NBC, Versus Deliver for NHL Fans Dialed Into Surround Sound

Media consolidation is being felt in the boardroom and on the boards. In the wake of this season’s broadcast collaboration between CBS Sports and Turner Sports on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the ongoing NHL Playoffs are a shared proposition between NBC and Versus. And it wouldn’t be hockey without the CBC in there as well.

Veteran audio mixer Wendel Stevens did his first Versus show on Sunday in Washington using the F&F GTX-12 truck. A mainly Versus-populated crew did the NBC game from San Jose. It was mixed by Steve Wahlenmeyer, who has been Versus’s primary hockey mixer for six years and this year worked in the F&F GTX-14 truck. Both mobile units have Calrec Omega consoles,

The Calrec Omega console isn’t the only reason for the consistency of sound in the playoffs. Stevens says he is satisfied with his effects-microphone structure, which uses 12 Crown Audio PCC-160s on the glass and two RF lavaliers in the nets.

Microphone Placement
“In recent years, we have miked players for tape-delayed sound-bite packages,” Stevens explains. “Unfortunately, that element of the show is no longer sponsored, and we shelved the miking of players midseason this year.

The officials, however, are miked to state their penalty calls or announce to the arena and home audience that a play is being reviewed. Those mics are provided by the arena, with TV getting a feed at the truck bay.

“Unlike the NFL, where an official gets a lot of face time in making his calls, NHL coverage often doesn’t feature a referee’s call prominently,” says Stevens. “The announcers may already know the penalty, and cameras may be trained on the player headed to the penalty box [for a reaction shot]. I usually track the ref mic under my announcers, if the official isn’t seen on camera. Only for a ‘big call’ — like after the review of a goal — would I track the referee mic fully.”

In Stevens’s surround mix, ice, skates, and glass-bangers are in the front left and right speakers, and he always keeps at least two microphones open on the ice to keep a stereo image up front. Two crowd-roar mics occupy the rear channels whenever the interior of the arena can be seen; they’re usually placed in the announce booth, at high center ice, pointed at each end zone.

“With those two zones, I’m trying to put you in the stands,” he says. “Hockey up front, fans and deafening PA music in the back. Announcers are in the center channel only. Sound effects are panned 60% to the rear and 40% to the front, just to give a little more ear candy to the surrounds. Effects are about the same levels as always. You have to protect your announcers in the mix.”

MADI for Sharing
Multinetwork coverage is also putting MADI and embedded audio center stage this year.

“Our primary use for MADI is in sharing facilities with side-by-side shows,” Stevens says. With the CBC working side by side with the U.S. networks, one coax [cable] carries CBC a MADI stream with all the individual effects microphones.

“They can mix their own version of the game for their CBC audience,” he explains. “And all incoming and outgoing paths use embedded audio.”

Two outbound transmission paths and two incoming paths, a fiber route and satellite route, each have embedded audio. But Stevens says all the signal flow inside the mobile unit is still handled as discrete audio and video.

“I’m betting that will change tremendously over the next five years,” he predicts.

The mixes will also be consistent across both networks, despite the fact that NBC broadcasts the games in 5.1 surround and Versus is stereo.

“Even though the NBC games are carried in 5.1, stereo is how I monitor the mix for 90% of the show,” says Stevens. “Stereo is what production hears in the control room. Stereo is what 99% of the audience is getting at home. It’s probably much more important for your mix to sound good when folded down to stereo than how it sounds in surround. So, when I do the Sunday game on Versus, it’s just a matter of changing the audio feeding transmission from the multichannel mix to stereo.”