Q It Up: How Do You Like MP3 So Far? -- Part 1

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95Q It Up: Delivery of commercials via the Internet and MP3 — by now, most of us have had at least a taste of this new technology. At this stage in the MP3-ing game, what are your thoughts on this new method of sending and receiving commercials? Has it been a blessing for you? Have you had your share of problems? What are your likes and dislikes about the way things are progressing with this new delivery method? What would you like to see changed? Please add any other thoughts you have on the subject.

Hal Knapp [ZCobra[at]aol.com], Z-100, New York: The ability to send commercials as MP3s has opened doors for many clients, but it’s also created several problems. Anyone with a computer and reasonable (sometimes, not so reasonable) web access wants to save the money by distributing spots through the Internet. Often, they’ve saved time and money, but increased the time spent by us in converting the spot to make it air worthy.

Generally, Z-100 does not accept MP3 spots from clients. I’ve received various encoding rates, sample rates, phase problems, EQ problems, etc. Some believe if it sounds great on their computer’s multimedia speakers, then it’s broadcast quality. Some clients demand that we take the MP3s, and we do, but I’ll spend twice as long converting and “fixing” the quality of the spot than one delivered by traditional means. We’ve also had several clients send revised spots, or even first run spots, at the end of the day, way past our deadlines, and expect us to handle the spot immediately. We’ve set up a special e-mail box for those demanding clients to send the files. We hesitate giving it out, and we insist they fax us trafficking instructions.

We rarely go to a website to download a client’s MP3/spot; After all, it really should be the client’s responsibility to deliver us their prerecorded spot. Additionally, getting logins and passwords, following directories, having a compatible browser, the right plug-in, etc., adds to the troubles in retrieving a spot on the net. Overall, strong/clear communication is very important when we deal with materials delivered through the net.

SpotTaxi has become another source in our digital delivery vocabulary. The MP2 encoding is much better than MP3, however, the application to retrieve files is a nightmare (sorry guys). I guess I can attribute this partly to the fact that I use Pro Tools on a Mac. The SpotTaxi application will not allow me to playback the download through my Pro Tools hardware. So, I must convert the spots to a SDII file to import into a Pro Tools session. A one-minute spot takes about five minutes before it’s ready to be played back into our ENCO system. I’ve contacted their tech support who had limited knowledge of my Pro Tools hardware with positive SpotTaxi compatibility. Having to log in, with none of my last used preferences saved, adds to the grueling process. A new SpotTaxi application version is supposed to fix many of my concerns. I get about a fourth of my spots on SpotTaxi, and with TV sweeps, it’s made for some much longer days.

I don’t believe clients will ever stop trying to find a quicker and cheaper way to deliver spots to radio stations. MP3 encoded audio is not going away. As long as we establish the proper guidelines for quality and the applications to decode the spots work seamlessly (and quickly), then it can be one more of the gazillion ways to send us a spot.

Johnny George [jg[at]johnnygeorge .com], Susquehanna, Indianapolis: Since I’m just now coming back into the commercial world as CS Director after being responsible for only the Imaging, it’s refreshing to see how all of this has progressed. And most importantly, how most everyone is embracing the technology.

Obviously our busiest times are “TV sweeps” months (Feb, May & Nov.), and the use of MP3 files set up on a FTP for us to download has been a blessing. One problem most of us must face is the use of e-mailing spots when your station’s (or ISP) server is down. We prefer to download the spots from the agencies’, the production houses’, or TV stations’ particular FTP site or the secure web site for us.

We’re facing a problem right now, as a matter of fact, due to our server in Dallas having some problems this weekend. A client that would normally email their spot as an attachment may be lost or forgotten if we were to have an email problem. Now we need to call them and try to make other arrangements in order to secure the spot. FTP is so much easier.

The way Spot Taxi operates with the email notification is the best scenario. Sure wish everyone with a FTP or secure docking station could initiate a notification when the spot is now available.

One other downside to using MP3’s is that some of the clients now wait until the absolute LAST MINUTE to make their spots available to us as a radio station. This means we have to constantly check the site to find out when it’s going to be made ready. The immediacy of the technology is causing some to take advantage of the situation.

