Over the years, Dolby Labs has brought many innovations to both the recording industry and broadcasting community. Examples such as dialnorm, Dolby Metadata and Dolby Media Meter are but a few. Metadata is a useful tool to control overall loudness, but there are ways to bypass this function. Additionally, there are way too many people with knobs; they don't really understand between the viewer and the program's point of origin.

If cable provides the way you watch television, just notice the different audio levels between your cable TV channels. This occurs even after the audio portion has been beaten to death with all the limiters and compressors in the various TV and cable stations. The cable company doesn't give a damn because if the VU meters are wiggling, it's okay by them.

If you have even a reasonable 5.1 surround system at home, watch a sporting event and notice how loud some commercials are. Notice how the audio level varies between spots in the same break. Occasionally, you'll get a commercial broadcast in 5.1, and you can barely hear the announcer.

Especially with the consolidation of ownership, broadcasters today are concerned only with the bottom line. Nothing else matters. If you haven't had the opportunity to read Eric Klinenberg's book “Fighting for Air,” please do; it's a real eye opener.

Again, your webinar was great, and Jim was unquestionably brilliant. Unfortunately, it's going to take a lot more of a push for broadcasters to get off their duff and do what's right.
Mike King
Barrington, IL

Additional tweaking needed

Dear editor:

The 20th century saw many awe-inspiring developments. In your October 2008 editorial on flying, you made the comment that the interior of a Boeing 747 was longer than the Wright Brother's first flight in 1903. Just think for a moment: From that date until we landed on the moon was only 66 years! So many technical refinements in so short a time, much like broadcasting. Both the airline and broadcast industries can use additional tweaking to improve their service and public respect.
Jay R. Conley
Pittsburgh, PA