AES Section Meeting Reports

Boston - October 13, 2009

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Boston AES Meeting
October 2009
with Rick Smith

On Tuesday October 13, 2009 the Boston Section of the Audio Engineering Society featured Rick Smith presenting "Audio for Live Television Sports Productions". Audio for television sports is a specialized branch of the audio industry. Fifteen years ago, 90% of sports productions were still mixed in mono on analog consoles. Today, a TV sports mixer needs to be prepared to build mixes in mono, stereo and surround on a variety of digital consoles.

Rick started his presentation by showing examples of the typical work environment; the Mobile Television Truck. He described how these mobile studios are moved to the venue and expanded into a fully-equipped TV studio. He outlined the two main audio personnel in the production; the A1 & A2. The A1 mixes the show, makes decisions on mic placement/signal flow and coordinates with Production as to what the needs will be for the show. The A2 get to handle the physically more demanding job of running all the cables. Smaller shows may only need one or two A2's while bigger shows may need up to fifteen with some hired for a specific task.

Although TV production is strictly freelance work you are guaranteed a 10-hour day. Typical payments are; A1- $60/hr., A2 -$35/hr. One day of work usually eats up more than a day due to the starting/ending and overtime is possible in some cases. Each person is responsible for their own taxes and healthcare. Other key players in the production include the Producer/Director, Tech Site Manager and Engineering, who travel with the trucks and repair things. They are the first to get there and last to leave. There is also the Technical Director, Camera Ops, Tape Ops, Video and Graphics personnel.

Omni-directional mics are used for on-field announcers to avoid proximity effect and pickup the environment around it. The industry still relies on cabled connections instead of wireless to avoid confusion and copper cables instead of optical connections. Most venues are still wired for copper and it is more reliable and cheaper. For miking the events, Rick prefers shotgun mics to parabolics, which tend to be mid-rangy and also get in the way for baseball games. He showed diagrams and discussed mic positioning for a variety of sporting events such as Soccer, Boxing, Baseball - comparing a regular Season game to a World Series Game, Hockey - which uses PCC mics to control in the field of play while rejecting crowd noise and Tennis — which uses both PZM's & PCC'S. PZM'S can be used for Tennis since it is quiet during play and then the mics pick up crowd response. When a camera zooms to location the sound should to come to you, changing perspective as camera angles change. There is usually minimal processing involved. EQ may be applied in baseball at around 1.7k to better capture the sound of a bat crack or the snap of a catch. Very light compression is used to avoid killing the dynamics of the crowd.

Rick listed the various types of mixes that exist within a production. Nat Sound includes everything but announcer and music (Field, Crowd, Cam, House PA). An International Mix includes everything but announcer for broadcasting in another language. Mix Minus is the show sources minus the production truck sent over a phone line. Outputs mixes are sent in Surround, stereo and mono. The mono mixes are generally from a combined stereo mix as a courtesy feed for people at the venue.

Rick Smith has been freelancing in the television audio industry for almost twenty years. He has worked at every major sports venue in New England, and others around the country. He has mixed shows for sports as common as baseball, basketball and hockey, as well as unusual events like ballroom dancing, paintball and professional bull riding. Rick is currently teaching full-time at the New England Institute of Art and freelancing in the TV sports industry.

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