Donnie Marion [dmarion[at]104 krbe.com], 104 KRBE, Houston: I don’t miss the feeling of a 5" or 7" or 10" plastic or metal reel in my hand. I don’t miss the cuts that you sometimes get from tape when you’re careless or stupid and try to go from fast-forward to stop instantly, by using the hand brake every reel-to-reel is equipped with while a human stands in front of it.

I think I may have bad mouthed this method of delivery in past Q It Up answers, but it’s growing on me!

Back in the old days of only having a reel-to-reel and cart machine to dub with, dubbing spots was a long, slow process. Not long ago I had several dubs to do. Each was stored on a computer of some kind around here. I finished 24 dubs in about an hour. Then I went to pick up my glasses. And that’s dubbing and checking them for mistakes or skips. Tapeless is definitely faster.

Having spots delivered via the Internet means we need to have the playback software. It comes with recording capabilities also, which moves us closer to the world of all spots stored on computer. I like to refer to it as “The World of Jimbo,” as outlined a RAP mag feature several years ago. Sooner or later, the salespeople will be able to hear the spot for their client on the workstation in the sales area. They can even e-mail a quality preview spot for approval.

But there is still a downside. When technology allows clients to wait until the last minute to make a spot, then you’ll get the spot at last minute +1 to get it on the air. What if you’re at lunch, at 4:30 in afternoon? What if there’s some type of computer glitch? What if it’s the first time you’ve ever seen an .mp3 file? We have an IT person on staff. I’m learning.

All this spots on computers stuff is a bigger plus than originally thought.

Neil Holmes [neil[at]voicecreative.com], Voice Creative/Tele-Media, Albany: MP3 has been a blessing because now I have more control (and an excuse to chat with fellow production people). Also, it cuts down on shipping costs for my free-lance and enables me to audition for spots all around the country.

From the station’s point of view, it keeps the salespeople “on the street selling” instead of running around town picking up dubs. Also, the Albany radio stations have organized a web page for local stations to post spots we share, so we get them faster. That makes dubbing easier, too. Just click and it plays, versus loading a reel or cueing a CD.

Problems: Some spots we get from independent producers sometimes splatter and have to be redone, but the radio professionals all seem to have MP3 down cold.

[ProdDir5Star[at]aol.com]: I love it! Right now, we are in a unique situation. Our cluster has been bought out by Saga Communications, and they bought our closest competitor, too. We have four stations under one roof, and the fifth (the former competitor) is 15 miles away. The sales staff can sell any combination of the five stations, and there are many times the one station emails to the four or vice versa. It has been an interesting few months which will all be rectified by a new facility with all of us under one roof. Until then, we can get spots to the other station(s) within 5 minutes instead of a 30-minute drive.

Craig Jackman [craigj[at]canada.com], CHEZ/CKBY/CIOX/CJET/CIWW: I love MP3! My life is SO much easier it’s not funny. What do I like? Simple. The commercials are delivered to ME, not dropped behind a desk at reception, not sitting in the back seat of the Rep’s car melting in the sun, not hidden under a pile of orders in Traffic or Creative, not squashed in the cargo hold of the FedEx plane after the envelope got ripped open by accident. It’s delivered to me, in my studio, where I need it. It’s faster as well, not having to overnight something, or get a Rep to drive across town and back 4 times picking up dubs as they’re ready. Point, click, send, and I’ll get it in minutes.

With apologies to my friends Fred and Ken, who’ve done a lot with setting up networks to distribute commercials, I don’t have to use those services anymore. If something’s going across the continent, it’s a 30-second phone call to get the email address and away it goes. Not to mention that we now have every station in town in the loop so those services never ever get used for local transfers anymore. The problems I’ve had with MP3’s were directly related to my Internet provider. When I was on a dialup connection, I’d have 3 pages of errors per month minimum, with interrupted connection or heavy traffic slowing the service down. Switching to cable Internet, and now a T1 line at our new building, means that there have been ZERO problems in the last 2 years. I love the fact that people are finally taking the time to listen to the MP3 files after conversion. I’m getting fewer 128kbs files that have been converted using a cheap codec. I’m a little surprised to find that I have a lot of 320kbs files coming in, but they sound great, so I’m not complaining! About the only thing I haven’t wrapped my head around yet is using MP3 as a storage medium for everything that we do. I don’t want to get into the habit of re-encoding an MP3 file, decimating the sound quality in the process.

