On this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles wraps up his conversation with Jason Waufle of Soundtronics Wireless about their setup and operation of wireless broadcast systems for ESPN’s televised coverage of World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Jason discusses the specific capabilities of the Clear-Com intercom system and he describes the setup and running of antenna/transceiver wiring. Also covered is the changing system configuration as the number of players is reduced.
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On ESPN’s Las Vegas broadcast of the World Series of Poker, a whole lot of communication goes on behind the scenes between the members of the production crew to make everything happen. Soundtronics Wireless handles the Clear-Com and wireless mic system setup and Jason Waufle is back to finish his story on how Soundtronics Wireless made it all work this year. That’s next up on the SVC Podcast.
Jason, great to have you back with us this week on the SVC Podcast from Soundtronics Wireless in Las Vegas. We’ve been talking about the World Series of Poker. It’s amazing how much goes on behind the scenes with the RF coordination just to pull that off with a show that’s changing all the time. How long did that whole system setup take after you first got in there and does anything unexpected ever come up that you just have to roll with the punches on?
Hey, Bennett. Thanks so much for having me back. Setup on site is about three days long; three full production days. We start about a month ahead of time at the office. As I mentioned last week, we go down to the Rio and do a site survey, kind of check out what frequencies are in the air and maybe if anything has changed from the year prior. Then we get into building the system and the racks and going through our checks and balances at the office to make sure everything is functioning in the systems that we’ve built. We do our best to get ahead of belt pack names, individuals that are going to be there, channel counts. Anything that I can preprogram before we get onsite I do my best to touch base with those individuals that I need that information from ahead of time so that when I arrive on I’m as preprogrammed as possible. Once we got onsite, like I said, it was about a three-day setup. We did have a little unexpected situation that happened this year that threw us for a little bit of a loop. We had a bit of a MADI card – I don’t want to call it a failure. It was a clocking issue, which a lot of you people that work in the tech side of broadcast are far too aware of. But we had a MADI card situation that was pretty interesting. It would be happy and functioning properly, have two-way communication between the ADAM frame MADI card and the Clear-Com EHX MADI card for about, I don’t know, 10 or 15 minutes and then that card would just fail. It was pretty intriguing because most MADI situations, when a card works it works and when a card doesn’t it doesn’t, and if the clock works, it works. So we had a shifting clock and we brought in a clock scope and plugged that in and watched the clock kind of start to fade, and then it would get far out of sync that it would lose. So what we did to solve that was we brought in Clear-Com’s ProGrid MADI transport system that we had on our shelves at the office down the street. It’s a MADI transport over fiber system that reclocks MADI internally. So we put a ProGrid MADI at the truck site and a ProGrid MADI on the floor next to the EHX Eclipse frame, and reclocked the MADI through that and it solved that problem right up. [Timestamp: 3:16]
Well, that’s always freaky when you have something that comes and goes. I’m sure you’d rather just have it go bad and stay bad.
Yeah. It threw us for quite the loop.
You’ve got to have a lot of rack mounted support gear to make all this work. Do you have all that in a production truck that pulls up to the building or do they provide space in another ballroom or closet for all of the rack gear?
There’s a production truck that pulls up for, obviously, the main broadcast side. It was a dome unit this year out of Canada – I don’t remember the exact truck – A and B units. And so the truck coms, they’re all RTS Adam frame with KP-32’s or like thereof inside the truck. Outside of the truck we run, obviously, the ProGrid MADI fiber solution which gives us 64 channels of MADI and that comes inside to the main ballroom – the Amazon ballroom at the Rio. We are actually set up right behind what is the World Series of Poker set that you’re seeing on TV. So right behind that we’ve got kind of a pipe-and-draped area in that ballroom that is our home base and that’s where we set up all of our IFB racks, mic racks, PL racks. It’s about a 20 x 15 square space that we set up in. We’re there for – it’s actually a total of 22 days because we do another poker tournament immediately following that that we do live to tape. So it’s pretty much our home for the entire month. We set it up pretty nice to be honest. We get three days to get in there and pipe-and-drape and set up the racks and we get settled in pretty nicely there. [Timestamp: 4:49]
We’ve talked about the Clear-Com Freespeak II digital wireless intercom. What’s the maximum number of belt packs that you can run per transceiver in each band? You’ve got two different bands you can run in.
