Tech Focus: Broadcast-Audio Education

By Dan Daley, Audio Editor, Sports Video Group

Depending on where you look, broadcast-audio education is either surging forward or barely there. A handful of high-tech for-profit media-arts schools have invested substantially in broadcast platforms.
Students gathered in CRAS’s remote-production mobile classroom

Arizona’s Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences (CRAS), for example, regularly takes its 42-ft. expando mobile production unit to NFL, MLB, and NASCAR events and connects its Studer Vista 5 console to NBC Sports and Fox Sports trucks via MADI and fiber. Two full MADI streams — up to 128 channels — take in all of the event’s audio, including in-car sound and comms. It’s part of the school’s sports-broadcast program, instituted in 2013 and based on a curriculum developed by Fred Aldous, audio consultant and senior mixer, Fox Sports.

Full Sail University recently installed a Calrec Summa broadcast console at its large campus near Orlando to support its recently reinvigorated broadcast-education program, a component of its larger Show Production bachelor’s-degree track. An estimated 300 students pass through the course each year, a small percentage of the school’s 4,000 or so students but a larger percentage than in the broadcast program’s previous incarnations, according to Education Director, Audio Arts, Dana Roun.

Broadcast-sports courses at the school were begun in 2012, fostered in part by a formal relationship with ESPN. Since late 2010, under the Sports Lab Powered by ESPN program, the sports network had used students and graduates on shows and as interns. However, the program has lost steam in subsequent years. Sports Lab was mutually terminated in 2014, but Roun says the school recommitted itself to broadcast education as part of a comprehensive refurbishment of its media-arts curriculum last year. The school is also continuing its three-year-long partnership with the WWE’s NXT series, episodes of which are taped in the Full Sail Live Venue, with students staffing many of the production positions.

“The school’s advisory board meets twice a year to tell us where the industry is moving,” Roun says. “Broadcast is an area that was identified with growth. So we decided to reinvest more on the [broadcast-]technology side.”

The school also added an EVS video-management system and implemented DANTE networking to move its audio-signal transport to a network. The school is also considering acquiring its own mobile production unit in the next year.

Educators paint a chicken-and-egg picture of broadest education. On one hand, schools are reluctant to incur the investment expense necessary to provide students with contemporary broadcast-audio platforms if incoming students show little interest in the industry. (Students tend to be attracted to the vocational colleges by music-production courses; state schools’ broadcast offerings tend to be a very small part of the overall curriculum). On the other hand, broadcast professionals fault schools for not fostering that interest and creating demand, through more-aggressive marketing, that could justify the expenditures.

Streaming, Networking, and IT
Others in the industry see the increasing move of television, including sports, into a streaming environment, suggesting that IT-centric students might be more receptive to applying that knowledge to sports production: a shortage of conventional broadcast-audio–console jockeys may someday be counterbalanced by hordes of competent coders putting sports online.

“I think that makes sense,” says Chris Davie, a principal in the Sonority Group, a consultancy to media-education schools, and former VP at media-arts college SAE. “It may be a good opportunity for those educators that have not built out their broadcast programs to widen their offerings and capitalize on new technologies and employment opportunities.”

Major sports leagues are already pursuing ways to integrate broadcasts with virtual- and augmented-reality platforms, areas where such synergy might blossom. Gina Milewski, course director, sports broadcast engineering, Full Sail, sees potential in network-savvy students’ applying those skills to streamed sports productions.

“We do a lot of networking of media now and some coding,” she says. “There’s a lot of emphasis now on video-over-IP and management of video files on servers. This is a new part of that class. With networking, students are seeing how a truck is built from the inside out.”

But, counters Gary Olson, a media consultant and member of the SVG Advisory Board, the quality of professional broadcast production isn’t going to simply translate onto a laptop or a tablet. Describing himself as a long-time “noisy evangelist” for professional education, he points out, “You can’t do on a tablet what you can do on a console. The idea that, with tools like that, anyone can make a video dumbs it all down.”

The Industry’s Approach
With the decline of apprenticeships at heavily unionized networks, broadcasting’s own response has been mainly ad hoc. Most notably, the DTV Audio Group’s online-training initiative — supported by Fox, ESPN, Turner, and others — offers courses in loudness management and 5.1-surround mixing. Two new training modules are currently under consideration: on object-based audio and on edit workflows around 5.1 surround sound. But, at best, these can address only narrow aspects in what needs to be a more comprehensive approach to education.

That seems to put the ball back in the educators’ court, but many remain skeptical or even pessimistic.

“There is just little or no training at all available, especially for freelancers, and that’s a problem, the reason being that it takes a lot of time and energy to develop a meaningful training program — time and energy most entities don’t have,” observes Dave Evans, a longtime industry consultant, an adjunct professor of sports broadcasting at Baylor University, and a coordinating producer for studio programming for Fox Sports Southwest, Oklahoma, and New Orleans.

