Sennheiser’s Mentorship Program Takes Students Into the Ring and Onto the Track

Sennheiser’s four-year-old Mentorship Program, intended to help encourage the next generation of audio engineers to enter the field of televised sports, sent two more candidates into the field to shadow a pair of leading A1s. The students, Eric Heikkila from Emerson College and Brad Bacon from the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, were paired, respectively, with Randy Flick, senior audio mixer at HBO Boxing, and Fred Aldous, audio consultant and senior mixer for Fox Sports, at two high-profile events: HBO Sports’ broadcast of a light-heavyweight title bout between Chad Dawson and Adonis Stevenson and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 race on Fox Sports.

Flick took Eric under his wing during the nationally televised boxing match, which took place June 15 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, where the student was able to experience the inner workings of live broadcast production.

“Eric had a chance to go out into the field and work with different members of the audio staff,” says Flick. “He helped change out RF microphones on the trainers and tailed the stage manager to see how she handles the event itself. He wanted to know what was in our TV truck so he could be familiar with it before he arrived. Since we had recently done a fiber audio installation, there was a lot of new audio gear that he wouldn’t have known about unless he asked. This impressed me, and he was very well prepared.”

Meanwhile, halfway across the country at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, NC, Aldous was mentor to Bacon during Memorial Day weekend. Aldous, who has been working with Sennheiser on the Mentorship Program for several years, chose the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race because it provides students with the opportunity to experience the entire broadcast infrastructure.

“The Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race of the year that Fox Sports does,” he explains. “It therefore gives me more time to take the student around to see the different audio positions: from the announce booth to the field setup to where the production mix happens. There are just so many things that go on here that it is difficult to grasp unless it is actually experienced — especially on the magnitude of NASCAR.”

Bacon spent time in the audio room and the submix room before venturing out to the racetrack, where Aldous’s field A2s explained the processes of microphone selection and positioning and the art of capturing the sounds of the track. He also learned about how the audio comes back to the truck for premixing and/or submixing before being sent to the network center for dispersion to affiliate broadcast networks.

Aldous says Bacon was an exemplary student: “He had a basic knowledge of audio in advance. He knew signal flow and all about microphones. Having him arrive with such a solid basic knowledge really allowed me to get more technical with him, making the experience much more valuable for all concerned.”

Bacon was astounded by the overall complexity of the operation and the overall professionalism of the staff. “Fred has so many inputs that he is managing and has such a grasp on all the little problems that come up,” he observes. “The whole experience was overwhelming, and it was a real pleasure to see him stay so cool under pressure.”

Flick notes that the mentoring program is definitely showing dividends. “HBO actually has hired one of the previous mentorship students as a freelance audio guy on a couple of their shows,” he says. “It’s a wonderful thing to help educate the audio folks of the future. I love the expressions and wide eyes when they see some of the stuff we do.”