Wrestlemania Returns With More Microphones, More Crew, More Effects

Wrestlemania 26 body-slams its way back via a live satellite and cable PPV broadcast on March 28 from the University of Phoenix’s stadium in suburban Glendale, AZ. Wrestlemania is one of the few singular sports-broadcast events not in surround sound (although the DVD and Blu-ray versions are posted in 5.1), but it’s so raucous and EFX-filled you might not notice. Even so, the production continues to improve its audio.

Changes for this year’s Wrestlemania include a new RF stack using Shure UHF-R wireless handhelds for ring announcers and the wrestlers themselves. The black-tie Hall of Fame ceremony the night before also is stepping up this year, to Schoeps CMC6 microphones with MK 4 hypercardioid capsules, the same configuration used on such high-profile shows as the Academy Awards broadcasts.

Broadcast audio mixer Randy Flick agrees that a high-end studio microphone like a Schoeps might seem like overkill for a wrestling event. “They are a lot more expensive than some of the other systems we’ve tried,” he says. “But we were having issues getting consistently good sound to both the house and on-air from the podium. Using the Schoeps microphones helped that.”

Wrestlemania brings out the big guns in other ways as well. Audio has a staff of more than 20 crewmembers. CP Communications will field more than 150 Motorola walkie-talkies in addition to more than 30 Telex RadioCom BTR-800 UHF-synthesized wireless intercom beltpacks from six base stations. It’ll also be the first Wrestlemania appearance of the Clear-Com Tempest 2400 four-channel digital PL system. NEP’s Red and Black trucks handle the main event broadcast; the Hall of Fame event goes through Game Creek’s Freedom truck.

Achieving the Effects
Wrestling is all about EFX. Flick gaffer-tapes one Sony ECM77 lavalier microphone to each of the ring’s four posts. Three handheld cameras are each fitted with Audio-Technica 815 long stereo shotgun microphones. Beneath the wrestling ring are two Shure KSM 32 large-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphones positioned facing up 2 ft. from the bottom of the canvas and panned slightly left and right in the mix. “The canvas is like a 20-ft. bass drum,” says Flick. Ringside announcers will be wearing Sennheiser HMD25-1 headsets.

This combination of microphones picks up the body slams, chair throwing, and other bad behavior that make up the wrestling event’s core EFX. Added to that is the incredibly noisy arena, which is captured with two coincident pairs of Sennheiser 416 shotguns over the crowd, bolstered by two Holophone H2 Pro surround microphones. One is placed near the camera tower, about 25 ft. above the crowd; the other will hang from the lighting truss.

“We don’t want to pick out any individual voices in the crowd but want to get the impact of 65,000 people screaming their lungs out,” Flick notes. (The Holophone audio also goes to its own tracks on the recording of the program to beef up the postproduction sound for replays and home video.)

Music is a huge part of the show, and Flick will be playing that back from an ENCO .wav file-based playout system.

The same goes for pyrotechnics. He says plotting out the launch positions and timing of pyro, such as concussion mortars, is crucial to a good show. “We want to pick up the explosions but not so close as to overload the input,” he explains.

Some of the pyro actually needs an audio EFX boost. “The gas flames don’t really make much of a sound so we’ll add sound effects to them,” he says. “But it’s important to coordinate with the pyro techs to make sure we hit them at the right time.”

Perhaps the most unique microphone placement is the Electro-Voice 635a dynamic microphone picking up the bell used to start and stop rounds. Like everything else in wrestling, that mic has taken its share of abuse; the bell occasionally gets ripped off its mounting and used as a weapon.

“We try to keep the gear out of harm’s way,” says Flick, “but it’s inevitable that we’ll lose some microphones here and there, cables get cut. It’s wrestling.”