BSI Keeps the Back Channels Humming at Summer X Games

This year’s Summer X Games may have a had a more cohesive-looking campus, with all the events snugly fit into the 27 acres of downtown Los Angeles’ L.A. Live fun zone, but that didn’t make the task of managing intercom, PL, and crew, talent, producer, director, and other audio sources much easier. Working under Technology Development Manager Clay Underwood in Broadcast Sports Inc.’s unassuming and tightly packed trailer huddled among the broadcast trucks near the south end of the campus, a staff of 12, including four technicians operating the 10 audio-video transmitters in the Rally Cars, managed more than 35 channels of communications across all the trucks, event locations, and other key nodes on the X Games network.

They had some specialized tools. Chief among them was the Mic 1500, a transmitter system based on the housing of the Sennheiser SK250 wireless receiver but filled with BSI’s own mix of components operating in the spectrum between 1435 MHz and 1525 MHz, in UHF territory and away from any lingering White Spaces issues. BSI licenses the spectrum though the Aerospace Flight Test Radio Coordinating Committee (AFTRCC), which is operated by Boeing, and Underwood made sure that all of the wireless microphones and cameras were compliant before the show.

“It’s a two-step process, but, when it’s done, we’re the sole licensed user of that part of the spectrum for that period of time,” he says confidently.

Wireless audio spectrum was transported over fiber cable optically and reintegrated as spectrum at the BSI trailer in the Sennheiser wireless system.

“We were downconverting the signal [to laser light] in order to get the full benefit of the true diversity receivers, then upconverting it back at the truck, turning it back into spectrum in the Sennheiser wireless systems, back to a standard 690 or 670 MHz,” he explains.

Eight receiver points were spread out across the events, for a total of 16 antennas, from which BSI technicians chose the strongest signals for air, after inducing an approximately 80-ms delay to conform it to the video’s innate latency. The microphones ran the gamut from Countryman lavalieres to shotguns on the ramps to the ESPN X Games’ iconic “Blue Steel” handheld dynamic microphone, which has a trick of its own: a button that bypasses the broadcast circuit to let the talent talk directly to the director, listening back though the in-ear IFB.

PLs operated on local TV channel 19, in the 500 MHz range to send and the 506 MHz range to receive, secured through the FCC’s database. Twenty-four high-power four-wire Motorola PLs used the 500 MHz band to send and 500 MHz to receive, and the approximately 70 channels were split to and from all venues.

“I can’t think of another show where we use so many communications resources,” Underwood says.

“I don’t know that there are any more resources you could handle, but, if I think of some, I know you’ll be able to fit them in,” laughs Kevin Cleary, senior technical audio producer for special operations at ESPN, who has stopped by.

“And they have to work all the time,” Underwood adds, noting that Summer X Games’ communications footprint was significantly larger than the one found at the Winter X Games.

Underwood shares Cleary’s quest for better-sounding audio and extends it to the communications channels. Compression and equalization processing were applied to outgoing analog signals as they passed through a bank of Ashley LX308B mixers and a dbx 1046 compression unit.

“People are used to hearing quality audio in the studio, and you won’t get that level of quality on UHF,” says Underwood. “We try the best we can to mimic what they’d experience in the studio here in the field.”

BSI gets plenty of practice; this trailer, dubbed “One-Off,” for its use at special events like Summer X Games, is one of 13 such vehicles that also cover NASCAR, American Le Mans, NHRA, and golf for the Golf Channel and CBS.

“It’s intercom and IFB, but it still has to sound good,” Underwood says resolutely. “And it can never fail.”

Check out more of SVG’s comprehensive live X Games 17 coverage from Los Angeles by CLICKING HERE.