Q It Up: How Do You Like MP3 So Far? - Part 2

Here are the rest of the responses to our MP3 question from last month!

Q 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.

Russ McLamb [rmclamb[at]innova .net], Chris-Mar Studio’s: The delivery of MP3’s has definitely made life easier. It gives us the opportunity to better serve our clients by offering same day delivery on some production. I’m still trying to figure out what we did before we started using it. One thing that does surprise me is the amount of stations that aren’t utilizing this yet. Of course, the key to MP3’s is saving it at a high bit rate. How could you not love this technology? Remember the old days—get the spot by fax, cut it, and race to the Fedex drop off box. Now you just hit the send or upload button. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

Ric Gonzalez [Ric.Gonzalez[at]cox .com], Cox Radio San Antonio: I don’t know what we did before mp3. After taking the lead from Austin, it took a great deal of my own personal and company time to coordinate between all the stations here in San Antonio and get them to go “MP3.” Fortunately for me, the Clear Channel stations were on the ball with this. So, between them and our (Cox) stations it kind of helped the others to join in. With a few of the other stations here in town, I had to go from the Production Director (who claimed to have no say in the matter), to the engineer (who said he couldn’t justify the pursuit of the mp3 project unless sales needed it), to the Sales Manager (who realized their reps wouldn’t have to drive all over town and loved the idea). So, it finally happened and we are all one big mp3-ing happy bunch. So yes, it was a blessing but it did bring some “little” problems.

What’s in a name? One thing that drives me crazy is clients or other stations that send us an MP3 audio file with an unusually long title. For example: “Custom-Window-Tinters-Inc-Saturday-only-Memorial-Day-Clarion-CD-Player-Sale-for-San-Antonio-Market.mp3. Now that’s just stupid and problematic at best. When these files come in, production saves the mp3 to hard drive. The rep is notified of the spot being in-house so they can turn in paperwork to get it on the air. On that sheet, there isn’t enough room for them to give that ridiculously long “spot title,” nor can traffic even enter that into their system! So what happens? The rep writes up the spot as “Memorial Day sale.” This gets assigned to some jock who a day later looks at the files under “M” and can find no such mp3 because it is under “C” for “Custom-Window-Tinters-Inc-Saturday-only-Memorial-Day-Clarion-CD-Player-Sale-for-San-Antonio-Market.mp3.” Or the client/station who does the opposite and sends you a file called “this Saturday.mp3” Now how many other businesses could have a “this Saturday?” Hell, that was a bad title for a spot even on a reel! Anyway, when you go to save that mp3, the file “this Saturday.mp3” already exists for some club, car dealership, etc. We’d use two initials for the client plus date, like Dodge Dealers would be DD051801.MP3. This is “less likely” to already be in existence and can easily be written up by sales, entered by traffic, and found by production.

“Fetch Fido! Fetch!” The other thing that makes me wacky: IT IS EASIER TO RECEIVE THAN TO GO GET! When I get instructions from an agency telling me to go to: JOESTVSWEEPS//RADIO\%![at]BIGCLIENT.com and then to enter the login: WESPEND$$$34L to download their spots; I send them an email giving them “our email address” so they can “send” us the spot. I can’t tell you how many FTP sites I’ve gone to and found “no spots” or “no page” because someone at the agency “typo’d” the web address or stupid login. My system has frozen while trying to download a string of spots recorded all in one MP2 file because someone was brainwashed into thinking it makes a difference on the air! (Hell, it’s gonna get compressed in our on-air delivery system anyway.) Some systems actually compress to MP3. So, what have they accomplished by sending them as wav or MP2? Get off it and send it! When I produce a spot for a client and they pay me a talent to have it air on other stations, I gladly SEND it to every station who needs it. Why wouldn’t an agency do the same for their client? LAZY! Imagine if every Production Director had to have a sheet with hundreds of FTP sites and logins for various clients. I’d never get anything else done! Go to site A, enter login, check for spot. Spot not there yet. Go to site B for other client, enter login, check for spot. Spot not there yet. Repeat this process all day long for various clients until the spots they said would be posted by 12 noon show up around 4pm. I got fed up once and ask a client to email or Fedex the spot to me! That way, I can still write, produce, voice-over, and meet with reps. But, I don’t have to keep searching the world wide web for their F’n FTP site. It comes to me!

I’ve actually had agencies ask me to be the station to regularly receive their spot from DGS/DCI and then to regularly be responsible for MP3-ing the spot to all the other stations in the market. This way they would only have to pay DGS/DCI to send it to ONE station. I gave them a figure for what “I’d charge” to be the one responsible for MP3-ing the spot to all the other stations. They said, “…but mp3 is free?” Yes, but my time isn’t. This was not something that was going to be done for free or in return for buying a schedule. Jeez! When did agencies stop being responsible for 1) getting the spot to the station, 2) producing the spot, and 3) writing the script to earn the discount the stations give them. Oh wait...that’s a whole other subject. Sorry.

Bottom line: MP3 good, but some agencies who barely understood radio in the past now even have less of a clue.

