Tech Focus: Education

By: Dan Daley, Audio Editor, Sports Video Group

Broadcast Audio Establishes a Beachhead in Academia

The presence of broadcast audio in the curricula of the hundreds of post-secondary schools that teach media production continues to be minimal, but it’s still probably better than it has ever been and is getting better. Given more than a decade of decline in music production as a career path, more schools have become aware of broadcasting as a route to fill that void. Both state colleges and for-profit schools are increasingly investing in broadcast technology and courses.

Chris Davie, a principal in Sonority Group, worked for 14 years at SAE Institute, an audio-centric university with campuses and facilities in 54 cities in 30 countries, the last four as the school’s VP of operations. From his current vantage point as a media-education consultant, he says broadcast sound has gained a foothold in both student and administrator awareness.

“We saw it gaining traction at SAE in recent years, mainly in Europe and Australia,” he says, in part because those markets are dominated by state-owned broadcasting companies with more-robust employment practices than the mostly freelance-based culture in the U.S.

However, even here, Davie says, broadcast education has been looking up, especially at the state schools, which have a tradition of investing in campus radio and television stations. But he also cites schools’ partnerships: for example, Orlando-based Full Sail University teaches basic broadcast-audio fundamentals but has also established intern relationships with ESPN, by way of Disney’s presence in the area, and with NEP, which has taken Full Sail interns as well as those from other schools.

“Schools are starting to invest in teaching broadcast audio as more than an auxiliary piece of the audio program,” he says. “It’s becoming more of a serious focus [in education] because it’s becoming more of a serious career option for graduates. And, from the student-outcome perspective that school administrators always have to look through, they’re seeing a lot more internship and graduate job-placement opportunities in broadcasting and in sports in general.”

The Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences (CRAS), in the Phoenix area, has been highly proactive in building a broadcast-sports–audio component into its curriculum. Developed in consultation with Fox Sports audio consultant and senior mixer Fred Aldous, the program is now a mandatory part of the school’s year-long certification course. It comes with access to the school’s own recently acquired 42-ft. remote-production unit, which. for the second year, will connect with the Fox Sports truck that does the broadcasts for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ home games this season, providing students with hands-on experience with actual major-league broadcasts. (The students work with the audio from the games in real time, but their mixes are not sent to air but instead are archived for later educational use by the school.) Fox Sports A1 Fred Domenigoni, who mixes the Diamondbacks games, also mentors students and has taken at least one on as an intern. The truck has also visited and worked at regional NASCAR races.

The investment in the truck drew a favorable comment from Roger Charlesworth, executive director of the DTV Audio Group, which launched its own online broadcast-audio training program in 2013. “What sets CRAS apart is that, in addition to learning mixing and microphones, which you can learn in a classroom, their students also learn the workflow and the environment of the remote truck, which you can’t really experience in a classroom,” he points out. “That’s something no one’s ever been able to teach effectively before. They’re charting new territory here.”

According to Robert Brock, director of the CRAS broadcast audio department, the program is already showing results: one graduate has been doing freelance A2 work at area events, including this month’s Super Bowl. What needs to happen next, he says, at CRAS and other schools addressing broadcast audio, is to build the same kind of relationships with the broadcasting industry that the schools have traditionally had with music and postproduction sectors.

“The internships in broadcast can be more complex than in music or post,” he explains. “A lot of it is video-oriented; a lot of it is [production-assistant] work, so there’s not a lot of audio-production availability in many cases. As a school, we’re still learning where the demand is coming from, building our Rolodex. But we know it’s out there.”

Brock cites a burgeoning relationship with the Mobile TV Group (formerly Mountain Mobile TV) and several regional crew-staffing companies that are taking graduates into their own apprenticeship programs: “They’re actively looking for new hires, and they want us to pre-qualify them.”

