Ron Scalise, ESPN audio guru, top mixer and audio innovator, killed in car crash

By Ken Kerschbaumer

Ron Scalise, ESPN audio guru, an expert in Surround Sound and all things audio, a 14-time Emmy winner, and a valued member of the SVG family, was killed Thursday night in a one-car accident on I-84 in Connecticut. Scalise, who called Kenmore, NY home (when he wasn’t on the road mixing countless top ESPN events), was 54.

Scalise was a staunch proponent of education of the next-generation of audio talent and participated in numerous SVG events as he focused on making all ESPN (and even events at other networks) have a quality audio experience. “We need to get more people on what I call the A list so we aren’t scrounging around on Wednesday for a Friday setup” said Scalise at one of the first SVG events, a Surround Sound seminar in the summer of 2006.

“While the industry has lost one of the brightest and progressive technical minds in the business today, what will be missed will be Ron’s friendship, his passion for his kids, and his deep loyalty to ESPN,” says Rick Abbott, ESPN vice president, remote operations. “Personally, I will miss his mentorship that reached far beyond technical issues. Ron was a great friend. While I am immensely saddened, I choose to celebrate his life.”

“Ron was more than just an audio guy, he was an audio evangelist,” says Tom Sahara, Turner Sports senior director of remote production operations and IT. ” He understood that sending out six channels of audio is not enough. Audio is more than just sound, it IS the experience, and Ron tried to instill this philosophy in everyone who worked with him. His passion and endless energy pursuing and sharing the ultimate audio experience will be missed.”

Day in and day out he was committed at ESPN to bring fans closer to the action. The X Games were a favorite, giving him a wide canvas to experiment with audio and new microphone techniques. And his consistent pushing on events like NASCAR races or Monday Night Football brought ESPN viewers closer to the action.

In over 25 years in the business, Scalise made his mark as a talent, innovator and educator. He started working for ESPN at the Hartford Civic Center in the early 80’s as an A2 and then as an audio mixer; he worked virtually all of ESPN’s HCC events over a 10 year period. In the mid 80’s, he slowly worked his way into the main stream doing college football, basketball and every important event, including NFL. His most notable mixing work (and his greatest love) was done on NASCAR, having mixed just about every race over the life of the ESPN contract and having won numerous Sports Emmy Awards.

Scalise transitioned from an audio mixer to ESPN’s remote audio consultant in 2001. His R&D work on the X Games was ground-breaking, having spearheaded many innovations with audio trunking, mic placement and the transition to digital audio. In the late 90s he worked with a specialty audio vendor to test and develop an effects mic known as the “X-ducer,” a small mic that he began placing under the ice, under the basketball floor, and on every piece of apparatus within the X Games domain.

“Ron was an innovator, a pioneer, a brilliant remote audio technician…and a terrific friend of ESPN. Over a 25 year span, Ron had more impact on the audio success of our remote events than other person in the industry. There was only one Ron Scalise!” remembered Frank Casarella of ESPN Operations.

While Scalise spent his professional life behind a mixing board he understood that great mixing doesn’t mean anything if consumers aren’t listening. So while he also called for education in the professional community he also wanted viewers at home to understand Surround Sound.

“Ask a typical consumer ‘What is Dolby Digital?’,” said Scalise. “Ask them how they use it, turn it on or turn it off. We need to make sure they understand how to get the most out of their $12,000 home theater investment. And that means educating them on how to set up a Surround Sound system and how to adjust it.”

“I’m not there to make a National Geographic special: it has to sound bigger than life,” he said. “When a zoom lens focuses in on a quarterback’s eyes I want to let viewers hear the QB call and the crunching and grinding.”

That doesn’t mean the viewer at home doesn’t feel like they’re in the stands. “You need to create an audio bed that puts the viewer in the best seat in the house,” said Scalise.