Correct. Yeah, there’s the 2.4 gigahertz and the 1.9 gigahertz band that Freespeak offers. And so each transceiver has a different number from what Clear-Com standards are that they say you should run. 2.4 is five belt packs per node; 1.9 they say four. Generally, we take one off of that just to play it a little bit safer. We usually run about three to four per node and we run about four for the 2.4. And that’s just because of how the system works in terms of handing off from belt pack to belt pack and from node to node. So your hope is that you try to keep at least one lane open – I call it a lane – one allocation open per transceiver at all times. And what that does it that allows for the smoothest transition from belt pack to antenna as belt packs move around. [Timestamp: 5:51]
And on the transceivers I think you run Cat5 or Cat6 to those?
Yeah, that’s correct. So the transceivers themselves, we run Cat6. You can run Cat5, it’s just a little bit more shielding. And they’ll power over Ethernet if you’re coming post-splitter. If you’re not coming post-splitter off of a frame you’ve got to power the transceivers locally with the Clear-Com power supply. So we use splitters in all of our distribution, so you run a single Cat5 or a fiber depending on what your setup is. So the splitters themselves are one in and five out and that one in can be either fiber or Cat5 depending on what solution you’re looking for. And then once you get to the end point you’ve got the one in and five out, you run five antennas off of that and that’s all over Cat6, those five antennas and those are all powered from the splitter. So you’ve got to power the splitter locally and then you run five antennas off of that splitter, which are then powered over Ethernet, which is Cat6 in our case. [Timestamp: 6:51]
That’s a lot of transceivers to be located in various places and I guess stuck on walls or on stands or ceilings?
Yeah, yeah. We get a little bit creative sometimes at World Series of Poker where we play stuff. We actually tape transceivers to the back of the set that you can’t see behind there and then the rest of them are mostly on stands or clamped on trussing throughout the four other ballrooms. That’s pretty much what the three days of setup are for; getting 20 transceivers up amongst the four ballrooms can be pretty time-consuming and obviously, you’re there for, like I’ve said, 16-17 days so you want this stuff to be semi-permanently installed and run very cleanly because there’s going to be a lot of action and a lot of time that it’s going to be there. So we have a variety of clamps that we have at the office that we use so that we can mount things in multiple areas, but yeah, a mixture of stands and clamps and a little bit of crafty tape jobs sometimes gets our antennas where they need to be. [Timestamp: 7:48]
And one of the things that makes the Freespeak II system so good for this is the features that the belt pack users have.
Yeah. We had talked about scroll lists a bit last week, which is one of my favorite options for them that Clear-Com makes. And again that’s where you can layer one button with multiple PL’s underneath it, and you can do that on all four of the buttons. So on Poker we’ve got three different camera calls – actually four: the camera for the main table, the camera for outer 1, camera for outer 2, and then camera call for the commando unit. So if you’re a roving RF camera, which there’s – we start with six, I believe, RF cameras on World Series of Poker – you never know where you’re going to be shooting at any given moment. So we create a scroll list for those camera operators where they can change their belt pack to be either on the commando call or on the outer table 1 call or on the main table call whenever they need to get there and whenever they’re shooting at that particular location. So there’s another PL we have which is designated for all cams and that’s just for the directors to get on and say, “Hey, camera 6, I need you at X,” wherever it may be. So they can hear that call at all times, they then can transition to that location and they can change their belt pack over to be at whatever channel they need at any given time and it works really well. [Timestamp: 9:11]
Yeah, something with those features would be essential because of the way that the com setup has to change as the show goes on.
