Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Radio producers often idolize studio engineers who work with racks full of high end gear because so many radio stations now have nothing more than a cost cutter DAW, an RE20 and some cracked plug ins. It wasn't always that way. In fact, when it comes to compressors, radio developed the technology and jealous studio engineers adopted it.
In early radio, excessive audio levels could knock a station off the air. Engineers would manually ride gain to avoid it but, no one can anticipate a sudden spike and the human hand is only so fast. To protect equipment, leveling amplifiers were developed. They automated the process by acting like limiters. Recording engineers had the same desire to control levels and borrowed the idea from radio which was clearly on the cutting edge. Since limiting is just a severe form of compression, the idea for both was born at the same time.
Fast forward to the 1960s when boxes like the Urei 1176 and the LA-2A hit the market. Even by today's standards these units are considered audio rocket sauce. They changed the vibe of music production and are still in use all over the world.
Compression has been a massive force in defining the sound of modern music. Although it's often misused, it is routinely thought of as a must have for any mix whether it's a hit record or a radio promo. Recording studios seek out vintage compressors that can cost up to $25,000. No, that's not a misprint.
But, back to the beginning. It was radio that drove this technology. Imagine a time when audio geeks had to go to a radio station to see the latest gear that was blowing people's minds.