Getting Started, Broadcasting, Radio

Glossary of Radio Terms

Radio is a whole other world with its own language. There are many terms and phrases regularly used in the radio industry. So, we're going to define some of the most common radio terms and phrases in this glossary of radio terms.

If you are looking for a particular term, press CMD+F (Mac) or CTRL+F (Windows) and enter your term.

Part of a jingle that is just voices without any music.

Ad is an abbreviation for advertisement. Usually, it's a recorded piece of audio to promote a business or event.

A-D Converter
A-D converter is short for Analog to Digital Converter. It changes a constant electrical signal into a stream of binary numbers like 1's and 0's.

An ad-lib or ad-libbing is when a presenter improvises. Ad-libbing is a common practice when something goes wrong like the show is disturbed or there is a technical difficulty.

AM - Amplitude Modulation
This broadcast signal varies the amplitude of the carrier wave. It is used by AM broadcast stations and requires an AM receiver. The AM frequency range is 530 to 1710 kHz.

Analog Signal
An analog signal is continuous, meaning that there are no breaks or interruptions. Analog recording equipment records the exact waveform of the original sound.

Analog Transmission
A continuous signal that varies in amplitude (AM) or frequency (FM), as opposed to a digital signal.

Reduces the intensity of a sound signal, much like a volume control dial.

Audio Engineering Society / European Broadcast Union (AES/EBU)
AES/EBU is a body of digital audio transfer standards, for example, they make sure microphone XLR connectors are 3 pins.

Automatic Gain Control (AGC)
AGC adjusts the volume to compensate for the level. It helps reduce noise when a presenter gets too loud, for example, when they shout or get close to the microphone.

Software or equipment, like mixers and soundboards, loaded with pre-set audio to automate shows. Often these sounds are controlled by a computer to ensure accurate and repeatable audio.

Auxiliary Input (Return)
The route back into a sound desk for a line level signal sent to a piece of outboard equipment via an auxiliary send.

Auxiliary Output (Send)
Line level output from a sound desk which can be used for monitoring without crossing over to the main output.

Average Audience
The approximate number of listeners you will reach in any given quarter hour of the station and time zone selected.

Back Announce
Back announcing is when a presenter talks about a song that has just played.

Back Time
Back timing is the technique of working out how much time is left before an event. For example, if a DJ's show is going to end, they work out the right length of a song to ensure they don't finish too early or overrun.

Balanced Line
Reduce interference carrying a line by using a third conductor like a shield. Balanced lines are less prone than unbalanced to interference. One of the signal wires carries the audio signal, while the other carries an out-of-phase inverted duplicate. When the signal reaches the destination, the inverted duplicate is flipped and added to the original. Any noise added by interference is also inverted. When combined with the non-inverted noise, the two noise signals cancel each other out.

In terrestrial radio, bandwidth is the range of the broadcasting equipment. In internet radio, bandwidth is the amount of data consumed by listeners.

Bass is the lower end of the music scale at around 60 to 250 Hz. For example, a male voice ranges from 85 to 180 Hz, whereas a female voice is from 165 to 255 Hz.

Audio that is used to talk over by the DJ. Usually, it's part of a jingle or segment between tracks to keep a flow.

A song, music, or another element that signals a transition to or from commercial breaks.

A buss is a single line in a mixing desk that can receive signals from a number of sources like a microphone and CD player. The buss carries the line to the master audio channel to output to a destination.

Call sign - call letters
The unique designation of transmitter broadcast stations. In the United States, they generally start with the first letter K west of the Mississippi River and W east of the Mississippi. Older stations may have only a three letter designation while newer ones have four letters. Stations must announce their call sign on the top of each hour and when signing on or off the air for stations that don't broadcast 24 hours per day.

Clean Feed
An audio stream that is free from interference like sounds from external equipment.

Compress audio so that it conforms with specific settings, for example, reduce file size.

Two channels on a mixer are both talking at the same time, like wires crossing paths.

Cue is the beginning of a track. It's often used as a mark to prepare before starting something, for example, a presenter about to do a live show.

Cue Light
Signal to the presenter that she/he can start broadcasting or to stand by, e.g. red light usually means standby, green light means go.

Cuts are small segments in a radio show.

Day Parts
Day parts mean the different times of the day you can run an ad campaign. Two major days parts on the radio are for morning shows (usually 6am-9am) and evening shows (4pm-7pm).

Dead Air
On-air silence when there is an error made by the staff or due to equipment failure.

Delay Unit
A device used to delay a show before it broadcasts, normally used during phone calls as a way to cut offensive language before it transmits.

Demo Tape
Demo tapes are pieces of audio showcasing a new track from a band or presentation techniques from a DJ.

Digital Signal
Digital signals are not continuous and use specific values to represent information.

Deutscher Industrie Normen (DIN)
DIN is a European standard covering audio connectors, ports, and tape equalization characteristics.

When the sound quality of an audio signal is poor. This is usually caused by equipment overloading or an incorrect setup.

DJ or Disk Jockey
A radio announcer who plays music on air.

A jingle that starts with singing, music in the middle, and singing again at the end.

Drive time
The rush hour commuter periods when radio stations usually have their largest audience. Ad rates are highest for drive time.

Copying sounds from one medium to another. For example, movie audio often gets dubbed over by new actors speaking a different language.

Adjusting the tonal quality of the audio. Usually, music tracks are equalized to smooth out the audio levels so it's clearer to listen to.

Fade In
The audio level of a track gradually becomes louder until it reaches its proper level. Fade ins are commonly used for smoother transitions to segue into a new track or DJ segment.