Absolutely. It is a living, breathing show for sure. There’s days where we only lose a small percentage of players and then there’s certain days where we lose three or four times as many as we expected that day. So as we lose players we lose rooms, we lose locations, we lose tables, and everything’s got to be moving and be very fluid. So Clear-Com allows us to be as flexible as this show demands. Outside of the scroll lists, as I mentioned before, I can update things live. Every belt pack change I do is instantly changed on the belt pack when you’re in live mode on the control software. So if I get a note from a producer through the PL, “Hey, I need to talk to this guy right now,” I can pull up their belt pack, I can see that maybe they don’t have that functionality ahead of time, and I can program it in there immediately and let that producer know, “Hey, you can talk to them. Fire away.” And it’s a matter of seconds. So that’s the big reason we use Clear-Com, to be honest, is the flexibility. You have to have it for the show. And the end user gets a ton of flexibility and I have a ton of flexibility in controlling. So it makes for a great setup. It really does. [Timestamp: 10:23]
Well, the equipment is great but there’s no substitute for experience in handling that particular production. You probably learn some things every time you do it so are there any changes in the setup or operation planned for the next World Series of Poker?
Absolutely, every year. Like I said, we’ve been doing this for at least six or seven years now. Obviously, we plan on bringing the ProGrid MADI to start next year. I think most every show now that I know I’m going to be using MADI transport on to connect to an Adam frame or to another frame and rely heavily on MADI. I’m going to put a Clear-Com program MADI in mine because it reclocks it and it was a perfect solution for that. So moving into next year that will be built into our package. I think we learned a little bit about transceiver location and some better cabling paths that we could do. We learn that every year. And then a really cool thing we did this last year was we ran all of the IFB’s for our dealers and our talent through the MADI. And so what that allowed it to do is the IFB sends from the truck hit my Clear-Com frame on the floor and then I exported those out of an analog patch bank to the PSM 1000’s to hit the actual transmitters. And what that does is it allows me to put IFB interrupt on my A2’s belt packs – my A2’s Freespeak belt packs – so they can interrupt dealer IFB or talent IFB straight from their hip. And so it’s another confidence location for our A2’s to be able to really be able to talk to their dealers, talk to their IFB’s before they go to the A1 level and say, “Hey, A1, would you like to do a test on this mic and IFB?” They’ve already tested it. They know it works. The confidence level is there. And even more so occasionally you’ve got an issue with a dealer or something happens, things always happen, and maybe you need to get ahold of that dealer at the table as an A2 or even as a stage manager without bothering the producer in the truck. They can interrupt the IFB straight from their belt pack and get a message to the table without having to interrupt the broadcast. And that’s really what communications is about for us is making sure that everybody can communicate to anybody they need to at any time to make broadcast go as smooth as possible. [Timestamp: 12:32]
Yeah, only doing the show can demonstrate what really works and what doesn’t so with this one done, what other projects are coming up for Soundtronics Wireless?
Oh, boy. Let’s see, I fly out tomorrow for the NFL on Fox Veterans’ Day Special from Fort Benning in Atlanta, Georgia. That will be quite the Freespeak installation as well. I think we’ve got 25 1.9 belt packs, and Eclipse frame on that. That’s upwards of 45 wireless as well. A pretty large show we do for Fox every year. We do all of Showtime boxing. We’ve started a new boxing circuit for Belmonte and a company called DAZN, which has taken over some of HBO’s boxing, which has announced they’re not doing boxing anymore. We’ll do the NFC Championship early next year. We’ve got some local New Year’s Eve shows that we do from multiple ballrooms in Las Vegas. We usually do the Wynn and the Aria. They have big New Year’s Eve bands that come in and do the big New Year’s Eve shows for them. We come in and handle some of that. And then we’re a day-to-day rental house, so we’re moving gear in and out every day for people that are local that need it or shipping. So we stay pretty busy. We’ve got 10 employees in Vegas and I think 11 or 12 in L.A.; upwards of 20-22 total. So we’re growing and trying not to grow too fast. [Timestamp: 13:54]
Plenty for all of them to do.
This has been great listening to what goes on behind the scenes at the World Series of Poker with Jason Waufle and the Las Vegas office of Soundtronics Wireless. Thanks for the story on it Jason, making it look easy.
You know it’s easy when you enjoy it, Bennett. It really is. Thanks so much for having me. This has been a blast.
The World Series of Poker broadcast worked like a charm this year with Soundtronics Wireless and Clear-Com handling communication for the production team. We’ve always got the behind the scenes look at how shows like this happen. Get with us next week for another AV installation story on the SVC Podcast.