U.S. Open Marks End of White Spaces Era of Reliability

Year after year Louis Libin, who oversees RF coordination for the USGA at the U.S. Open and is president of Broad Comm, takes time out of his busy schedule to talk about the challenges of not only coordinating radio frequency use but also to provide a quick update on the impending auction of wireless spectrum and its impact on those who rely on wireless mics and cameras.

Louis Libin on site at the U.S. Open with a new VHF-based wireless audio system.

Louis Libin on site at the U.S. Open with a new VHF-based wireless audio system.

This year the U.S. Open is being held at Pinehurst #2 golf course in Pinehurst, NC.

“One challenge here is that it is about 30 miles to Fayetteville but that Four Bragg is right in the middle,” he says. “So we have been doing a lot of coordination with them. And unfortunately, when dealing with government entities, they don’t give feedback unless it directly impacts them.”

In addition to dealing with the military Libin and his team are handling more requests than usual from local stations as this is the first time both the men’s and women’s U.S. Open Championships are being played consecutively on the same course.

“It’s a huge event and all the local stations are embracing it,” he adds.

This huge event also marks the end of an era, and not only because Fox Sports next year takes over production from NBC Sports and ESPN for the next 12 years. The auction of RF spectrum that wireless microphones and cameras rely on for the coverage of the Open is coming soon and Libin says the end result is that industry professionals may one day look back fondly at the 2014 U.S. Open.

“We’re going to look back and say ‘wow, remember when?’ because now we have major challenges and have to get serious about bringing in new technologies. The average ENG crew doesn’t know what is going on and how the way the operate will change.”

That’s one of the reasons Libin is encouraging users, vendors, and manufacturers to begin experimenting with new systems that take a different approach to using RF signals.

“We are going to have to break taboos and do things like work with blue tooth and get quality out of it.”

One of two Smartbug VHF antennas located in the U.S. Open media center.

One of two Smartbug VHF antennas located in the U.S. Open media center.

At the Open Libin is putting that mantra to the test as he is using Smartbug, a VHF-based system that he has tested at the Sochi Olympics and is now using to deliver two audio signals, the broadcast audio and audio from the Flash zone, to members of the media working within the media village via 500 small receivers and earpieces. Two antennas are transmitting a 100 milliwatt signal to the devices and with more power the signal could send signals to VHF receivers across the entire course. It’s the kind of inventive thinking that could make a good thing out of a bad situation as the VHF-based system would allow for multiple audio channels in multiple languages to be delivered to fans across a venue or course. It could also be used for wireless mic needs but Libin says there are nowhere near enough subchannels to support the 120 channels currently available.

“Overall the RF planning is more predictable and things here were very much textbook,” says Libin. “And I look at this nostalgically as it will never be this simple again as we are about the enter a very difficult time for RF users and broadcast TV.”