Broadcasting the All Stars

August 1, 2012

At the midpoint of the baseball season, the top players come together for a short break from the usual contest of playing for championship honors to play baseball's annual All-Star game. Leading up to the game are several events, including the Home Run Derby the day before the game. Covering a baseball game from a listener's point of view sounds like an simple task with three or four announcers, but it's rather involved and requires considerable planning. ESPN Radio allowed Radio magazine to tag along for a day to observe how everything comes together.

ESPN broadcasts at the All Star Game.

My first call was to Kevin Plumb, CPBE, VP, audio technology at ESPN, whom I have known for several years. He put me in touch with Kevin Ingles, technical producer, event production, who gave me an initial rundown of everything that is covered by ESPN Radio during the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game. After working with Ingles, I was put in touch with Executive Producer John Martin to coordinate a visit to Kauffman Stadium to observe the broadcast team in action.

During the Home Run Derby, I shadowed Game Producer Ivan Sokalsky, Game Technician Al Rosenberg and Studio Technician Bob White. White puts all the equipment together for the broadcast, and has done so for several years. He built most of the IFB equipment used for the broadcast to facilitate communication between Sokalsky and the rest of the broadcast team. Rosenberg handles the final mix of all the game elements that are sent to the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT, to be uplinked.

Initial prep

About a month before the game, Ingles and Martin visited Kauffman Stadium, the home of the Kansas City Royals and site of the 2012 All-Star Game, to conduct a site survey. By meeting with representatives from Major League Baseball, ESPN was given the specifics of the game schedule. By meeting with representatives from the stadium , ESPN determined what was available on-site and see the physical space that would be used for the broadcast. ESPN used the home radio booth at the stadium. This booth is about three stories above the field level and almost directly behind home plate.

Sokalsky, Kestecher and Rosenberg in the broadcast booth.

Sokalsky, Kestecher and Rosenberg in the broadcast booth.

There are two levels in the booth itself. The announcers sit on the lower and more forward portion, while Rosenberg and Studio Host Marc Kestecher sit on the upper. Sokalsky stands and is able to move between the two levels as needed, although his IFB control box and computer are on the end of the second level table top. White used a counter top in the back for equipment staging and last-minute repairs or modifications as needed.

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There's a list of the broadcast personnel later, but to help clarify each person's role, here's a rundown.

Coordinating producer: In Connecticut during the game, he works with the studio producer in Kansas City for ins and outs, scheduling interviews and other broadcast elements.

Game producer: In the broadcast booth in Kansas City, he keeps the talent on the format to keep segments on time and meet the ins and outs. He provides the talent with info to announce the game and notes any needed promotions. He also acts as a spotter to track stats, watches who is warming up and gathers research notes. He also watches the clock to join the game in and out of breaks by monitoring the TV cue feed. He is the main point person of all communication during the broadcast.

Technical director: In Connecticut during the game, he is responsible to get it all on the air.

Game technician: In the Kansas City booth, he handles the primary mixing duties.

Studio technician: In Kansas City, he acts as the secondary audio engineer during the game. He moves between the booth and the field as needed.

Chris Singelton (in light green) and Peter Pascarelli (plaid) on the field with Mike Soucy (stripes) just before the start of the Home Run Derby.

Chris Singelton (in light green) and Peter Pascarelli (plaid) on the field with Mike Soucy (stripes) just before the start of the Home Run Derby.

The Home Run Derby and All-Star Game are run in almost the same manner, except for the Derby there is more show preparation. A live game has ongoing play-by-play, but the Derby (at least on the radio) can get drawn out since it's a pitch and swing with possibly several unswung pitches in between. For the Derby, Jon Sciambi remains in the booth, while Chris Singleton and Peter Pascarelli are positioned at either team's dugouts. This allows them to talk to the players on the field during the Derby. For the game, Jon Sciambi joins the booth setup.

During the Derby, special guests are also brought in to the booth, including George Brett, who now works in the back office for the Kansas City Royals.

Looking up at the ESPN broadcast booth from the field.

Looking up at the ESPN broadcast booth from the field.

