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When Voice Over Specs State 'Broadcast Quality'
 - What's That? Definitions In Flux Are Confusing

By Dave Courvoisier
Voice Actor & TV News Anchor

Radio used to rule. After the telegraph and the telephone… it was tops. Then TV came, and joined the broadcast club. Broadcast engineers were an elite class that set standards.

Back then, there was a term for this category of audio called "Broadcast Quality."

Not anymore.    

Today, there certainly IS a unique quality to the traditional broadcast signal, but it doesn't match the definition of quality you'll find in Webster's: "…high grade, superior, excellence…"

In its time, the parameters that early broadcasters set for the quality of the signal was a necessary baseline, and later a threshold or a standard. Then came FM, the internet, streaming, and corporate takeovers of a dying medium. 

Radio listenership dropped.


So they got creative. They devised "HD" radio, and gave the sound some POP.  Yet they had to overcome bad airwaves, over-modulated DJ's, disenfranchised clients, hyped imaging, disillusioned listeners, and bad speakers. 

Amid all this, radio "broadcast quality" became almost distorted.

Similarly, TV started punching up its sound signal. All manner of equipment was devised to process and compress the signal for intense "presence" in the ears. 

But to compete with Hollywood, internet streaming and an ever-improving video quality, TV broadcast sound could barely hold its own. People noticed the boosted volume when commercials popped-up… and it was not good.


So THAT's what "broadcast quality" is today - and you don't want any part of it in your voice over product.

Believe me, I was and still am in traditional broadcasting, and you would not believe the racks of equipment in the engineering area and at the transmitter site for boosting signal.  

When COVID-19 came along and the cushy network and professional studios of (mostly) LA and NYC got shuttered, the home studio began to reign supreme like never before. 

Talent that depended on those professionally-engineered studios for their livelihood scrambled to learn the intricacies of home studio acoustics.

By it's very nature, private home studios are different from the pro shops. Not worse, just different. Much different. So much so, that the pro audio engineers began to fear for their future as home studios proliferated. 

They convinced a lot of their clients to impose draconian demands in their instructions to the auditioning voice talent - and alla sudden, BROADCAST QUALITY became a thing again.

Talent began to notice that clients were specifying minimum equipment standards, -even naming certain microphones and pre-amps that talent MUST USE to qualify for the audition. 

Some clients even began to demand that their engineers take remote control of the talent's equipment during the session to ensure "broadcast quality."

It was - and is - a bunch of hooey.


Even now that COVID is beginning to subside and pro shops are opening again, "broadcast quality" survives in audition directions.

Don't believe it. Don't process and compress, and apply all manner of effects to "punch up" your audition. 

Clean up some noise if you must, and maybe normalize. That's it.

Even if your voice is going out over radio and/or TV, don't try for "broadcast quality" in your audition or the final product. If those clients/stations/broadcast outlets want to screw-up the sound when they send it up the tower, that's their business.

Chances are, what's coming out of your studio is already much better than "broadcast." If you saw the audio booths in the TV stations I've worked at, it would send shivers up your spine.

So make your auditions plain vanilla neutral and clean. It's the talent they're paying for, not your audio engineering prowess.

Now if we could only get clients to dismiss the ridiculous and nebulous "conversational" direction in copy, we'd be set!
Dave Courvoisier is a voice actor and audiobook narrator based in Las Vegas - and also an Emmy Award-winning broadcaster, producer and morning TV news anchor on Good Morning Las Vegas at ABC affiliate KTNV, Channel 13 (also seen as live stream on A former president and a founding member of the World-Voices Organization (WoVO), he also writes Voice-Acting in Vegas, a daily blog of voice over adventures, observations and technology, and is author and publisher of the book, More Than Just A Voice: The Real Secret To VoiceOver Success, now in its second edition.

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Comments (3)
Carl Bishop
5/7/2021 at 12:17 PM

I agree. as long as you record through a pro mic chain and you can't hear the room in the recording, its good to go. I think that's what casting was trying to say by using the phrase "broadcast quality," unfortunately they didn't explicitly define the term and caused a lot of confusion. As you know, the REAL broadcast quality gets established in the mix and transmission of the signal.

Carl Bishop
Dan Nims
5/5/2021 at 9:03 PM
Very well said, Dave. My little home studio can do stuff way better than what we had back in the day of quarter inch tape and endless tape cartridges. Then calculate what didn't get through because of the limits to AM broadcasting. While the audio editing program I use can do some sophisticated effects, most talent buyers just wanta clean read and if they want efects, they will create them post-production. Cheers!
Howard Ellison
5/4/2021 at 3:02 PM
Hello, Dave.

Dare I say, I almost agree? We can never be sure what a potential client will play our demos on, so a bit of squashing is probably to our advantage. Maybe more familiar to them, too.

As for radio and TV sound in general - here in UK anyway - indeed in decline. Body-worn mics on actors, lapel mics under presenters' chins, garbled web feeds, soundtracks out of sync, over-compressed by the platforms (how dare they!).

We now need an alternative term to 'broadcast quality' as it no longer implies something nice.
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