Fox Sports makes audio a priority during BCS coverage

By Ken Kerschbaumer

Fox Sports has more than a decade of NFL game-day experience but when it recently shifted gears for four of the five College Football Bowl Championship Series games it tested the audio talents of its entire team. Why? Because while the visual aspect of producing a college football game is similar to a professional one the audio aspect, thanks to the presence of marching bands on the field and in the stands, is an intricate dance involving proper mic placement and solid mixing.

“It worked out very well,” says Fred Aldous, Fox senior audio mixer of the strategy devised to ensure the bands were hear in all their glory. “The game mixer was able to concentrate on the game production with a sub mixer handling field effects while the band mixer was pretty much involved between plays.”

Aldous says Fox Sports Chairman David Hill made the audio quality of the bands a top priority. That meant building 5.1 Surround Sound mixes of the bands on the field during the halftime performances and in the stands during the game.

“The bands and the pageantry get a lot more attention than an NFL telecast,” says Jerry Steinberg, Fox Sports SVP, operations. “For an NFL telecast you do the pre-game and then throw it to the booth and play football. But with the BCS we had to translate the college hoopla to TV and make it look and sound great and that meant separate audio mixes for the bands.

A third audio console was used for each Bowl game to handle the band demands. For the Championship Game a Yamaha DM2000 was used to mix audio pulled in from Sennheiser 416 mics of four boom poles with SK250 transmitters. The microphone on the Cablecam system also pulled in audio, rounding out the nice, full sound.

Of course, figuring out how to mic a marching band requires some co-ordination and, optimally, some rehearsal. But because the sod in the stadium was brand new no marching bands were allowed on the field prior to the game.

“We watched rehearsals off site and went over videotapes of the rehearsals with the boom operators,” says Aldous. That helped ensure the boom mic was in the right place for the big sousaphone solo as well as how to keep up with the brass, woodwinds, and drum sections (the woodwinds got the majority of attention).

“The boom operators are located on the four corners of the band and you need to make sure you don’t interfere with the marching,” says Aldous. “It turned out to be a big success.”

In terms of mixing the band Aldous says the mix tends to be towards the front with a splash of sound in the surrounds.

Following the bands in the stands is a little bit easier because the band isn’t on the march. But even then there are challenges as fans can pound on the mic poles and there is always the possibility of theft. “Right now there are several parabs that are fishbowls in frat houses,” says Aldous.

As for the game effects mix the sub mixer used a Midas Lynx console to handle audio signals coming in from six parabolic mics and the four fishpole mics. The parabs covered the effects from the field while the fishpole mics handled sideline happenings.

“The advantage of fishpole mics is you can get in close to add sound from a long shot, and that’s nice to have,” says Aldous. “You can hear a conversation between a player and a coach more easily.”

Fishpole mics, he adds, aren’t allowed on NFL sidelines. Instead the NFL has umpire mics that offer their own advantage. “You can hear the cadence of the QB and the surge of the play more easily,” he says.

Game Creek’s Freedom truck with a Calrec Sigma console with Bluefin handled the game duties (pre-game and halftime were handled with a Calrec Classic Alpha out of GameCreek’s Patriot truck).

“Interfacing the trucks together is always a big challenge,” says Aldous. “All the audio stems have to get into the game truck router at the proper level and then into the Dolby E stream. All the mix minus paths need to be correct as well.”

DPA4088 headsets came in handy this year, helping the talent be heard as clean as possible by weeding out screaming fans. “It’s the nicest sounding headset mic out there,” says Aldous. “It has as much noise rejection as you can get.”