Todd Richmond [ToddWMPI[at] aol.com], WMPI-FM, Scottsburg, IN: At WMPI, we’re starting to come around to this whole MP3 business now. We do have one client who sends me his spots via e-mail as an MP3 file and it’s GREAT!!! No more threading up his tapes. No more wondering if it’s heads or tails out and finding out it’s either tails or the client specializes in backward masking. No more running out of storage space for all of his old commercials because now they’re all archived on both my home hard drive and the station’s hard drive. No more having to look thru boxes and boxes of tapes trying to find that “Super Mega Absolutely Ends This Saturday At Noon Pre-Owned Vehicle Push Pull Or Drag In Your Trade Blow Out Lease Spectacular” ad (there was only one copy and the client gave it to us, of course), that someone picked up and erased so he could save that shining moment when the afternoon guy said “#[at]$&” on the air...oh I could go on and on.

Sadly, that’s just one client. Now I have to convince all those other guys out there to take the digital step forward and go MP3 on me. I have plenty of space on the hard drive, but I’m too stinkin’ lazy to clean off the tape shelf.

Richard Stroobant [bigdick[at]cjay 92.com], CJAY/CKMX, Calgary, Alberta, Canada: If you haven’t been using MP3 very much, just wait a few months. In Canada, we rarely get anything on DGS, reel to reel, DAT, CD or couriered anymore. I would say 95% or more of the stuff we get sent to us is MP3. Either it is sent to us via Internet (Spottaxi.com or Slingspot.com) or emailed directly to us. In last months Radio And Production, I wrote an article about the minimum requirements, we, the end users of these MP3’s, should put into place NOW if we want any control over the quality of commercials airing on our stations. In our market, these guidelines were met with little or no resistance. I highly suggest someone in your market take the bull by the horns and gather the other stations in your market together and develop your own guidelines and then TELL the people sending you spots to adhere to these guidelines. If you don’t, you could face a nightmare in a few months with really crappy sounding MP3s sent to you.

I have a lot of likes and dislikes about MP3. I hate when I get a spot that sounds crappy (192 kbps should be the minimum). I like the fact I don’t have to deal with DGS anymore. I hate when the server is down and I have to wait to download it. I like the convenience of sending something across the city in just a few minutes. I hate when the stations receiving my spots have a full mailbox and the spots get bumped back to me. I like the low cost. I hate....

The reality is, like it or not, this is where our industry is going. The bottom line is, the financial bottom line, and MP3 is free. So, instead of fighting it, turn it around and make it work for you. Tell your GM that all the money your station is (or will be) saving by not using other methods and overhead (DGS, couriers, tape, reels boxes, DATs, etc.) could be used into getting a fast, a very fast Internet connection (a T1 line, or cable) for the production room, and a decent MP3 encoder/player (SoundJam is an excellent product for Macs). And then tell your Sales Manager your station now can email spots to your clients, so a sales rep doesn’t have to drive a cassette across town or the client doesn’t have to listen to their commercial over a 17 cent AT&T phone line, thru a speaker the size of a dime.

I know some producers cringe at the thought of audio compression, but if a spot is encoded at a high enough bit rate, and after it goes through the audio chain (limiters, compressors and everything else) you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between an MP3 spot and an in-house produced spot. And at the very least, it’s better than getting a 5-inch reel dub on 1-mil tape recorded at 7 1/2 ips. (Remember those days?)

Kevin Dyer [kevin[at]cr101.com], KLLL, KMMX, KONE: We’ve been set up to receive spots via the Internet for a little over a year now. I have noticed the sound quality isn’t as great as from a CD, but it’s about the same as a reel, and the average listener can’t tell. I do think the quality issue will become moot in the near future as stations get better and faster Internet connections. We all know mp3 does not have the same quality as a .wav file, but we have to resort to compression since we don’t have an hour and a half to upload/download a sixty second spot. I think eventually .wav files (44,100 - 48,000 sample rate or better) will be the standard. Sending spots via the Internet has become very convenient for me. The computer in my office is networked to our production room computers so I can easily access spots from our system and zap them across town. So there is a convenience factor involved.

Ed Thompson [ethompson[at]staradio .com], STARadio Corp., Quincy, IL: MP3 good! Tape bad! Seriously, I can’t say enough good things about MP3 technology. In just cost savings alone. It’s worth whatever disadvantages there may be. In 1999, my production company spent thousands on FedEx and DGS, not to mention reel-to-reel tape, cassettes, and other associated materials like labels and mailers. After switching to MP3 delivery in 2000, I passed the savings on to my clients because they no longer have shipping and handling charges to pay.

For our radio group, it liberates our sales reps from picking up dubs at other stations, so they can spend more time doing what they do best...selling. It saves time dubbing spots into our Audio Vault. Just open the email, convert to a .wav, and import it in to the AV. Plus, mastering is a breeze. We save the MP3 file to a CD as data. At 128kbps/44.1Khz, we can store as many as 600 spots to a disc which means no more tape archives. Can you say, “More closet space?”

Outside of an email server being down, the only ongoing problem I’ve experienced is when other broadcast groups don’t include any information in the text of the email such as the client name, spot title, ISCI code, etc. I can think of one incident where I accidentally entered the wrong spot into the system because the other station didn’t include that info. It goes without saying that the client was very upset.

Ron Harper [ronharper[at]fuse.net], The New 96.5/ESPN 1160 BOB: Absolutely unbelievable. I remember waiting around all afternoon for a spot to be delivered or for the sales guy to go get it. Now, we have one TV station who sends ‘em out MP3 during the sweeps and CCs the account exec. That redundancy has saved my butt when something got deleted from my system. We get our voice guy’s stuff the same way too. And with a right-click, I can turn it into a .wav file for editing. I’m amazed…everyday.

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