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If your audio files are MP3, run them through MP3Gain. Do a “Track Analysis”, then “Track Gain”. The program doesn’t change the audio, but changes some flags in the MP3 header. Most MP3 player apps should honor these flags on playback. The nice thing about MP3Gain is that you can undo the change later.
I run all my files through MP3Gain at the default gain setting. This gives me a baseline from which to work with. I can then set my audio levels and processing and get a pretty consistent broadcast level.
I also run all of my MP3 files through EncSpot Pro to check for sync errors and ID3TagIt to create consistent ID3 tags. For encoding WAV to MP3, I use RazorLame which is a Windows frontend to the Lame encoder (all free software).
You don’t really want to use a program like Audacity to normalize your files, as you will not only permanently change them, but get that “flat” sound that you mentioned.
For audio processing, you can throw some hardware into your audio chain, if you have the money, or you can do it in software, like I do. I’ll describe my setup below. My setup is totally automated 24/7. If you intend to do the live DJ thing, you will need some type of mixing console. Depending on what console you buy, you may not need some or all of the software I am using.
For automation, I use ZaraRadio 1.61 (free), as many here do. The output from ZaraRadio is fed into Virtual Audio Cable (VAC) ($30), which routes the audio into VSTHost (free). In VSTHost, I use Classic EQ plugin (free) and Broadcast Processor plugin (free) to process the audio. I also use Modern Meter plugin (free) and Inspector plugin (free) to monitor levels and spectrum. The output from VSTHost goes to the sound card and then to the SSTRAN transmitter. As you can see, the only part of this software chain that costs money is VAC, which is worth the $30.
I have had an engineer friend from a local radio station tell me that I sounded as good as any commercial station.
ZaraRadio has a rudimentary AGC feature builtin that you can enable. It works, however I liked the results that I was getting with my software audio chain better, so I don’t use ZaraRadio’s AGC.
The one piece of hardware that may be worth buying is an Inovonics 222. I picked up one cheap and so far, I have not integrated it into my station. I experimented with the 222 and a spare SSTRAN transmitter and didn’t get the results I expected. I corresponded with Phil at SSTRAN and he had some suggestions. I just haven’t gotten around to doing more experimenting with the 222 yet. I don’t want to take the station off the air while I’m trying new things, so I’ll have to build another antenna for the spare SSTRAN, so I can experiment some more.
If anyone is using a SSTRAN with the base-loaded antenna and a 222, I’d like to hear about your experience.
Definitely work on your audio files and experiment with the software and hardware you intend to use before going on the air. You will learn a lot and sound more polished, once you do go on the air. When you get your transmitter, you can use just the wire antenna and listen to how you sound before putting up an outside antenna and letting “the world” hear you.