Fox, ESPN Add Sonic Wrinkles to Postseason Play

We’re barely through the first two rounds of postseason baseball, and we’ve already seen a few new wrinkles in its audio. Both Fox Sports and ESPN have placed microphones on the third-base coaches for the first time, with Fox adding one on the first-base coach for good measure. And this for a batch of games whose infrastructure was still catching up in some cases.

MLB postseasonAudio for the American League Wild Card game was particularly intricate, thanks to an increase in the number of microphones placed around Yankee Stadium and the one worn by the third-base coaches. In addition to ESPN’s usual regular-season microphone deployment, the game, mixed by A1 Brian Shannon with Joel Groeblinghof mixing effects, had three additional manned parabs on the field, two RF lavaliers in the Bleacher Creatures section, one lav on each foul pole, and one lav on the side of each tarp.

“Yankee Stadium isn’t usually the easiest place to put microphones into,” notes Kevin Cleary, remote audio specialist, ESPN, adding that additional parabs were deployed for what would be ESPN’s last MLB game of the year. The mic on the third-base coach had what Cleary calls an “NBA signal path”: directly from the field to the NEP EN2 truck’s EVS server, where it was cleared for use by a league representative before being used in a replay.

Joe Carpenter, Fox Sports’ longtime baseball A1, had a similar situation for the audio from the mics he was able to place on first- and third-base coaches during the ALDS series, which bounced between Arlington, TX, and Toronto.

“We don’t have the full facilities to monitor all the microphones all the time; there’s no dedicated EVS for the ALDS,” he explains. “We’re at a B-game level for these games.”

Some of that has to do with the Division Series’ grueling travel schedule. There are also physical challenges, such as the huge acoustical differences in the Toronto Blue Jays’ Rogers Centre stadium, whose 26-year-old retractable Skydome can sometimes be cantankerous and difficult to operate on short notice. Its status is mainly dependent on the weather, but Carpenter and other A1s prefer it open. “You’ll get a lot of standing waves in there when the roof is closed,” he says.

The roof was closed for the first two ALDS games played there. Comparing the sound there with that in the Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Park, Carpenter says, “The difference was enormous.” (The Jays would also like to see it open: the team was 53-28 at home this season, 38-14 when the roof was open and 11-14 when it was closed.)

Fox also is working out of two trucks for the ALDS this year, using Game Creek Video’s Dynasty in Toronto, where Dome Productions provided some local crew to complement the Fox production team, and NEP’s EN2 in North Arlington when the Texas Rangers hosted.

As spacious as EN2’s audio compartments are — it provides a separate space for the submix position — Carpenter and submixer Bob Qua opted to continue using their preferred configuration, which has Qua and a 32-channel Presonus digital mixer, connected to the truck by fiber and MADI, located in the stadium on the broadcast level, where he can see the entire field.

“What we’ve found over the years is that you’re just not as involved in the game if you’re watching it on a program monitor,” Carpenter explains. “When you can see the entire field at once, you can anticipate things. For instance, if you know a hitter tends to pull the ball, you can have the left-field tarp mic fader ready to go. You can’t see the curvature of the ball’s arc on the screen; when you can [see it], you can anticipate where the fielder might hit the wall and capture that collision. It makes a big difference in the effects and the overall sound of the game.”

The broader picture bodes well for on-field audio, thanks to what ESPN’s Cleary sees as a paradigmatic cultural shift in sports, one in which the ubiquity of cameras and microphones turns everyday life into a reality show. Athletes, constantly under the gaze of cameras on field and off, are becoming more voluble, their conversations seamlessly crossing from field and court to street and back, with none of the restraint that once characterized players.

“We’re noticing a lot more verbalization on the field in these microphones,” says Cleary. “It’s not specific to one sport or another; it’s across the board. They’re just being more vocal, because they’re so used to having cameras and microphones around all the time. And we’re getting the benefit of that.”