Today we are going to review general radio equipment with examples from the anime Wave, Listen To Me.
Now I don’t want to go too much into the details on the show, but in case you’re already watching it, you can read my review on the first 4 episodes. You’ll find it on my blog animetechworld.com. Basically what I wrote in there was that I hope that the anime will show us more about the radio business.
By now I think we have seen much about it but the anime does not really explain the things in detail. Due to this I collected information about the radio equipment and here we are.
About Wave, Listen To Me!
Before I move on to the radio equipment I want to talk a bit about the anime Wave, Listen To Me in case you don’t know it yet.
Wave, Listen To Me or Nami yo Kiitekure in Japan, is a currently airing anime by Studio Sunrise. It is based on the same named manga by Hiroaki Samura and is scheduled to have 12 episodes. It can be counted to the Comedy, Drama and Seinen genre.
Restaurant worker Minare Koda has recently been through a bad breakup. Heartbroken and drunk after a night out, she rants about her misery to a complete stranger—Kanetsugu Matou, a radio station director local to Sapporo, Hokkaido.
The next day at work, Minare is shocked to hear a recording of herself from the previous night playing over the radio. Flustered, she rushes to the radio station in a frenzy to stop the broadcast. As she confronts Matou, a chain of events leads to her giving an impromptu talk live on air, explaining her savage drunken speech. With her energetic voice, she delivers a smooth dialogue with no hesitation, which Matou recognizes as raw talent.
Minare soon becomes a late-night talk show host under Matou’s direction, covering amusing narratives set in Sapporo, all while balancing her day job and personal life to make ends meet.
So a radio broadcast is a complex composition of different tasks and the tools that are necessary. For instance we have the director that leads the composition, script writers that prepare the story, sound engineers, the announcer and many more people that all play an important role.
In Wave, Listen To Me we see many scenes inside of radio studios, the location where all those interesting tools are at home. Some of those tools that I’m going to introduce might not be new to you, there are probably also some that I don’t cover. If I missed some or labeled things wrong, I’d be happy if you point it out in the comments.
First we will look at something easy. Everyone knows it but it still plays one of the most important roles inside the studio. It’s the microphone.
A microphone is a device – a so called transducer – that converts sound into an electrical signal. Microphones are used in many applications such as telephones, live and recorded audio engineering, radio and television broadcasting, in computers for recording voice, speech recognition and even more. Several types of microphone are in use, which employ different methods to convert the air pressure variations of a sound wave to an electrical signal. Broadcast microphones are designed a little differently to microphones with an inbuilt preamplifier, as you don’t have feedback inside of a studio. Most audio announcers will have a favorite microphone.
With it comes of course a special microphone arm that keeps the microphone at the correct height. These arms keep strong vibrations away from the microphone but are also handy because they leave enough space on your desk for other tools.
Whenever you turn on a microphone inside of a studio, the monitor speakers are automatically muted. Therefore you need headphones to hear your own voice or the stuff that is going to air. Like microphones headphones can be quite the personal selection based on your preferences. This includes comfort, the frequency response and other functions.
Inside of every studio you will find the mixing console, sometimes called a radio panel or sound desk. This is an interface for the announcer or a panel operator to control what is aired. Every channel is represented as one input. The sliders attenuate or amplify the incoming signals.
In radio the mixing console is quite different and of course more expensive as live sound or regular mixing consoles. They come with purpose built functions like illuminating the On Air Light via the microphone setting or triggering input to play immediately when a connected device like a CD Player is turned on.
An analog mixing console will have have the physical audio flow directly through the console’s circuitry, but these days many radio stations use Digital Mixing Consoles – these are actually a remote control for a so called mix engine. In the anime we actually don’t get to see a mix engine. This is probably because the mixing console used there seems to be an analogue one. In case they would use a digital mixing console, the mix engine would do the actual mixing and processing of the audio.
To measure the acoustics a sound level meter is used. The diaphragm of the microphone responds to changes in air pressure caused by sound waves. That is why the instrument is sometimes referred to as a Sound Pressure Level Meter. This movement of the diaphragm, i.e. the sound pressure deviation, is converted into an electrical signal.
Inside of a radio studio level meters are used to ensure a consistent output of a station. This allows the announcer or mixing console operator to check the level of their audio. Inside of this studio we see that there are multiple meters on the top right of the mixing console that probably show the levels of different points in the signal chain.
