With Expanded Audio Coverage, British Open Had a Narrative All Its Own

Viewers who watched ESPN’s coverage of the British Open over the weekend got an earful as well as an eyeful. The network not only brought it home in discrete 5.1 sound for the first time (as it did for Wimbledon a week earlier); it also dispatched a crew of additional A2s onto the course at Muirfield armed with RF-enabled shotgun microphones. The mission was to get more narrative content into the show, and the sources would be the players and their caddies.

A1 Jaime McCoombs in the "cabin" mixing the Open show.

A1 Jaime McCoombs in the “cabin” mixing the Open show.

“This represented a real change in philosophy,” says Kevin Cleary, senior audio producer, ESPN remote production, who supervised the network’s extended audio coverage of the event. “The announcers were purposely laying back so that the viewers could hear what was transpiring between the participants on the course.”

And that’s what happened. Viewers heard Open winner Phil Mickelson conferencing with caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay, laying out strategies and tactics, agonizing between wood and iron. They also heard Tiger Woods nearly uncensored (there was a very minor delay in the circuit for exactly that reason) when things didn’t go his way. Much of that became fodder for Christine Brennan’s piece in USA Today on Sunday, in which she referenced several moments during which the players told their own stories in their own words.

Cleary says the A2s had a mandate to assertively seek out these conversations, within the boundaries of course protocol. Listeners got to hear it literally in real time — the delay from the site back to Bristol, CT, to under 2 milliseconds. The pace of the game and the nature of its players colluded to make the effort a success.

“Golf is a ‘gentlemen’s game,’ and they let you get pretty close up,” he says. “Not something a lot of other athletes would let you do.”

These dialog microphones were among the more than 50 that ESPN fielded over the entire course. These fed by via a combination of fiber and RF to a standalone “cabin” studio set up to handle all of the event’s audio mixing; the British Open coverage exceeded the capacity of even the largest European outside-broadcast vans. As per SVG’s Ken Kerschbaumer, this was fitted with a Calrec Artemis console and connected to the audio submix area, which brought together signals from more than effects mics located across the course. All of the audio consoles — a mix of Calrec Artemis, Apollo, Zeta, and Sigma consoles — are networked via a Calrec Hydra, which reduced the amount of copper cabling and allowed intercoms to send signals anywhere at anytime. Jaime McCoombs did the main mix; Peter Pugliese handled the submix, which comprised a huge 163 inputs.

One of the things that created consistency for the sound was the fact that the same shotgun microphones used to collect the dialog were also used for swing sound effects, which, says Cleary, added to the sense of intimacy, with effects and dialog immersed in the same background ambience in the surrounds.

“You didn’t just watch the game; you got to understand it in a bit more detail,” says Cleary. “You came away knowing something about golf that you didn’t know before.”