Audio feeds

It's already obvious there are lots of audio feeds during the game. Some feeds are included in the on-air mix, while others are strictly for cueing. The announcers and host account for up to four feeds. There are six wireless mics as well as two wired positions in the dugout. (The dugout positions are wired to avoid RF interference, but the wireless is available as a backup or if greater mobility is needed.) Rosenberg places a pair of shotgun mics outside the broadcast booth to pick up stereo stadium ambience. A stereo feed from the field captures the "crack of the bat" when the ball is hit. (these mics are usually placed at the camera wells on either side of home plate.) The house PA provides a feed. A stereo crowd mix is supplied by the TV station covering the game. The producer's computer has an audio output for interviews and other audio cuts.

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The non-air audio sources include the game producer, TV assistant director (monitored only by the game producer for cueing of commercial breaks), the game technician and studio and field producers also have mics to contribute to the IFB. There is also a feed from the official game scorekeeper.

For ambience, the bat crack mics with a touch of the stereo pair crowd mics are usually enough to provide the needed ambience. Adding full crowd or feeds from the dugout mics gets too heavy for radio. With only an aural canvas to work, it gets too busy if there are too many audio sources being used.

All these audio sources come together to feed two Behringer Xenyx X2222USB consoles. There are two compressors (a DBX and a Samson) providing 12 channels of compression, which is applied to the talent mics and some of the other audio feeds.

The game producer has the most complex monitor setup of all those involved. He can talk to everyone and everyone can talk to him. He routes information as needed. Through him, the multiple IFB channels are created. Five of these are distributed via wireless IFB transmitters. Using a routing box built by Bob White, Sokalsky can talk to anyone on a headset individually or in groups. This custom intercom box has RDL mixers for Sokalsky to set his own levels. The on-air talent also have custom control boxes to talk to Sokalsky off-line if needed. Sokalsy has a direct link to the Bristol, CT, headquarters via a dedicated POTS line through a JK Audio Autohybrid. Sokalsky monitors up to 12 audio sources during a game.

Jon Sciambi calls the action in the booth.

Jon Sciambi calls the action in the booth.

A Telos Zephyr Xstream connects via ISDN to the facility in Connecticut. A stereo mix from the game is sent to Connecticut, and two mono feeds are sent back. One return channel is a full mix of the entire broadcast audio program, which is fed to the speakers in the stadium concourse. The other return channel is a mono mix-minus feed. As a backup, a Comrex Hotline is connected to carry the program audio as well.

The description of the setup sounds complex, and to see it all interconnected looks even more intimidating, but once it's all set in place, the broadcast takes off. The people involved know their jobs and how to use the equipment and technology to their advantage. The result is a clean and polished broadcast that entertains loyal baseball fans.

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Frequency Coordination

With the hometown and visiting media in addition to the wireless frequencies used by the stadium itself (including security and concessions) and the on-site parties after, the RF environment is packed during the entire event. CP Communications, which handles frequency coordination for many major events, approached Major League Baseball to provide frequency coordination services for the All-Star Game and events.

Chris Castro, CBTE, the Kansas City local SBE frequency coordinator, was hired by CP Communications for the four-day event, which enabled Castro to pull from his existing market data. Castro is also the NFL Game-Day Coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs.

When Castro was asked to work on the All-Star Game about six weeks before the weekend, he first coordinated all the Kansas City media first to get them in his database. While some requests trickled in leading up to the game, Castro says the bulk of requests came in as other media came to Kansas City to set up for the actual game on Tuesday. There were lots of international broadcasters as well, many of whom were not aware of frequency coordination practices. As some of these broadcasters tried to use their equipment and received interference, they quickly learned the process.

Castro says several thousand frequencies were coordinated during the entire event.

Equipment List

Adobe Audition
Alesis iO2, Nanocompressor
Audio-Technica ST-95 MKII
Behringer Xenyx X2222USB
Comrex Hotline
Custom-built IFB communications devices built by Bob White
DBX 1046
JK Audio Autohybrid
Lectrosonics wireless mics and IFB
Samson S Com 4
Sennheiser HMD25-1, MKH-416
Shure FP22
Sound Devices HX-3
Telos Zephyr Xstream
Whirlwind Imp 1x3

Game Personnel

John Martin - Executive Producer
Ivan Sokalsky - Game Producer
Mike Soucy - Field/Studio Producer
Jon Sciambi - Play by Play Announcer
Chris Singleton - Game Analyst
Marc Kestecher - Studio Host
Peter Pascarelli - Studio Analyst
John Rooney - Studio Analyst
Al Rosenberg - Game Technician
Bob White - Studio Technician

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