I know people who can’t take a tone above about 4000 cycles per second, or hertz. That’s about the frequency of the standard 1950’s plastic whistle. Spending so much time in TV and radio, you get used to hearing test tones, squeals, hums and buzzes as you wander through a station and past various studios, editing bays and engineering benches. But you assume they are temporary; the equipment is warming up, somebody is checking gear, whatever.
But tonight I heard something in an NPR story by Tom Bowman that I’m sure couldn’t have made him happy. While he reported on a story, I heard a tone at about 12,000 hertz. At that frequency, the sound is like a teeny, needle sized drill going into the side of your head. And I know how it happened.
Sometimes, when you’re working in a studio, something isn’t quite right. There is a mismatch somewhere, a loose cable, a bad circuit, a bleedthrough, an open pot – something. And you think you’re hearing it but you’re just not sure. So you record your narration and you edit the soundbyte and the piece is finished. But then, you hear it later and you hear that thing you hoped wasn’t there, but clearly now; 12,000 hertz that isn’t in the soundbyte. And you know what that means … it was you. Not the field gear, not the phone, you.
And to the audience, they might think they’re hearing something else coming from somewhere else; it’s the refrigerator, or the TV or the computer. Maybe it’s the Android. But for Bowman and every newsie or producer/editor who spends their day hunched in front of Audacity or Adobe Audition, they know it’s not that. They know the audience isn’t imagining things. They’re hearing something that shouldn’t be there, they just aren’t sure what it is.
But we know, and man, that sucks.