MLB’s First All-Audio Spring-Training Game Is ‘Positive Experience’

The March 7 preseason game between the Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks game on the MLB Network is in the books now as the first all-live-audio game broadcast. As reported by SVG just before the game, up to six players per team were wired for sound, as were several coaches and umpires and both managers, Manny Acta and Kirk Gibson, with a total of more than 60 microphones on them and around the field at the Ds’ training facility at Salt River Field near Scottsdale, AZ.

“This was a very positive experience,” says MLB Network SVP of Operations and Engineering Susan Stone, who heads the MLB Network audio team, which includes Director of Remote Operations Tom Guidice and Director of Engineering Brad Cheney.

According to Stone, the best audio came from interaction between players and coaches at first and third base. Although any strategic dialogue was bleeped (as was the occasional profanity that was understandably collateral when miking was this intimate) by two delay lines, manned by a bilingual monitor and an MLB legal counsel, she says the best viewer feedback related to the casual conversations at the hot corners. “It made the players and the coaches sound very approachable and real.”

Cheney credits the league, the players union, the teams, and management for contributing to a successful experiment: “The willingness of the players and everyone else to go above and beyond what we had set out to do was great.”

He notes that the role of the second producer was significantly expanded to accommodate the additional audio. “He was telling production where the live action was going on, so the audio mix could be focused on that, as well as alerting the tape guys we had with every EVS operator,” he explains.

As a result, fewer than 10 replays during the entire game used slow-motion; most were in real time in order to take advantage of the enhanced audio, including from the Evertz EVS replay recorders with 16 channels of audio. “We really had to rethink how we were getting the audio out to the viewer, just because there was so much of it. It was an adaptation that we literally did on-site.”

A1 Point of View
It was a more complex mix than usual for baseball. Lead A-1 Joe Carpenter took in two submixes: a typical “clean” effects mix that contained the standard sources and mixed by Bob Qua, such as crowd and parabolic mics, and a second, “dirty” feed, mixed by Dana Kirkpatrick, that had all of the personnel microphones as well as some additional ones placed around the stadium. Both submixes were in 5.1 surround, which Carpenter blended into a single 5.1 mix that was downmixed using the DaySequerra DownMix to LtRt and transmitted back to MLB Network in Secaucus, NJ, for a Dolby Pro Logic-encoded stereo main feed.

“Definitely one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had mixing” is how Carpenter describes the game. “You had video following audio, which is completely the other way around than usual. It goes against all your training. You really had to think backwards.”

He says that a dry run before the broadcast helped organize the workflow, which remained centered on the axis between home plate and the pitcher’s mound (where there were no microphones), but, whenever the ball went elsewhere, the focus shifted with it. The effects microphones generally remained open, but the player and coach microphones, which were usually off, had to be quickly opened up to follow the action, accompanied by rises in the appropriate effects microphones.

Slides into base — a visual hallmark of the game but one that usually has virtually no sound other than crowd reactions — were one of the opportunities to use innovative combinations of base and player microphones.

“We were using a [Stagetec] NEXUS interface box, so we were able to really crank the frontend on the base microphones without any extra noise and really bring them forward,” says Carpenter.

As complex as the game’s audio and workflow were compared with a typical MLB broadcast, the only glitches were attributed to the fact that there were numerous player changes during the game, which is typical during spring training as managers try to get field time for as many players as possible. “I think we had a half inning where we were missing the center fielder, that’s it,” Cheney recalls.

Stone says MLB has been positive about the outcome of the game. There are no plans to do any more all-audio games during the preseason, although she is optimistic about the concept’s being applied to regular-season broadcasts in the future. If it is, don’t expect to experience it for every game: at 162 games times 30 teams over nearly seven months, there just aren’t enough microphones.

Hear some highlights of the game here.