Working Around a Challenging RF Environment for Worship, Part 2

Antennas and frequency coordination are critical in a crowded RF environment with lots of radio intense government facilities around. 11/18/2010 4:44 AM Eastern

Working Around a Challenging RF Environment for Worship, Part 2

Nov 18, 2010 9:44 AM, With Bennett Liles

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Antennas and frequency coordination are critical in a crowded RF environment with lots of radio intense government facilities around; Beau Miles with Asbury United Methodist Church near Huntsville, Ala., is here to wrap up his talk on how he handled the job.

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Working Around a Challenging RF Environment for Worship, Part 1
Beau Miles with Asbury United Methodist Church near Huntsville, Ala. solves a tricky RF environment with Sennheiser....

SVC: All right Beau, thanks for being back with me for part two from the Asbury United Methodist Church in Madison, Ala. I keep wanting to say Huntsville, but you’re right down the street from Huntsville, and you’re right across the road it looks like—I looked on the map—it looks like you’re right across the road from the Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal and all those government things with all that RF stuff going on.
Oh yeah.

And you’re doing a lot of mic stuff, a lot of live performing in the church services, numerous services that you have going on. And I wanted to get back into, for a minute here, how you distribute the mic signals.
Well, first, it’s best to start with what do we have, and the first thing is to note that we have 16 wireless transmitters for handhelds or body packs, ive of them being handhelds and then that would leave 11 of them as body packs and then we have another four wireless in-ear monitors. A And so we had to coordinate all 20 of those frequencies, and so what was interesting is, again, what we did is we started by calling Sennheiser and saying, “Sennheiser, what do we do?” And they looked at the area here and essentially said, what we’ve laughed at today, and said that, “Wow, you’ve got a lot going on in your area.” And we again said, “Yes, we know.” We’re right down the road from the arsenal and have probably 10 churches on the same road as we’re on and different things like that, and so it was, “Now what do we do?,” and so they suggested three separate bands: one being the G band, one being the A band, and one being the B band—obviously the C band is no longer available. They suggested all three of those bands. If I remember right, the B band for our wireless in-ears, and then one of the eight receivers in the A range, and then eight more of them in the G range. And what this did was it allowed us to separate the frequencies and deal with inner modulation a little bit easier. And so they gave us the exact frequencies to tune it to plus a few more, and what we then did is we put those into a splitter kit. Instead trying to rely on all the little bitty antennas to pick up their own thing and fight for their signal between all the others, we put it into a splitter kit that could carry eight of them, and then all that does is that carries power to all the units but it also gives you external antenna.

So actually all of our wireless are in a equipment room in the back, and I monitor them from the computer and you have antennas out at in the FOH. And we did something a little different for this, and this was based on American Audio and one of their other owners: Mack Blake and Gwin Edwards got together and made this decision and I thought it was a little strange, but it worked phenomenally well. And so what we did—and we’ll start with just the wireless ears—the first thing they did was they got the antenna for the wireless ears and they got the really nice one. I’m trying to remember the exact model; I think it’s the 8500 CP, which is one of their higher antennas and what they did is—actually right behind our stage we have a practice room that we’re able to practice in when anything else is going on out on the stage—and what they did is they went and got on the top of it because there’s space between it and the roof deck, and they got on top of it and put that antenna there, carried one cable to it and put that cable on it. Then they went 3 meters over and did the same with one of the A band antennas, then went three meters over and did the same with one of the G band. Now, usually I’m used to seeing all of the antennas together like this, but I’m not used to seeing one and one and one. The ears are not true diversity, so they do not have two antennas; they only have one. And so the other wireless antennas though still had to be put out somewhere, so what they did is they went out into our catwalks and very discretely hung one antenna from the A range and one antenna from the G range and basically made it so that no matter where that microphone antenna was transmitting from, there would be a receiving antenna at some place. And in fact they even went ahead and combined directional antennas and omni. So the A band has an omni, and the A band has a directional, and the G band also has the same, and what this allows for is it allows for the omni to pick up 99 percent of the time in the sanctuary, and that’s where it’s at—the ones on the catwalks in front of us. And then they used the directional one in case of any kind of thing that’s going on back stage that is blocked by any sort of metal stud or if anything else is happening, and if just looses signal, it will always have its signal back there on the back. And so that’s what we did. It sounds a little complicated, but it turned out to be phenomenal, and I have yet to have any trouble with it. [Timestamp: 6:00]