Davie believes that what schools also need to do, perhaps in conjunction with networks (which have voiced real concerns about where the next generation of broadcast-audio specialists is coming from), is develop some kind of branding around the idea of broadcast-sports audio, to establish it as a desirable career goal. “If they could do for a career in broadcast sports what they once did for careers in recording studios,” he says, referring to the highly seductive marketing efforts of some for-profit audio schools in the past, “you’ll never be short of trained employees again.”

Pro-Audio Manufacturers Fill in the Learning Gaps

Pro-audio manufacturers have always offered some basic levels of training on their products and platforms, with the extent of the instruction generally commensurate with the complexity of the technology involved. But, recently, the amount and sophistication of product-centric training has been on the rise. This is due in part to a more cluttered pro-audio market and the level of nuance that comes with a mostly digital market, one in which layers of software hide reams of additional functionality that’s not always intuitively available.

Training has a marketing component: it helps a brand and its products rise a little further above the din of the market. This aspect becomes even more important in broadcast, where large corporations look for platforms with the greatest market penetration to ensure that their freelancers are conversant with whatever capital-equipment investments they make.

But, at a time when broadcast sound barely registers within pro audio’s substantial education infrastructure — there are more than 1,000 schools and programs teaching some level of audio production in North America — the training that equipment manufacturers do is welcome and necessary.

Studer’s Broadcast Academy certification events have taken place periodically at the company’s campus in Northridge, CA, for more than five years, providing training modules for the Vista series of consoles aboard the Soundcraft Studer truck, which also travels to other locations for onsite tutorials. More recently, Studer added an online component, which can go where the 73-ft. truck cannot. Last year, Studer launched a partnership with Phoenix-based Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences: the online Studer Broadcast Academy is a lesson-based training initiative that uses Virtual Vista software to emulate the experience of working on an actual console; the school owns two Vista desks for classroom training.

The online model has proliferated. Lawo caches several dozen how-to and marketing videos on its YouTube training site. Like other manufacturers, the company leverages the huge pro-audio–school infrastructure, making its regional product specialists in audio, video, and networking/control systems available to professional and technical schools, “in support of their efforts to educate and train the next generation of audio operators and engineers,” according to the company’s literature. Attendance at the company’s periodic regional training sessions as well as one-on-one training sessions can be arranged.

In 2013, DiGiCo and its U.S. distributor Group One Ltd launched a series of in-person training seminars, DiGiCo’s Master Series: From Power On to Expert, showcasing the company’s current line of SD Series systems. The training modules focus on live sound, but, this year, the company will add its Broadcast Masters Series, with an agenda to be announced this month.

Calrec is also working on bringing video tutorials on its new Summa console to the Internet this year. In addition, the company has produced two documents, available in print and as a PDF file: Audio Primer and Networking Primer provide an introduction to audio consoles in broadcast and to various types of audio-networking protocols and platforms.

“We have an open-door policy for freelancer training in our California office,” says Dave Letson, director of sales for North America, Calrec, “As long as an operator gets to the office, we will provide free training and access to our demo room for them to play with and become familiar with [the equipment]. We have seen a great turnout, and I estimate that, since the office opened in 2012, we have had between 40 and 50 operators visit.”

Marketing Manager Kevin Emmott adds that Calrec has been offering freelance mixers free, one-day training sessions on its Apollo platform for two years at its offices in London and Manchester, UK, training about 150 operators.

The DTV Audio Group, which introduced its first online training module in 2013 — backed by funding from ESPN/Disney, NBCUniversal, Fox Sports, and Turner Sports, it focused on loudness monitoring and management — brought a second module online in December. This one covers 5.1-surround mixing for broadcast. The online modules are offered without charge, and a skills evaluation done at completion of the course can be used to show potential employers that an applicant has successfully completed it.

According Executive Director Roger Charlesworth, the loudness module has been accessed more than 1,000 times, although it’s too soon to tell how many have accessed the 5.1 tutorial yet. Two new training modules are currently under consideration: on object-based audio and on edit workflows around 5.1 surround sound.

“We’re chipping away at it,” he says of the education challenge for broadcast audio. “Combined with more attention being paid to it in schools and ongoing manufacturing training, education is looking better than it ever has.”