A Virtual Tour of the Equipment Used For AM, FM, Satellite, and Internet Radio

 Some Radio stations are housed in their own buildings. Others, because of financial reasons or geographic considerations, can be found in skyscrapers, strip malls, and other locations.

For economical reasons, when companies own several radio stations in one city or area, they usually consolidate them into one building. This one hold 5 radio stations.

Internet radio stations typically do not require the overhead of a traditional radio station and can be run minimally in a room - or the corner of a room as in the case of a hobbyist. More involved Internet radio stations that operate for profit will obviously require more space for employees, etc.

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Radio Station Microwave Receivers and Relays

A radio tower with microwave relay dishes
A radio tower with microwave relay dishes. Photo Credit: © Corey Deitz

Many radio stations do not have their actual transmitter and broadcast tower on the same property as the studios. The tower above is a microwave relay tower.

The signal is sent by microwave to a similar microwave receptor on the grounds where the tranmitter and tower are. It is then converted into a signal that is broadcast to the general public. It is not uncommon for a radio station's studios to be located 10, 15 even 30 miles away from the actual transmitter and tower.

You'll notice there are several microwave dishes on this tower. That's because it is relaying signals for several different radio stations.

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Satellite Dishes at Radio Stations

Satellite dishes outside a radio station
Satellite dishes outside a radio station. Photo Credit: © Corey Deitz

Many Radio stations, especially those which air syndicated radio shows, receive these programs via satellite. The signal is fed into the radio station's control room where it travels through a console, also known as a "board", and is then sent to the transmitter.

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Digital Radio Station Studios: Audio Console, Computers, and Microphone

Radio studio console, computers, and microphone
Radio studio console, computers, and microphone. Photo Credit: © Corey Deitz

Today's typical broadcast studio at a Radio station consists of a console, microphones, computers, and occasionally maybe still some older analog-based equipment.

Although almost all radio stations have switched over to completely digital operations (at least in the U.S.), look hard enough and you will find some old reel-to-reel tape recorders/players sitting around!

Somewhere yo might even still find carts.

It's very unlikely any actually use turntables or vinyl records anymore (although there has been a chic resurgence in vinyl LPs for consumers.)

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Radio Station Studio Audio Console - Close-Up

Close-up of audio console
Close-up of audio console. Photo Credit: © Corey Deitz

This is where all the sound sources are mixed before being sent to the transmitter. Each slider, sometimes knowns as a "pot" on older boards, controls the volume of one sound source: microphone, CD player, digital recorder, network feed, etc. Each slider channel has an on/off switch at the bottom and various switches at the top which can divert to more than one destination.

A VU meter, such as the square box-like area toward the top of the console with the two green horizontal lines (center top), shows the operator the level of sound output. The top horizontal line is the left channel and the bottom line is the right channel.

The audio console converts analog audio (voice via microphone) and phone calls to a digital output. It also allows for the mixing of digital audio from CDs, computers, and other digital sources with the analog audio.

In the case of Internet Radio, the audio output would be uploaded to a server which then distributes the audio - or streams it - to listeners.

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Radio Station Microphones

A Professional Microphone with a Wind Screen
A Professional Microphone with a Wind Screen. Photo Credit: © Corey Deitz

Most radio stations have an assortment of microphones. Some microphones are especially designed for voice and on-air work. Often, these microphones will also have wind-screens over them, as this one does.

The wind-screen keeps extraneous noise to a minimum such as the sound of breath blowing into the microphone or the sound of a "popping" "P". (Popping Ps occur when a person pronounces a word with a hard "P" in it and in the process, expels a pocket of air that hits the microphone creating undesired noise.)

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Radio Station Microphones

Radio Studio Microphone on Stand
Radio studio microphone on stand. Photo Credit: © Corey Deitz

This is another example of a high-end professional microphone. Most mikes of this caliber easily cost hundreds of dollars.

This microphone does not have an external windscreen. It is also on an adjustable mike stand and in this case is usually used for studio guests.

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Radio Station Software

Radio Station Automation Software
Radio station automation software. Photo Credit: © Corey Deitz

Most radio stations have entered the digital age where not only is all the music, commercials, and other sound elements stored digitally on hard drives, but sophisticated software is also used to either automatically run the station when a human can't be there or to help in assisting a live DJ or personality in running the station.

There are various types of software designed to do this and it usually displays directly in front of the audio console where it it clearly seen by the person on-air.

This screen is displaying each element that has played and will play over the next 20 minutes or so. It is a digital version of the station's log.

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Radio Studio Headphones

A pair of professional headphones
A pair of professional headphones. Photo Credit: © Corey Deitz

Radio personalities and deejays wear headphones to avoid feedback. When a microphone is turned on in a radio studio, the monitors (speakers) automatically mute.

This way, the sound from the monitors won't re-enter the microphone, causing a feedback loop. If you've ever heard someone talking on a P.A. system at an event when it feedback, you know how annoying that noise can be.

So, when the monitors are muted because somebody turns on the microphone, the only way to monitor the broadcast is by using headphones to hear what's going on. As you can see, these are pretty weathered. But, then again professional headphones cost more and last longer. These are 10 years old!

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Radio Station Studio Soundproofing

Soundproof walls in a radio studio
Soundproof walls in a radio studio. Photo Credit: © Corey Deitz

(There's more to this tour. Don't you want to see the guitars signed by famous bands? Keep going...)

In order to keep the sound of radio personality's voice sounding as good as possible, it's important to soundproof a radio studio.

Sound proofing takes the "hollow sound" out of a room. You know what it sounds like in your shower when you speak or sing? That effect is the sound waves bouncing off of smooth surfaces, like porcelain or tile.

Soundproofing is designed to take the bounce of the voice's sound wave when it hits the walls. Soundproofing flattens the sound wave. It does this by creating a special texture on the radio studios walls. Cloth and other designs on the wall are usually employed to flatten out the sound.