Audio Capture for Sports Broadcast, Part 2

What would a televised baseball game be without the crack of the bat, the smack of the catcher’s mitt, and the roar of the crowd? 12/20/2012 12:36 PM Eastern

Audio Capture for Sports Broadcast, Part 2

Dec 20, 2012 5:36 PM, With Bennett Liles

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What would a televised baseball game be without the crack of the bat, the smack of the catcher’s mitt, and the roar of the crowd? Erik West, freelance TV sound engineer, is back with more on doing sound on TV sports remotes. There’s lots more to it than most realize and it’s coming up right here on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: Erik, it’s good to have you back with us for part two on the SVC Podcast and we’re talking about doing TV sound on baseball remotes. I think the sound guys are appreciated a little more these days than they used to be. You’ve got half of the broadcast right there in your hands and just about everybody else is making pictures. Is the stadium PA ever a problem when you’re trying to pick up the crowd in the stands?

Erik West: It has been and it can be. Generally it’s not with, say, my stereo crowd because if they’re mixing the PA right, it’s just a little bit over the crowd by maybe 6dB to 10dB tops over the crowd and sometimes the crowd is so loud you would hope that the PA is not louder than the crowd. But the times that I’ve had time issues with the PA is actually with, say, my bat crack mics or my pick mics but mostly it’s going to be my back racks say in baseball; in basketball, it would be the shotguns that I have pointed on to the floor to get the ball bouncing and stuff like that and the PA can just be too much. I have both my home gigs, both mixing Brewers, and mixing Bucks in the fall/winter. I know both of the guys who mix the PA and we stay in constant contact and they don’t have any problem when I text them and say hey man PA’s 20dB louder than the crowd, say, if the crowd’s quiet. Sometimes those guys mix behind glass, so they don’t have the best reference, so I feel for them. I actually did that when I was just getting my start in TV. I mixed at Lambeau Field; I mixed the bowl and at Camp Randall Stadium, so I’ve sat in that seat before so I understand how it is and we all try to work together to keep the PA under control but also let them have some volume so they can get the fans into the game that way. [Timestamp: 2:33]

I know you’re using Shure shotguns for some of the crowd sounds and the game sounds. Do you mix in any shotguns that are mounted on cameras at all?

Absolutely. Mics mounted on cameras are great affects mics because they’re constantly being pointed by the camera operator. So at Miller Park we have a left field foul pole camera that’s right out next to the left field foul pole and I have nice long shotgun; usually [I] use truck shotguns for that and they can be long Sennheiser shotguns or generally I just use whatever they’ve got. Usually [I use] a long shotgun on my cameras except for handhelds and you can capture the sound of balls being caught. We have one play where a ball player hit a home run and I believe the rule is if it bounces off the ball pull it’s considered fair and the umpires ruled it a foul ball; it actually hit off the pad just below the actual foul pole, which would still be considered fair and along with the replay; they used some of the audio because from that left field foul pole camera mic you could hear the sound of the ball hitting the pad and not hitting the cement next to it, so that was pretty cool. And in basketball they’re very important to have shotguns on my handhelds and this year I’m actually working with Shure to try out some of their VP-89Ms for basketball and to capture that sound there because I’m so happy with the VP-89Ls for baseball I really wanted to try them out for basketball. So I’m excited to it going in basketball season. [Timestamp: 4:09]

So when you get things set up in the booth, the guys calling the game, what kind of sportscaster headsets do you use for them?

Most of the time they’re Sennheiser HMD 25s. Once again it’s whatever’s in the booth kit. For the truck I would love to be able to afford to bring or have every single mic that I would want with me in a kit, but I don’t have that ability. So Sennheiser HMD 25s are the common industry standard; although they just discontinued that in lieu of their HMD 26. The mic is rather directional and in my opinion putting a microphone in the hands of talent, especially on the end of a boom on a headset that they’re wearing, that’s so dependent on being pointed the right way is just craziness. With the 25s that wasn’t a problem. I always like it when a announcer knows how to position a mic correctly in the corner of their mouth and not right in front of it. [Timestamp: 5:07]

Of course you’re working with a huge dynamic range, too, because when the game is a little dull and they’re just sitting there filling some time they can almost whisper, but when there’s a big play or a home run in a tight game they can go right to hollering their heads off.

For me, that’s more of a game structure thing on board. All of these mics can handle that kind of dynamic range really well, but for me it’s about logistics. You’ve got a guy who’s got a lot of things on his mind and a lot of times positioning that mic isn’t the first thing that they’re thinking of and they are a few announcers that are really, really good at it. Brian Anderson, who I worked with for Brewer’s, used to be a techie. He loves audio and he’s always about positioning his mic correctly. In fact he’ll actually position our analyst mic for him or if we have guests in the booth I can count on my play by play guy to actually position that mic, which is great but to have a mic that is so critical of positioning is a little dangerous in my opinion. [Timestamp: 6:05]

Audio Capture for Sports Broadcast, Part 2

Dec 20, 2012 5:36 PM, With Bennett Liles

So what do you feed to their headphones? I guess they’d want a line feed normally so they can tell when their mic’s hot.

