Live From X Games L.A.: ESPN Shows Off Refined Approach to Sound in Farewell to L.A., Part 2

At Summer X Games 19 this week, the last one at the L.A. Live complex, ESPN is covering an increasingly sprawling action campus with a compact arsenal of resources. (For Part 1 of this report, click here.)

The change to a fragmented campus has implications for the RF on the show. Clay Underwood, customer applications engineer for BSI, which has done the wireless aspect of X Games for the show’s lifespan, says moving the rally cars to the Irwindale Speedway in the San Gabriel Valley means that fully equipped trucks will have to be deployed at both locations.

“It’s definitely a change in the logistics of our deployment,” he says. “We have to dedicate two full trucks to the show instead of being able to do the entire show out of a single truck, as we have in the past.”

Ironically, that comes at a time when ESPN is trying to increasingly modularize the show, reducing its technical footprint and enabling it to scale as needed in its various locations domestically and overseas.

“They’re looking for a singular model that works globally for all the shows,” says Underwood. “It used to be that the domestic shows” — the summer X Games at L.A. Live and the winter edition in Aspen, CO — “were larger in terms of RF content. We provided an insane amount of RF, like 13 repeaters and six IFBs. Now they’ve modeled the show to be able to work with about a third that much RF equipment. What’s different this year is that they’re moved the rally cars to a different location, so, while we’re using less equipment, we’re also using a second truck.”

The rally cars are being joined this year by “drift cars” — a driving technique where the driver purposely oversteers, causing loss of traction but maintaining control from entry to exit of a corner. The technique produces a lot of tire squealing, and Underwood says it will take some experimentation to adjust the microphone positioning and EQ to accommodate both the low-frequency rumble and midrange buzz they’re used to capturing and the higher frequencies of the squealing drift tires.

“We’re used to the revving sounds of the engines, but the sideways sounds are new, so it’ll be interesting to see how they turn out,” he says, noting that, even after adjusting positions in some of the run-up runs, BSI can remotely tweak the equalization and volume levels on the microphones via telemetric signal.

BSI will be operating its RF in the usual 1435- to 1525-MHz range, coordinating through Boeing with the military-testing entities that those frequencies are reserved for and then licensing through the FCC. The additional red tape necessary to secure permission to operate in that part of the spectrum is worth it, says Underwood, because of the relative luxury of 90 MHz of bandwidth in an RF-dense environment like Los Angeles: “It’s just one less thing to think about on a fast-paced show.”