CTV, TSN Get the Blades Just Right for Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Between Winter Olympics, we have a lot to thank Canada for when it comes to broadcast winter sports, especially in this hockey-challenged season. This weekend, CTV and TSN are broadcasting the Canadian National Figure Skating Championships live starting Jan. 18 on from the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, ON.

The show will also let Canada’s deeply entrenched surround-sound broadcast-audio culture show off a bit. A1 Howard Baggley, who will be working from Dome Productions’ new Pacific rig, likes to point out that a Holophone surround microphone is standard part of the kit supplied by CTV/TSN.

Baggley says the effects-microphone configuration is similar to that for hockey: 14 Crown PCC 160 boundary microphones are arranged around the rink atop the boards, four per side and three on each end. They are camouflaged with white adhesive-backed plastic. Sennheiser 816 or MKH-70 shotguns are attached to a jib and other rinkside cameras. Those mono elements are mixed rinkside by submixer Ed Lundy working on a 24-input Mackie console. Baggley spreads the effects mics into the surround and L-R right fields with the Holophone as a foundation. The mono close-in mics allow him to ease the blade sounds up as the picture changes.

“My philosophy on skate sounds has changed over the years as I’ve talked to more skaters,” Baggley says. “The blade sounds on the ice used to be the be-all end-all, but I’ve learned that skaters hate to hear the sound of the blades: to them, it means bad edge control.”

An Even Effects Mix
Instead, Lundy might gently push the fader of a particular microphone as skaters pass by his perch on the sidelines but, otherwise, sends a mostly even effects submix that Baggley will ebb and flow with a light hand as the programs progress.

“Figure skating is really about the music and the audience,” he points out. “It’s not about the blades unless the shot absolutely calls for it. The audience is expecting to hear some blade sound, and it has to be there, but not at the expense of the music and the crowd in the room. We just don’t go over the top with it.”

In fact, he adds, the commentators both in the booth and at rinkside understand this and let the music and audience provide most of the sound much of the time. Baggley notes that this is the kind of situation when a dedicated surround microphone really helps, because it implicitly creates an even surround balance. To maintain the effect as consistently as possible, he will run elements not already in 5.1 surround through a DaySequerra upmix engine.

Jokes about the politeness of Canadians are common, but any A1 would be happy to have the kind of cooperation Baggley gets from the live-sound operators at the Hershey venue.

“They’re very conscientious about their overall level in the house, and they arrange their speakers so that they’re not firing down on the commentators,” he says. “They stay in touch with us to make sure there’s no conflicts with the sound. Very accommodating.”