Pete Jensen [PETEJ[at]kxly.com], KXLY Broadcast Group, Spokane, Washington: I’m astounded at the change we’ve seen in the past two or three years. Our IT guy is struggling to keep up with the ever increasing volume of spots we send and receive via email. But if email were 100% reliable, I’d be much happier. We’ve had many snafus because people were still getting set up to send and receive spots this way and because some people are still completely in the dark about computer operation. Aside from that, email is unreliable. So while most of the spots come and go as planned, we still have spots that don’t arrive, either here or there, or some other problem, about once per week on average.

I’m leaning toward posting spots on a website for pubic download. But I’ve had problems with that system too. I think it was the browser I was using. Having said all that, I love being able to send spots anywhere in the world, at no extra charge, instantly. It’s beautiful. I have no idea what the end result of all this will be, but whatever the final form of e-delivery, I’m happy to say goodbye to tape. Oh, look, somebody just handed me a reel to dub. These are interesting times.

Dan Kirkness [chvrprod[at]on.tri.ca], Star 96 FM, Pembroke, Ont., Canada: MP3s are a great money saver... for the people sending the spots. For the receiver, it’s a little more work than in the days when agencies would send a tape, especially if it’s sent via Spot Taxi or any of those companies where I have to go retrieve it.

I prefer the direct method, when the spot is sent to me as an email attachment. However, MP3s have made it a lot easier to share voices within our company since the turnaround time is so fast and delivery is free. The only problem I’ve had is people who can’t send stuff at a high bit rate because of size limits on their server. What we’ve done to overcome this is have Outlook Express split the email. To do this, click on Tools > Accounts >Properties >Advanced > and check off the box that says “break apart messages,” and select the size. Mine is set at 4500 KB since the limit is 5 Meg or 5000 KB. I’m amazed though, that even with the fast turnaround time of MP3s, agencies can still find a way to get spots to us after 5 on a Friday!

John Milford [jmilford[at]prodgod .com]: I’ve been using DGS for years and would’ve loved to send mp3’s directly to stations in the past, but I’ve been amazed at how technically-challenged many radio stations have been, with either no Internet connection in their production rooms, or slow dial-up connections, or worse, which really is inexcusable considering the affordability. However, lately more and more stations are finally getting into the 90’s, and sending mp3’s has been a great method. Now I email 90% of my spots directly to the stations, or post them to the station’s web sites via FTP. I know many production houses post their spots for the radio stations to download themselves, but for now, I like to retain control of the delivery and the subsequent peace of mind, knowing that the spot(s) have in fact been sent. The only possible drawback I can think of is that trafficking the spot(s) is more of a challenge, but that’s the agency’s responsibility anyway, right? Sending mp3 files to clients has also sped up the approval process; they don’t have to wait for a cassette or CD, and the spot sounds much better on their computer rather than over a phone patch. All in all, sending spots via mp3 is a great way to deliver spots and will soon be the standard, if it isn’t already. The quality is excellent and the price is certainly right!

Gary Griffey [radiogriff[at]hotmail .com]: The MP3 commercial delivery format needs work (at least where I am). Our station receives agency stuff through e-mail and, so far, I could not recommend it for anyone. There are a gazillion codecs, and finding a set that compliment each other on either end of the delivery chain is the key. But I simply cannot see anyone using this method for an entire schedule of spots. Needing a replacement in a hurry might be a legitimate reason for using MP3 format, but not for a long-term schedule.

Let it be pointed out here that I am a stickler for audio quality. To me, it MUST sound great from a quality standpoint for me to put it on the air. There are agencies that have no concept of quality. There are producers that have no concept of quality, and there are staff members at radio stations that could care less about it (the WHATEVERWORKS Disease).

Therefore, until there is a system that produces a purely reproductive audio sampling method without loss of quality, then I am not prepared to depend upon the MP3 process full-time. I strongly discourage such things at our station because the combination of codec problems and audio quality issues leads to a rather rotten-sounding spot. And, hence, a rather horrid-sound/image of the station.

More Feedback Next Month!

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