BCS Games: Fewer Onfield Audio Effects, More Coverage of Crowd Noise

If the crowds at this season’s Bowl Championship Series sound wildly enthusiastic, it’s because they are. “The pep bands and the noise of the crowds are really the big audio elements of the BCS,” says Fred Aldous, senior audio consultant for Fox Sports, which is doing its fourth turn at the bowl games. Over the years, the Fox crews have refined their approach to the key differences between collegiate and NFL contests.

A major difference is, per BCS rules, the absence of a wireless microphone on the umpire, who stands in the middle of the defensive secondary. This eliminates crucial field effects like quarterback cadences and the initial line surge. But Fox mixers do have the sound from the stands, and that calls for more microphones than would be used on a typical NFL game.

Aldous has specified stereo mics at the far and near 50-yard lines and both 20-yard lines, as well as at the ends of both end zones. A DPA 4023 cardioid condenser microphone is located on the close-in 50-yard line, and an Audio-Technica AT825 X-Y field microphone is on the far 50. Sennheiser 416 shotgun mics are placed at the 20-yard lines and the end zones. All microphones face the crowds, positioned 12 to 16 ft. above the crowd on C-stands or painter’s poles.

“We’re looking to get a kind of overall wash of crowd noise rather than specific or direct sounds,” Aldous explains.

While the crowd and pep bands provide a consistent and percussive sound layer to support the game action, the lack of the umpire microphone is significant in terms of the kind of detailed sound elements that can be included in the mix. Some of that can be gotten back from the four parabolic microphones working the sidelines, which pick up such elements as referee whistles and even some of the quarterback cadence and line crunching.

“It’s not enough to make up for [the umpire microphone], but it definitely results in a different approach to mixing from an NFL game,” says Aldous. “We bring the crowd out more in the overall mix.”

It affects POV as well. Aldous usually places the near-side audio sources in the stereo field and the far-side sources in the surrounds.

It can even affect the visuals. “When the sounds in the stands surge,” he says, “it helps guide the director towards more crowd shots and pans.”