Earlier this year I had the opportunity to attend RadioTechCon's Masterclass 2019 event at the IET in Savoy place, London, and I wanted to share some of my experiences at this event, to illustrate how useful it was to anyone with an interest in audio technology, broadcasting and radio in general, especially those with a view to getting into the industry and making a career out of it.
Firstly, a little bit of background. I'm a 35 year old man from Newcastle upon Tyne who's only just started to make time to pursue his actual interests after leaving education shortly following his GCSEs. In previous years I've seen and heard about events and thought "this looks brilliant, but it's all going to be way over my head” or "I’ve not gone to university, this really isn't going to help me get anywhere “or simply "it's too far away, I’m going to have to beg to take a day off work".
The IET and RadioTechCon were both very accommodating when it came to putting those fears to one side when it came to this event. I was lucky enough to be eligible for an IET bursary to help with travel expenses, which was very much appreciated, and the event itself was very inclusive and supportive. Upon arrival, I was introduced to the Chair of IET Media Ian Nock, who was very welcoming and pleasant to talk to.
The first part of the day consisted of talks from the organisers and people from all across the whole spectrum of the industry. BBC, Ofcom, Arqiva, Global and Bauer, freelancers who'd worked at high levels within radio technology and people who'd been instrumental in making radio broadcasting what it is today.
We started with a talk on the physical anatomy of a studio, effective soundproofing and acoustic treatment. This sunk in a lot easier for me than it probably should have. Between working as a security guard on building sites, following various YouTube channels based around A/V hobbyists, and having a penchant for retaining enough various bits of information to glue them back together into an entire string later, it was relatively easy to understand the principals and properties of the studio build and setup.
The discussion of fitting out the studio, gave some really useful information including pieces on studio accessibility, the different types of microphones and their sound capture fields, audio latency, differences between different types of mixers and their applications, headphone and speaker monitors, the playout systems used and the importance of metadata for integration into RDS and radio text/app functionality.
In the next talk, we delved into the world of central control rooms and rack rooms which are used by the larger broadcasters. A lot of information to take in, but the main takeaways from it were the importance of the design focussing on maximising accessibility to components and airflow, and keeping cable assignment logs up to date.
The transmission talk was something I could really get my teeth into, learning about the circuitry that brings the output to the air. Dynamic ranges, signal to noise ratios and error thresholds across relays, all were covered in detail, as well as the configuration of the transmission chain from audio output to RF transmitted signal, digitisation standards for DAB and DAB+. All very useful information for being part of the future of the industry.
After lunch, we headed towards the rooms for the practical sessions, working in groups assigned by lanyard ID colour. This was a great chance to meet and work with other like-minded people on practical tasks which put a lot of the knowledge from the earlier sessions into use. Seeing what a correct output should look like on a meter and being able to equate it to a number of units noted down earlier really helped. For example, if output has to be at X number of decibels in the studio to be audible at the receiver end of a broadcast chain, and you can see from your correctly calibrated pieces of studio kit where a needle should be or how many green lights that level equates to, as well as being able to hear the effects of going over/under those levels, it’s like finding the key pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Extremely useful.
Getting the chance to troubleshoot a problem logically - knowing which order to eliminate potential issues to find the cause of a perceived problem, prepare the components of a studio for broadcast and then build and understand a transmission circuit were all brilliant experiences and fantastic opportunities to equate the knowledge from the morning talks into actual hands on configurations.
All in all, the entire day was extremely informative and I came out of it with a lot of new knowledge, a sense of what avenues to explore next in the way of inroads into the industry, a good few contacts and associations that I can look to for support or opportunities, and an affirmation that this is a field that I could realistically see myself learning and working in within the very near future.
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