“There’s no centralized resource that the industry can tap into, such as the NAB and InfoComm, which supervise extensive and centralized training programs for members, whether they’re freelancers or not,” he continues, noting that his course, like others, relies on guest lectures by working professionals and field trips — he has a class visit to an NBA-game production planned for this year — to flesh out textbook content. But he believes the broadcast business will eventually figure out a useful organized solution, “in time,” he says, cautiously.

Katy Templeman-Holmes, director of solutions and marketing, broadcast, Studer, is equally dour about the current state of education for broadcast audio. “The options for that just aren’t out there,” she says, specifically addressing the existing infrastructure for professional-audio education, which she believes still puts more emphasis on working in recording studios than on broadcast. The latter, she opines, offers graduates far better potential for an economically viable career these days: “For actual working opportunities for a salary and a life, broadcast is a home run.”

Finding a way to communicate that concept to an incoming college freshman is the magic bullet that both schools and broadcasters are still looking for.

For Console Manufacturers, Training is Still a Good Bet

There is a growing number of formal propositions available for someone seeking training in broadcast audio. They range from four-year university programs to one-year associate degrees to online certificate modules. But the best options for cost-effective, hands-on training on specific platforms continue to be those offered by audio-console manufacturers.

The training can be at the manufacturer’s facility or at the user’s, via remote trucks configured for training or instructor visits to local venues. The cost of the training is negligible or even completely free; the quid pro quo for the manufacturer is a captive marketing audience. But given the growing diversity of platforms and their individualized interfaces, manufacturer-provided education is a great deal for all involved. Here are some of the programs available.

Calrec Audio
Calrec offers a free, comprehensive program of online training videos designed to educate operators on the complete setup and use of Summa, the company’s newest audio console, as well as on design philosophies and general audio-engineering principles. The Summa training course is divided into six modules, which are further broken down into chapters.

These chapters comprise short animated videos that can be viewed in or out of sequence. Topics include channel strip controls, EQ, dynamics, fader controls, mix minus, creating channels, moving and cloning paths, memory management, on-air protection, and much more. Logging in ensures that progress is tracked to prevent users from repeating modules by mistake.

The Summa training course is part of Calrec’s increased focus on training over the past few years. The company’s audio primer is available as a free download for individual operators and freelance mixers. In the UK and the U.S., Calrec conducts periodic in-person Apollo/Artemis training at its facilities. Operators can also access the training videos, along with Calrec’s free audio and network primers, via calrec.com.

DiGiCo
For the past decade, DiGiCo has been hosting training at its UK head office, as well as in conjunction with various distributors at a number of locations around the world. In the U.S., its in-person Masters Classes travel to various cities, bringing consoles in for hands-on learning. This year, the classes will be in Nashville; Atlanta; New York; Baltimore; Dallas; Houston; Oklahoma; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Durham, NC; Miami; and Orlando.

DiGiCo Online Training, the first tutorial of its kind for the pro-audio industry, broadens the access. Since a large percentage of the SD-user interface is common to all products, the SD9 console is used as the subject for this tutorial. The tutorial is split into three sections: a quick start for those who have never used a DiGiCo console before; an intermediate chapter that shows all major setup, functions, controls, and parameters; and an advanced section covering enhanced features, such as remote control, mirroring consoles, and programming for complex shows and system. Comprising about three hours of material, the content is divided into chapters specific to features and functions users may wish to gain greater knowledge of. All movies are HD and can be shown at full-screen size.

Lawo
In addition to training and support for customers, Lawo provides detailed product overviews and specific training on various product features at www.lawo.com and its YouTube channel, where users can view and follow instructional videos on practical application of Lawo’s products. The company also makes extensive use of social media for training, with updates about the newest training videos on its Facebook and Twitter accounts. The company’s regional product specialists in audio, video, and networking/control systems also are available to professional and technical schools in support of their efforts to educate and train the next generation of audio operators and engineers. Attendance at the company’s periodic regional training sessions as well as one-on-one training sessions can be arranged by contacting sales@lawo.com.

Studer
Launched in 2012, Studer’s original free Studer Broadcast Academy offered certification events at the Harman International campus in Northridge, CA, as well as Vista Foundation and Vista Intermediate modules for training aboard the Soundcraft Studer truck. In 2014, that program evolved into an online proposition in conjunction with the Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences (CRAS), which that year expanded its Master Recording program to include a broadcast-audio component focused on workflows and technologies specific to live television broadcast.

For CRAS students, the online Vista training is part of their larger curriculum; other professional engineers can access the same training, hosted on CRAS’s servers, via Studer’s branded portal, StuderBroadcastAcademy.com, through which students can operate Vista consoles using the Studer Virtual Vista software. The curriculum is broken down into eight short courses, taking a student from basic setup and workflow through to DSP configuration and IFB setup. The courses are written so that they can be taken in succession or as standalone tutorials, with an optional exam for official Studer certification at the end.