And you used Sennheiser’s wireless systems manager that you mentioned in part one. What would you think is, at least in your situation, the best feature of that? What does that do for you?
Oh boy, I don’t know if I could give you one. There’s a best feature when you’re setting up and a best feature weekly. The best feature when you’re setting up is being able to record your signal, and we talked about that a little on part one, but being able to walk around and test it and see if it drops out and you can see how much. If it’s 3dB or 6dB or 12dB or whatever it might be, you could see how quickly it does and you can stand in that hot spot and you can go, “Wow, that’s where the bad spot is; this is great.” And in fact, if I wanted to—and probably should have, in order to test the frequencies that are going on on Sunday morning—you could actually come in, turn on a mic, put it on stage, and go somewhere else on that Sunday morning and see what the environment is in that whole entire area, and so that just makes it just amazing. But then there’s the best feature of a weekly use, and the best feature of the weekly use is, in my opinion, is the monitoring capabilities, being able to look at it and to see microphone 4 is muted and I need to unmute it or disable the mute or whatever it might be, or it’s loosing signal or the battery, it has a battery monitor on that, and I’m able to call back to the youth back stage and say, “Hey, we’re going to get his attention and you need to have a microphone ready for him.” And so the monitoring capabilities of it are great, and plus whenever you have to retune, it is much easier; you just type in a number instead of turning the little dial. So there’s no “greatest,” but I would say the best, for me on a weekly use, is the monitoring. [Timestamp: 7:47]

Yeah, I would think that just having all the receivers networked and being able to control them that way is really nice in itself.
I can log into them from my computer that I’m sitting at in my office right this minute, as long as I’m on my network, which is really great because I can VPN into my network and log into them. And so if I’m on vacation and something happens, then I will be able to actually log right back into them if somebody calls me going, “Oh, something’s wrong.” I’m able to log in and see what’s going on with them, so that the network ability of them is phenomenal. And the other good thing, and I know this sounds dumb, but they’re not taking up real estate at FOH and that is a great feature that I don’t got to worry about them getting in my way or me hitting it or breaking off an antenna or anything. [Timestamp: 8:35]

Working Around a Challenging RF Environment for Worship, Part 2

Nov 18, 2010 9:44 AM, With Bennett Liles

Yes, you progress and the system gets more complex and you add more things to take care of more performers. It’s really easy to get boxed in and build your own skyline right out there in the middle of the house.
Absolutely, absolutely. So it makes a great feature not to have to do that. [Timestamp: 8:51]

So you mentioned that there’s a lot of churches around there along in your neighborhood. Do you have to coordinate any RF with them or do you just watch out for each other?
I have not had to coordinate any with them yet. I see the day coming. We are luckily surrounded by neighborhoods. It’s like a neighborhood, and then diagonal from us is another church and diagonal from them is another church, so we’re spaced out just enough that I’m not having to really worry about it, but I don’t ever take anything for granted, so if we get to too much adding of too many more wireless, I got a feeling I’ll be making some visits around the neighborhood to talk to some churches. [Timestamp: 9:30]

Do they have any way of seeing your service? Do you broadcast it or stream it online or anything?
We’re working on that. Yes, we do though. We record everything as much as we can it feels like. We actually do Digidesign ProTools multitrack—actually, excuse me, Avid Pro Tools. They have moved to Avid audio, and we’re using Pro Tools and multitrack recording everything. You cannot hear that—obviously [with] copyright stuff. All we really do is we will make an MP3 of the sermon, and we use that and then we also record everything on video also. And we have a great piece of gear that’s called the AJA Ki Pro, and it is an external hard drive that records all of your video. [It] just records an output of our switcher directly to it, and it’s a 250GB hard drive that I’m able to just eject from that recorder, put on my computer, and pull it over so I don’t have to wait for realtime dump down or anything like that, and that is a phenomenal piece of gear and have been really pleased with it. And so we are working on getting that up. We’ve had a few issues with our player on the Internet as of late, but we are putting them up on the Internet as quick as we can, and very very soon we will be getting on iTunes and be under Asbury UMC that you will able to actually download our podcasts also. [Timestamp: 10:57]