Button Panel (GPIO)
To operate control settings not available on the mixing console you often find extra button panels, so called GPIOs. Many consoles can have at least one row of configurable buttons. These can be physically wired to other equipment, or configured via software (if you have a digital mixing console). By the way GPIO stands for General Purpose Input/Output.
To modulate the FM Stereo Base band signal from your studio generator on your licensed frequency an FM Exciter is needed. If you operate a low power station it is possible to only use the exciter without a power amplifier because it only outputs a few Watts. In case you can’t do that you need a so called FM Power Amplifier. It takes the signal from the FM Exciter and amplifies it to your licensed power. These days, FM Power Amplifiers are usually built into the Exciter.
On Air Light
Of course the announcer needs to know when they are live. For this we have the so called On Air Light. Usually it is a display that can highlight the label “On Air” in red. Here it has a slightly unusual form and looks like a button lamp.
As we see in episode 8 of the anime you sometimes want to take phone calls on-air. The phone used in the anime is old fashioned but the interesting part is what we actually don’t see.
To transfer the sound via the mixing console you first need a so called Phone Hybrid. This is an interface that connects phone lines into input and output XLRs. In case you don’t know what a XLR connector is, the connector is basically a standard electrical connector, primarily found on professional audio, video, and stage lighting equipment. The connectors are circular in design and have between three and seven pins.
Now many hybrids come with a wide range of extras. For example echo cancellation and an automatic equalizer to improve the sound quality. Most of the time they also connect to a Talkback system for easy control by announcers.
Phone Talkback System
I’m not sure if we actually see a Phone Talkback System in the anime but if you want to take a lot of calls on air, you’re going to need a Phone Talkback System. It’s a software program that shows you each incoming call on each line and allows you to control which studio or audio channel it is send to.
Those systems allow you for example to organize a caller history, chat between the studio and producers or to make phone conferences.
Playout and Automation Software
The complex system you need to operate to play back music, spots and more is called the Playout and Automation Software. These are professional computer programs to allow the continuous playback of audio with a lot control functions for the director and announcer.
The Automation System can be managed via the so called log. This is a list of all audio tracks and the command that need to be played at each time. The music director will usually program the log beforehand and another person will include advertisements.
Since a large station also needs to play lots of music it might also contain a music database, ad-hoc audio via hot keys an audio editor and a mixing editor.
Studio Monitor Speakers
To hear what’s going to air without headphones the team in Wave, Listen To Me has so called Studio Monitor Speakers. Often, these are very high quality speakers so any abnormalities in sound quality can be detected. If you look careful at the studio you will see that the two separate rooms are soundproof. Due to this they will only be able to hear what is coming from the speakers and the announcer will only hear the team via headphones.
In front of each microphone we see a so called talent panel on the desk. It contains own individual control for headphone levels, a cough mute and mic on/off. Most panels also include a headphone jack, and some also contain an XLR connector for the microphone.
If you operate a modern radio station you need a computer of course. Inside of the station there’s a wide range of important applications for it. This includes running the play out and automation software, routing the sound, audio logging, scheduling music or keeping an emergency audio playback. You can also use it for profanity delay and processing audio.
Often you won’t see computers inside the studio since they produce heat and noise. It’s preferable to keep them inside the rack room and extend their control with an extender.
CD Players, DAT Players, Mini Disk Players, DVD Players
Last but not least we have devices to play prerecorded audio. Nowadays you could use a computer, but it’s not uncommon to use CD, DAT, Mini Disk or DVD Players for this task. Using them as a backup is also possible. The playback of these devices is usually triggered directly from a button on the mixing console.
As you can see there is a wide range of more or less complex tools necessary to run a professional radio station as seen in the anime Wave, Listen To Me. For more information check out the links to my sources or interesting pages inside the video description.
I’d be happy if you leave a comment or discuss with me on Twitter. Of course you can also find my script on my blog animetechworld.com.
Please support the anime and its creators at Studio Sunrise by watching it via Funimation for example or buying the BD/DVD when it comes out. Funimation owns the license for the anime broadcast in the US and Sunrise the copyright for the image samples I took from the anime. For more information check out the official website namiyo-anime.com.
[Featured Image Source: Wave, Listen To Me! Episode 6, Copyright Owner: Sunrise, 06/05/2020]
Also look at my review on the first 4 episodes of Wave, Listen To Me!.