New Roof, New Sound at Wimbledon’s Centre Court

By Kevin Hilton

British summer sport changes forever this year. The new roof on Centre Court at Wimbledon had its first official outing on May 17, and a rainy, overcast day in London brought the retractable covering into action, not only giving shelter to the players and spectators but also allowing broadcasters and the audio contractor to work with the new environment on a match day.

To mark the official opening — or, in this case, closing — of the roof, Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, Tim Henman, and Kim Clijsters played a series of matches, broadcast live on BBC2 with extended coverage on the BBC Red Button service and online. OB companies onsite at Wimbledon link into Centre Court’s PA system, both for feeds of the umpire’s microphone and to allow the crowd to hear the post-match broadcast interviews with players.

A major redevelopment programme has been under way at Wimbledon over the past three years, and the installation of a new sound system for Centre Court has been a key part. RG Jones Sound Engineering, which is conveniently based in the Wimbledon area, has been the audio contractor to the All England Lawn Tennis Club since the 1980s and was in charge of design and installation of the new system.

PA and voice-alarm (VA) audio for the whole of the facility is based on a BSS Soundweb London DSP network. This allows venue-wide zone paging, court PA (specifically, the umpire’s microphone), and two-way interconnection with broadcasters.

The system in Centre Court comprises a Soundweb interface, 12 QSC ISA 800T amplifiers, and 73 custom-made Martin Audio AM10 loudspeakers, which are arranged into 24 zones for greater control.

Jon Berry, installation department manager for RG Jones, says the system was designed to perform in keeping with the reputation of Wimbledon and the All England Club. “It had to be as discreet as possible and provide a world-class sound to the spectators in the bowl,” he observes.

Berry acknowledges that the roof has created a new environment, which had to be taken into consideration. “There is now a different set of acoustics when the roof is open to that when it is closed,” he says. “The new PA allows us a level of control to accommodate this.”

There has always been a great deal of cooperation between RG Jones and broadcasters working at Wimbledon, and that was a key part of preparations for the launch of the roof and the new PA. “Having worked closely with broadcasters onsite for a number of years now, we have implemented systems that gives us great flexibility to react to the inevitable last-minute situations, along with providing a high-quality, stable service,” says Berry. “We now have a system that allows us to accommodate many of the broadcast requests without compromising the sound for spectators.”

After the well-received return of past champions and popular players to show off the new roof, which can be closed within 10 minutes, Wimbledon is all set for the main business of The Championships from June 22 to July 5.