The Granddaddy of Them All, BCS Title Game Get More Sound Than You Can Shake A Stick At

If anyone needed further proof of the elevated status of college football in today’s sports landscape, then they need look no further than the 2013 Rose Bowl (Jan. 1) and the BCS National Championship Game (Jan. 7). ESPN will raise the audio stakes at both events by deploying several dedicated multichannel microphones in the stadiums (the first use by ESPN of 5.1 microphones for college football); putting additional camera-mounted microphones in hallways near the locker rooms, in fan areas in the end zones and on a jib; and adding a submix for effects to the show, making the production’s workflow closer to that of ESPN’s Monday Night Football franchise.

“This is all about making the viewers really feel like they are at the event, in the stands, and audio does that better then anything else,” says Chris Calcinari, vice president, remote operations.

Shotgun microphones will be mounted to handheld RF cameras that will operate in the parking lots and in the fan areas in each end zone, and robotic cameras near the locker rooms. Meanwhile, a stereo shotgun mic will be attached to a jib camera that will swoop past the stands. “These are places where we’ve never had cameras and sound before for college games, so the effect is to really envelope the listener,” Calcinari explains.

In addition, several 5.1 microphones, including the Soundfield DFS-2, the Holophone H2 and the Holophone H4 SuperMINI will be used, positioned at the edge of the field closer to the stands to give the viewer a front-row POV effect. ESPN has used this kind of microphone on some of its MNF games beginning last season, but this marks their first use on broadcasts of college football games. And all of the audio for these and other college games will be broadcast in discrete 5.1 surround, a practice that ESPN implemented last year in this category, making it conform to the network’s strategy to rollout discrete 5.1 for all sports broadcasts.

To manage all of this additional sound – ESPN is also bringing the number of parabolic RF mics on the sidelines to six for these two games — an effects submix will be used for the first time on college football broadcasts. Whereas in the past all effects were mixed by the A1 as part of the overall broadcast mix, these two games will see A1 Paul Krugman supported by submixer Jonathan Freed, with both mixers working from trucks from Game Creek Video’s Victory fleet.

“This is really more how we do it for Monday Night Football,” says Kevin Cleary, senior audio producer, ESPN remote production. “These are the kind of effects microphones we array for NFL, including the big [Sennheiser MKH] 8070 microphone on the Spidercam, plus the band mics and the additional crowd mics and rear-surround ambient microphones. We need a dedicated submix to really dial it all in.”

Cleary adds that both games will also conform to the specifications of the newly implemented CALM Act, with the audio from the game site sent back at the -24 lkfs loudness standard. “We as a company feel it’s best to manage loudness from the content creation site rather than at the point of transmission,” he explains. “It leaves here at -24.”

In a related new development, Calcinari says that ESPN will set up a surround QC environment in a soundproofed office trailer on site that will allow ESPN executives to monitor the broadcast’s surround field, offering input if needed to the mixers. This is a first for the network for any game, major league or college. “We didn’t want to be right in there with the mixers – we want to give them their space, but we can tweak it if necessary,” he explains.

Both Calcinari and Cleary say that this substantial extension of audio for the bowl games represents a continuation of ESPN’s strategy to expand its surround audio capabilities and to further enhance the viewer experience. Calcinari points out that the network’s discrete 5.1 audio initiative has now been implemented across both ESPN 1 and ESPN 2 channels, covering all of the approximately 1,100 basketball games and most of the 2700 events that the network broadcasts each year. Adds Cleary, “It’s part of a company commitment to making 5.1 surround sound right.”