Making our show program with Analog Tape

Internet radio is becoming highly popular because it’s easier to start a cyber radio station and because most of the broadcasting music is non-commercial, rare and full of collector’s selections. The quality is usually very good. Even at their truncated 192 kbps or 160 kbps, the sound is better than a regular FM station. Some opt to go up to 320 kbps where even the purists must admit “Not bad for an MP3”.

Here at Sketsoteric Audio in Luquillo, Puerto Rico, we produce a radio program weekly that goes on air every Saturday on Frission Radio, Ireland (https://frissionradio.com/). The show is called “Eclectomatik” and, as the name implies, the music is diverse and full of different genres and styles. We specialize in soul, world, Latin and jazz music, but from time to time even some good old rock classic is included.  Let’s get an inside view of how we do it.

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Skets Radio at Sketsoteric Audio in Puerto Rico.

Procedure

The first thing you must do before anything else is research. You have to choose the material accordingly and must be appropriated for the target audience you are aiming at. We posses a nice selection of music books on our private library, but the internet is also a rich source for researching new material. Studying other colleagues’ shows help you to discover new material and new groups too. The thing is that you need to plan ahead  in order to make a proper musical programming.

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The use of books is very helpful. 

After the research is done, you proceed to create your playlist with the material you have just chosen. CD’s, vinyl, digital files and tapes are the most common sources. Since the material must be digitized before uploading it on the broadcasting schedule, you need a software where you can arrange your material. As a professional Mastering engineer, I use complex and professional mastering platforms, like Sadie or Sequoia. You don’t need to go that far as there’re many other “Free” software which are good options for this purpose as well. Even the broadcasting software lets you arrange selections from your MP3 library.

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For editing and digital recording we use the Sequoia Mastering Platform.

At our studio we go an step further seeking for better audio quality, and just to sound different we include analog recording in the process. We use one of the many decks from our collection and match it with the best tape available in the industry: Recording the Masters Analog Tape. Since our shows are one hour long, the SM 468 or the SM 911 proves to be a good choice. Having Otari, Studer, Revox and Crown decks here, is easy for us to change tapes in minutes without going through the calibration process as some are calibrated to 468 and others to 911. Anyway, on the Studer and Crown the bias cal is just a breeze.  For our application, the SM 900 is an overkill so we don’t usually work with it. We may use an LPR 90 from time to time, though. On machines like the A-810 or MTR-15 where you can store many different tape parameters and recall it later as needed, then it’s a piece of cake!

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A 45 years old CROWN CX-822 with a RTM SM-468 tape.

We record everything on tape. Then we upload to the Sequoia, do all the editing and cross-fades needed, add the voice and select the plug ins to be applied. Once the bounce is done, the conversion to MP3 takes place and on the Sequoia is really easy and fast. We make the conversion to MP3 using the highest resolution possible at 320 kbps. Some stations use this bandwidth and others, like Mixcloud for example, stays at 192 kbps. I have found, though, that keeping the best possible quality up to the last minute before conversion, yields a better quality so, I upload at 320 to Mixcloud and let their system truncate the material down to 192 instead of doing it myself. I like the results. You should try it yourself.

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Here we have the SM-911 on the Otari MTR-12

Adding the voice over is fun! We use a Blue Spark microphone and the Mackie board, together with the Big Knob, are more than enough for our purpose. On many other ocassions we use cassette tapes and play it on any Nakamichi or Revox cassette decks we have. We hope that RTM start making good cassette tapes really soon!

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A Revox B-215 Special Edition recording a show.

Tips:

1- Keep your machines perfectly calibrated and aligned for each of your tape formulations to be used. If your machine is a PITA to calibrate, just choose a good tape, like the SM-468, and stick with it!

2- With a good tape and a good machine, recording at 7.5 ips is more than enough to obtain a crispy and clear sound without any significant hiss. Want to use 15 ips? Be my guest, as long as you can afford the tapes, no problem, but not needed.

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A good source is recommended. Here’s our Linn Sondek LP-12

3- Avoid using over-compression. Just want your program to sound powerful but not with every bit squashed. Don’t ruin your analog material with over processing. Again; is not needed.

4- Since many people are going to hear this trough their I phone and using “el cheapo” headphones, you’ll have to add some 1.5 or 2.0 db of extended highs. Over 15 Khz. Be careful not to over-bright the product. Use your professional criteria.

5- For Mixcloud, keep your playlists no longer than 1 hour. 45 minutes is usually better. Remember to start with an impacting tune. That would keep the listener on the edge!

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The use of a good microphone is imperative.

6- Choose a good microphone. No need for a $2,000 Neumann, but don’t use a $25.00 crap either. Mics are the most important part when voices and instruments recording takes place. Condenser mics are better. Just be sure that your board or mic pre has phantom power to operate it. Good ones for this kind of application could cost you between $150.00 to $300.00. Headphones are also part of the equation. There’re many good choices under $250.00

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The beautiful and excellent sounding CROWN SX-822

7- When finish with the tape, store it properly inside the plastic bag supplied with it and on “tails” position. Avoid highly humid places as this could promote mold. In case where you have to re-use a tape, be sure to erase it completely with a handheld eraser before the recording. We use an old Radio Shack. If the tape has been stored for a long time, you’ll have to clean it while winding it. Some people use cotton, others an special rag and we just use a clean, dry towel.

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Nakamichi ZX-7 (top) and the fabled Nakamichi CR-7. Two of the best ever made.

Finally, just do it for the fun of it and not looking for bigger audience, If you do it right, your public will eventually grow to new levels.

Enjoy!

Carlitos Guzmán

Sketsoteric Audio records on RTM tapes exclusively.

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