All right, will do. I was wondering though, even now, with all the stuff you’ve got, how long does it take when you walk in there to get from zero to completely ready to go for the Sunday service?
I get to a Sunday service—let’s see—I try to be here right at 7 o’clock on a Sunday morning and we’re running by 8:45, and that is me coordinating all volunteers. Everybody else gets here right at 7:30 and we do a run through; we all warm up and make sure everything’s working correctly and we’re done by 8:20. So in less than an hour, we’re up and running and are able to go full on and ready to go. I think we could probably push it and make it even quicker. We don’t like to do that—at least I don’t—and so we can do it pretty quickly though. [Timestamp: 11:46]

Well, once you get the routine down, it gets a lot easier and especially after you’ve gotten the volunteers trained on their jobs and you’re not trying to break in a lot of new people.
And we’re giving them checklists and things of that—check through this, check through that, check through this, and so that they’re able to go, “OK, I need to make sure everything is right where it needs to be.” [Timestamp: 12:04]

You mentioned the other churches. What’s your take on the 700 MHz situation on the wireless systems? How aware do you think the church tech people are and how on top of that do you think they are overall?
Well like I said, before I came here, I designed audio, video, and lighting systems for churches, and I would say 90 percent of them aren’t ready. Obviously we have made the transition; we have made the jump. It is technically—I guess, it has become illegal if remember correctly that they have officially said it is illegal to use the 700MHz, but we haven’t, in my opinion, haven’t seen the major effects of it, especially in the rural markets. Like I said, I came from a place in Louisiana, and they weren’t as populated as at Dallas and in Atlanta and in New York and Boston and L.A., and so we weren’t as worried with this 700MHz transition. But now that these cellphone companies are buying it and are wanting to become the nation’s largest carrier or whatever they want to call themselves today, we definitely have to be aware of it, and so I think every church out there who’s using wireless line needs to make sure that somebody in their campus understands what is happening, what has happened, and what will continue to happen in that MHz range as well as how they can avoid that future problem and obviously if you’re buying used gear, what gear not to buy and things. So I feel like they’re not prepared, but I feel like we’re making slow and steady progress in the world of making sure everybody is prepared. [Timestamp: 13:38]

Well, I think after a few maybe front-page stories and a few stiff fines…

The FCC’s not the one’s you have to worry about. I think they don’t have the wherewithal to go around pleasing everybody, but the people who bought the spectrum do have deep enough pockets to do that.
I agree with you. I think that once you see a couple of those kind of things happen, you’re going to start getting the phone calls of, “What do we need to do to fix this?” And in fact, here when they sent out the press release and said it’s now illegal, here we are a campus of 3,500 people and I had just been here for a couple months at this point, and I got an email from one of my bosses here, our executive director, and he said, “Are we prepared for this?” And I’m going—“We’re a big church and we’re just now looking at it.” I kind of laughed at him. I said, “You are. I made sure we’re prepared here.” And I had gone across the street and looked at all the wireless and I laughed. I said, “Yeah, no we’re golden on all of them,” and so we had obviously made that transition, but even a church who’s as predominant—we are one of the the largest 25 churches in the United Methodist Conference in America and we we’re going, “Are we ready for this? What is this?” And so it’s a confusing thing, but I think a few fees and fines and you’ll see people wake up pretty quickly. [Timestamp: 15:01]

So where does it look like you’re going from here? You got anything in the works? What do you got coming up?
Man, we’re at a growing church. Of course we have more! Let’s see, what do we have coming up? I think my next big goal is to advance some of our lighting. We have some really great lighting and we use ETC for all of our lighting, and we’re using several of their LED fixtures. I think we want to move, in the future, to some more lighting. We have a song-writing team here who is in the process of developing music that we can use, and I think the ultimate goal would be to be a complete inhouse creative arts team. And what I mean by that is making our own videos, making our own records if we can, and making our own worship albums and our videos for preservice and postservice. And so my goal is, through time, to hopefully get to add some staff and keep growing and keep presenting the gospel, keeping the message of Christ in our fore-front. That is our number one goal. Our message is everything. When we lose our message we need to quit, and so for us the step forward is to just keep growing creatively, and when our creative director comes to me and says, “Can we do this?” for my first answer not to be “No” but to be, “Yeah we can,” because we prepared and planned for an expansive worship service where we have the ability to add more things to it. [Timestamp: 16:28]

Well, I wish you all the best with that. I know it’s a handful with the volunteers and all the equipment you’ve got to take care of. But Beau it’s been great having you here on the SVC podcast. It’s Beau Miles with Asbury United Methodist Church in Madison, Ala., right near Huntsville. Thanks for being with us.
I really appreciate it. I loved being here.

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