Report From the Front Lines: First-Ever Mix of NFL Sans Umpire Mic

Wendel Stevens was the A1 for NBC’s broadcast of the Hall of Fame game last Sunday between Cincinnati and Dallas in Canton, OH. As such, he was the first to mix NFL without the critical umpire microphone.

“I knew going in that my game was the guinea pig for the league,” he says of the production, in which placing lavalier microphones on the center and offensive linemen was tried for the first time during a live broadcast at the game.

Miking the center and linemen was a result of the NFL’s moving the umpire to the offensive side of the line of scrimmage.

“I had to approach the HOF Game ‘old-school,’ or as most mixers have to approach college football,” says Stevens. “I had parabs and nothing else for my game effects. We still miked up 10 cameras and had the crowd miked in surround, but the field was covered only with parabs.”

The absence of the umpire mic was noticeable on-air, he says.

“I knew I had to lean on my submixer, Ryan Outcalt, who mixes the cameras and parabs, for everything,” he recalls. “In the past, I’d control the umpire mic and mix over to the parab mix after the snap of the ball. In Canton, I opened up Ryan and said, ‘It’s all you.’”

Focusing the parabolas on the action generated a rather midrange and heavy sound that often competed with the announcers. And that’s to be expected with that type of microphone.

Says Stevens, “We dug for any cadence we could hear, but we were essentially using microphones that are used for ‘after-the-snap’ sounds for the entire play.”

The NFL did not okay recording any of that audio, so Stevens — like everyone else except league officials and NFL Films — has yet to hear what it sounds like.

“I actually went to Canton under the impression the test feed could be recorded and I could listen to it later,” he says. “The league didn’t feel comfortable with having the test recorded.”

Stevens says that using wired players to provide the action audio seems to be the ultimate solution. However, he adds, “those mics will feed a mixer controlled by the NFL, [and] the output of that mixer will feed TV. But when the audio feed will open and close is still being finalized by the league. We hope to be using the new feed on-air for our telecast from San Francisco in two weeks.”

He expects it to take a month or so to get the new microphone approach dialed in. “It’s new territory for all of us. And I’m glad to see all the networks and the league working together on a solution.”