Cleaner Sound, not Louder Sound, is the Top Acoustic Quality that Differentiates Stations

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New Wheatstone sponsored study shows a shift in how stations perceive value of their on air sound

An independent study, sponsored by Wheatstone Corporation, has documented a shift in how stations now perceive the value of different acoustic qualities to help attract and hold their audiences. In the 1980s, loudness was a highly desirable acoustic quality, and processors were designed to make one station sound louder on the radio dial than another.

But technology has advanced to a point where most processors can achieve a level of competitive loudness for most station. While being competitively loud is still important, having a clear signal that showcases the sound detail of a station’s music is now more important.

According to programming guru Bill Tanner, “I would advise against playing the loudness war. It is unnecessary because that’s something that exists largely in the minds of program directors and not in the minds of listeners. I’ve never heard anybody say they listen to a radio station because it’s loud. I think they want a station to sound great, and the better it sounds, the longer they will listen for.”

When asked which sound qualities were most important to their station, ‘cleaner’ was the top choice with almost three quarters (71.4%) of respondents selecting it. The next important sound qualities were “fuller” (48.3%), “more definition” (44.5%), and “brighter” (41.5%). Only 35.8% of respondents chose loudness. Among those that did, stations in larger markets valued loudness more than smaller ones. Among stations in ADI 1 to 25, 42.2% said loudness was important, while for stations in ADI’s over 100, that number dropped to 32.0%.

The study also uncovered a low perception of value among programming directors for processing and creating a “signature sound,” as compared with that of both engineers and station management. When asked if processing differentiated their station from others in their market, 45.6% of engineers and 41.6% of managers said it did, but only 27.3% of programming directors agreed.

The study raised a serious question about the role of a “signature sound.” When asked to choose one description of their station’s acoustic sound, almost two thirds (59.7%) of respondents chose the option indicating that processing “was appropriate for their programming format.” Surprisingly fewer selected the option indicating their station had the best overall sound in their market (23.4%), and only a handful (7.1%) said that their station had a unique “signature sound” that set them apart. When respondents consider the impact of processing, they see it as first supporting their station’s music format, not as helping to differentiate their station from others with a unique signature sound.

But the signature sounds of different audio processors are recognizable to many. Despite any custom adjustments, one in four engineers can recognize the brand of a processor just by listening to a station. It may be that the overall signature sound of a brand of processor is the most distinguishing sound of all, even more recognizable than the signature sound of the station itself.

To download the study for free, go to

Scott Johnson
Wheatstone Corporation
(252) 638-7000


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Scott Johnson
Wheatstone Corporation
(252) 638-7000
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