TSN’s All-Star Curling Skins Game Is a Talkative Show

The holidays are over, the nights are long, and it’s freezing outside. It’s time for curling! Canada’s other national pastime has an upcoming major event, the Dominion All-Star Curling Skins Game Jan. 19-20, which will be broadcast live on TSN from Casino Rama in Rama, ON.

A1 Graham Zapf, who will mix the show from the Dome Productions truck, plans to approach the show as he does most curling matches. He sets up five Sony ECM lavaliere microphones into slits in the foam bumpers that line the field of play, known as a sheet. These are used to capture the basic ambient sound effects of the game, most notably the whisk of the specially made brooms that the four players per team use to fan the ice, the friction creating a thin liquid layer on top to lubricate the way for the 42-lb. granite stones.

Zapf says that, although the Skins match will be broadcast in stereo due to budget constraints, he has mixed curling in 5.1 surround sound, including for Winter Olympics broadcasts. “The audience microphones” — a series of Audio-Technica 4050 and Shure VP88 microphones arrayed in front of the viewing stands — “are mixed into the rear surround field. We’ve also been placing a microphone in front of the hack [a foothold device from which the person who throws the stone pushes off for delivery] and the house [the three concentric circles where points are scored] and mixing them front to back so that, when the player slides out of the hack, you get the sense that the sound is coming towards you. It’s an interesting spatial effect, and it’s quite effective.”

Curling has a lot of dialog audio, substantially more than most major-league sports. That’s thanks to the constant discussion of strategy as each team tries to find the best routes for its stone. All the players are wired for sound, as are the officials (who actually are heard only during rare requests to settle disputes that players can’t settle themselves — Zapf calls curling “a gentleman’s game”) using Sennheiser 5212 wireless transmitters and DPA 4066 lavaliere microphones attached openly on the front of the players’ jerseys. These huddled, slithery discussions define the show’s direction: “In hockey or basketball or football, the camera is following the play,” he notes. “In curling, [the camera is] following how the players act out what they’re saying.”

There also is no delay on curling’s sound, which may be a function of Canadian politeness but, in any event, keeps the play audio consistent throughout the live action. In fact, the audio is so intrinsic to curling broadcasts that TSN sends an audio feed to a portable FM transmitter installed in the venue to enable fans in the stands to listen in on their own radios.

“It’s the only sport I know of that lets the players’ sound carry the show,” Zapf says. “It’s the best sport to watch on television. You really get absorbed in it because you can hear everything they’re saying.”

It may have been elevated Canadian sensibilities that compelled the audio team this year to switch to rechargeable lithium batteries. With 26 bodypacks in constant use and each using at least three AA batteries a day, costs were becoming a factor, he says, adding that not having to toss alkaline disposables into landfill every day soothes the social conscience.

“We’ve been getting as much as 5½ hours out of the rechargeable AA batteries,” he points out, noting that any transmitter that requires 9-volt batteries is still using disposables. “But it makes you feel good that you tried.”