Why Radio Can’t/Won’t Play Your MP3

Some buzz from BoingBoing on an issue we’ve known about for some time. Professional radio stations generally can’t play an MP3 that you e-mail to them, and it has nothing to do with copyright or preference or legitimacy.

It’s all about sound quality. Every time you encode or convert an MP3, you strip out a little bit of the sound. Trouble is, a typical radio station might run through a bunch of processors/encoders:

* A storage system
* The live sound board
* Automated playback device
* Transmitter relay
* Satellite uplink

Normally, when all of these systems are running in sync, the sound degradation is only apparent to total audio geeks like me.

But if the raw source is anything less than 128k MP3, the audio chain can’t handle it. The result is a really “tin-canny” or almost garbled sound. (We learned this the hard way on World Cafe a few times when the technology was new, and affiliate stations would kick my ass for uploading crummy audio to the satellite.)

It’s not a problem for college or local stations with some analog equipment in the pipes, but the next time a DJ tells you they can’t play your MP3, understand they’re looking out for their listeners and for the quality of your material.