'Voice-tracking' uses technology tricks to substitute for on-air personalities

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Programming a radio station used to involve finding and hiring on-air talent, choosing music and tracking down traffic and weather reports for the breaks.

But this is the age of voice-tracking, when all of this can be done with computer clicks, a few pushes of a few buttons and the hope that listeners won't figure out they're being fooled.

That cheerful voice delivering the news out of McKeesport? The DJ isn't necessarily in Pennsylvania, let along Pittsburgh. Voice-tracking is a software alternative to paying for real, live on-air people. It's a money-saving device that has rankled many in the business.

"The whole premise of a voice-tracked show is 'We won't have to do a good job,' " said Michael Harrison, publisher of the radio industry digital trade magazine, Talkers.

"It's one of the major issues facing our industry today, and it's the result of the biggest problem facing radio today, which is the tremendous debt that most of the companies that own most of the stations have accrued during the height of consolidation, in order to gather the largest empires they possibly [could] have."

Companies such as Skid Trax and Black Fox Productions package prerecorded radio content and then localize it by sprinkling in neighborhoods, sports references and the like. Station owners also can purchase software that allows them to mix and match their own lineup of music, talk/news.

Voice-tracked shows can fill in for overnight, weekend or holiday programming that listeners believe is live and in studio.

"I find that whole concept utterly detestable," said WXDX-FM host Mark Madden. "People who [financially] have to do it, I understand that. I don't understand people who OPT to do it. I know some people who voice-track multiple shows in multiple cities."

"I think voice-tracking should only be done as a desperate measure when there is no alternative. I dislike it tremendously," Mr. Harrison said.

Some in the business consider voice-tracking the ultimate slap in the face. They claim it gives nothing back to the community and at the same time, disrupts the local market. It's also a disheartening trend toward "less-filling" content.

But it's a growing trend. Mr. Madden said at this point in his career, "I'm not really sure how much I know, except to talk."

lifestyle - tvradio

First Published October 19, 2013 8:00 PM


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