Yeah, my rule is, and it seems like it’s pretty much the rule is if you don’t hear yourself you’re not on air, so I keep their headsets closed when we’re in break; they can tell if they’re not on air because they don’t hear their voice, but they can’t hear the ambience of the booth, which you get by hearing headphones and listening on headphones like they do as opposed to speakers like we would if we were watching the game or me mixing the game. But I set up, generally set up, two stereo IFB mixes—one for play by play, one for the analyst, and then I set up a mono live B mix for all of my side line reporters. That mix usually has a lot less net sounds, game effects in that mix because they’re already down on the sideline; they don’t need any more effects in their ears and that way if a play by play wants different mix than an analyst then I can give that to them and I also create another mix, another mono mix, for our camera and SAP program, which is what anyone who is on a PO box, a party line say like a stage manager, a stats person who has program they are listening to that mix. [Timestamp: 7:16]

Yes. Things have gotten a lot more sophisticated now but in the old days they would just run the whole program mix through a couple of limiters or compressors and the crowd sound would be pumping up and down with the announcers’ voices…


…especially in sustained applause and things like that.


So at least we’ve gotten past that. But the weather isn’t always great, so how do you protect the outside mics from rain and boisterous fans and things?

To keep away from curious fans, height is always the answer, although you never know with fans. I mean if you have mics mounted on poles, you need a shock mount because they’ll find that pole and bang on it. You know it. Once again in Miller Park we’ve got a roof, so I’m lucky I don’t have to worry about the rain, which is really good because I really don’t like dealing with rain and I need to spend more time experimenting with solutions to deal with that because right now, it’s just plastic sleeving over the shotgun mic and hopefully they’ll be a break in the rain where my A2s can go out and pull that sleeving off or pull it back because you hear the pitter patter of rain on the plastic and it drives me nuts and I’m usually having a horrible time but I’ve heard of guys using bagel bags. It looks like a really thin plastic that might even have like little holes but I don’t think that the rain gets through those and it’s thinner so that was going to be what I was going to attempt next over the wind screen and I think with the bagel bags it might work, but honestly, I’ve been lucky and I haven’t had to deal with it a whole lot, which is crazy in 10 years I haven’t had to really come up with any solutions. Obviously a zeppelin or like for my VP-88 [that] I have had that out in the weather, I have a Rycote Windjammer that goes on over the top of the windscreen and that Windjammer does a great job of protecting water from coming through the fuzzy; [it] allows the rain to just sort of run down the fur if you will and stay out of the windscreen, so I’m a big fan of that and I was looking into either building similar versions for my shotguns because I did some looking around and it didn’t seem like Rycote had made a big fuzzy for the VP-89Ls, so I was going to make something similar because that’s great for wind. Even though there are windscreens that come with VP-89s, which I believe are Rycote, they’re beefy but they’re sponges, so when it gets wet, they get wet. But the cool thing about the Shure products, actually, is from my experience before I got the Windjammer I soaked my VP-88 and that thing just keeps on working. [Timestamp: 9:55]

Yeah, you can’t kill Shure mics. I’m talking on one right now, but something else on the announcers, when you kill their mics for the breaks, how do you have their communication with the truck set up?

Well, they’ve got a box in front of them that’s basically an AB; it has an AB switch so they can push that button and it's called a “talkback button;” they push the talkback and that secondary signal is routed to the truck and then I route that to a speaker that’s in front of the producer; and director and I also route that to the RTS system to the communications system so that I can put that in on a button for anybody in the truck; say in the tape room they’d want to listen to that talkback, so if the play by play guy says, “Hey, do you have a tighter look of that angle or can you show me this or that,” the tape room can hear that and be on top of it. And as far as sideline reporters like an RF person or something like that, I take a prefade aux and route that also to a Wohler in front of the director and producer, so that’s how they can communicate off air. [Timestamp: 10:59]

Well, they can have some interesting discussions sometimes, especially when the equipment isn’t quite doing what it’s supposed to. Have you had any interesting incidents doing these games as far as fans or players going for mics or choice comments picked up on air?

Yeah, I mean nothing too negative. We had one baseball game where it was sort of a long game and a fan, and he wasn’t even really that close to home plate—he was on the third base side—but decided to start screeching—sort of a, “hha, hha, hha” right as the pitcher started his windup and I thought it was hilarious. And the thing about when people make noise or they, you know, they have that one time where some guy is drunk and is just swearing or being belligerent and hey, if you’re at the ballpark and you’re near home plate, that kind of stuff is going to be picked up by our mics. But you know what it’s also going to be heard by, say, the children sitting near you or everyone around in that area. So I really count on having the ballpark and the team to patrol those people and to deal with those people. It’s a family environment and in my opinion those people shouldn’t be allowed to sit out there and hurl their “F” bombs or whatever and I count on the team to take care of them. So it only lasts for a little while, but that is one of the reasons why I do layer my stereo crowd, especially in venues that I haven’t been to or it’s not my regular home venue because who knows what that team’s like with their season ticket holders. I know at White Sox, I’ve been there, they actually, for their home shows, they move their bat crack mics because of a verbal fan. Personally I think that’s just, I don’t like that. I think the team should keep that guy quiet or have him move his seat or even challenge his tickets because there are kids around you and this is a kids sport, so we shouldn’t have to worry about kids hearing profanities at a ball game and I shouldn’t have to worry about hearing it on TV by a fan. [Timestamp: 13:06]

Well, that certainly keeps it interesting no matter what the sport. The great thing about sports is that anything can happen and you’re right there in the middle of it. So thanks for being here with us Erik; Erik West freelance TV sound engineer in the Milwaukee area talking about doing baseball sound. Thanks again for taking time to tell us about it.

OK. Thanks for having me.

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