Fade Out
The audio level of a track gradually becomes quieter until it disappears altogether. Fade outs are commonly used for smoother transitions to segue into a new track or DJ segment.

A sliding dial on a mixing desk to control the audio levels.

A signal from one device to another, for example, 2 presenters with 2 microphones have 2 feeds. Feed is also referred to as a power supply for a piece of equipment like a mixer.

Feedback is a rumbling or whistling noise caused by a sound system. Loud environments tend to have feedback as audio is picked up from a speaker through a microphone.

FM - Frequency Modulation
A broadcast that varies the frequency of the carrier wave and requires an FM receiver. The FM frequency range is 88 to 108 MHz.

High Definition (HD) Radio
A technology that transmits digital audio and data alongside existing AM and FM analog signals.

Hit the Post
An expression DJs use to describe talking up to the point when the lyrics begin without "stepping" on the beginning of the vocals.

Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN)
A high-quality line used to transmit data like a voice or video.

The start of a song, usually before the vocals.

A jack is an audio connector on nearly every audio device. There are different types of jacks like mono, stereo, A-type, and B-type.

A short audio clip played on a radio show used for promotion. Sponsors or advertisers use jingles between tracks, usually accompanied with voice-overs and sound effects to engage listeners.

The first sentence of a news story, which should concisely reveal the story's basic events and provide an introduction to the details given in the rest of the story.

An audio cap to limit the volume level in case it gets too high. High volumes tend to distort the stream and damage equipment.

Line Level Signal
A standard audio level for both inputs and outputs to keep sound at an average level.

Line-up Tone
A signal frequency or level used for setting up equipment audio levels. For example, adjusting multiple microphone volume levels so they all match.

Links are sandwiched in between songs, usually featuring info about what's up next, news, or competitions.

Record a radio station's entire output. Commonly used for licensing purposes to log tracks.

Mic is an abbreviation for a microphone, used by the DJ to talk into.

A mixdown contains multiple tracks, often balanced, and ready for playback.

A mixer is a console desk with several inputs for audio equipment. Each input is a channel, outputting into one master channel, and finally to a computer or device to broadcast.

Monophonic (MONO)
A single channel sound recording which uses two channels (left and right).

Promotional activity at a specific location in conjunction with an event such as a store opening.

Outside Broadcast (OB)
A radio show broadcast outside.

Over Running
When a track or DJ exceeds the expected finish time.

An illegal practice of taking payment or other benefits to play certain songs on the radio and not identifying the sponsorship. Payola scandals have been common in the radio broadcast industry from the 1950s to the early 2000s. As playlists are now rarely chosen by the DJs themselves and are delivered pre-recorded by companies, there is less opportunity for payola.

Peak Programme Meter (PPM)
PPM is an instrument found on audio equipment that shows how loud sound levels are.

Phantom Power
Most condenser microphones require a stronger power supply to work. Phantom power is around 48 volts DC. Mixers usually provide enough voltage to power microphones.

A phase refers to two sound waves which are syncronized. If un-syncronized, the sound waves are out of phase.

The list of songs that a station has arranged and will play. Check out our guide to creating great playlists here as well as 11 playlist theme ideas that we compiled.

Recording an audio stream before officially broadcasting to listeners.

Program Controller (PC)
The person in charge of broadcasts on a radio show.

Program Director (PD)
Similar to a program controller, they manage radio shows to make sure they are running smoothly.

Short for promotion, a promo is a form of advertisement.

Public Service Announcement (PSA)
An ad that is run in the public interest rather than for a commercial product or service.

Storage for all the radio station's equipment.

Radio Format
The type of music and programming broadcast by a radio station. These can include news, talk, sports, country, contemporary, rock, alternative, urban, classical, religious, or college.

Radio Frequency (RF)
A signal for which an AM/FM radio station is broadcast on.

Riding the Fader
A technique to manually control the fader to optimize the volume level, like minimizing feedback and background noise.

A written piece for the presenter to read during the show. Check out our guide to writing scripts here.

A term used to describe the transition from one track to another. Segues are often presenters introducing the next track or talking about what's to come next during the show.

Sounds like S, SH, or CH are emphasized.

Signal to Noise Ratio
The ratio of the average signal to the background noise.

To join or edit audio together.

A commercial.

Sound Effects (SFX)
Noises played during shows to add a layer of creativity, like car horns, lightning, and footsteps.

A branded radio station jingle played between two tracks.

Target Audience Demographic
The age group and make-up of the audience that you target and wish to receive your product or service message. For information on figuring out your target audience demographics, check out our article here.

A brief phrase spoken immediately before playing a spot, songs, etc. to tell the listener about a story coming up later.

Total Weekly Hours
Total weekly hours is the total number of hours that your station has been listened to over the course of a week. This is the sum of all quarter-hours for all listeners.

Total Weekly Reach
Weekly reach is the number of listeners who tune into your station within at least 1 quarter-hour period during a week.

Ultra High Frequency Link (UHF Link)
A radio signal used to transmit audio from one location to another.

Volume Unit (VU)
Used on audio equipment to show a track's loudness.

The distance from one point on a vibrating wave to the same point on the next wave.

A three pin connector for audio equipment. An XLR cable is commonly used with microphones and other audio devices.

We hope that this glossary has cleared up any confusion you may have had about any radio terms. We will be sure to update this article with new radio terms whenever possible, so keep it handy for reference! And, if you are looking for the Live365 glossary, you can find it here. Happy broadcasting!

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About Michelle Ruoff

  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania