Play to Radio’s Strengths With Remote Sports Broadcasts

Consider how to bump up the professionalism and cool factor of your remote broadcasts September 9, 2016

The Behringer 1202FX’s diminutive size makes it a great choice for a remote kit.
It’s mid-September and the high school and college football seasons have already gotten off the ground. Basketball is not far behind, either. The summer Olympics may have also inspired you.

Therefore, we’re going to consider how to bump up the professionality and cool factor of your remote broadcasts, and we’re going to show you a great example of what can be done to maximize their impact.

If you have any interest in sports at all, then you know the typical features of a TV sports broadcast. Amateur sports are pervasive on TV, and even though production values aren’t quite as high as professional sports, many of those elements are common.

The Beyerdynamic DT290—a medium price option
It isn’t hard to add sideline reporters and sideline microphones to your radio broadcast. You should also consider higher-quality audio, full-duplex links back to the station. This allows interactivity between the station and the remote venue — perfect for pre- and post-game shows.

Historically, a typical remote setup is a couple of inexpensive mics, stands and a single channel mixer, feeding an RPU transmitter that sends audio back to the station. This will get the job done — just like it has for the last 50 years — but it doesn’t leave any room for other remote features. You’d have to take your “cues” off the air, of course, which means you can’t use a delay; you need relatively good air monitor at the venue; and it certainly limits what you can do for away games.

HEADSETS AND MIXERS

Today, nearly all announcers use headsets that include a boom microphone.

The Audio-Technica BPHS1—an inexpensive option.
There are a myriad of such headset combos available, but to get you started, look at the Audio Technica BPHS1 (low price), the Beyerdynamic DT-290 MK ll (medium price) and the Sennheiser HMD-26 (higher price).

Mixers are another item of which there are dozens from which to choose.

When adding communications links back to the station (or even another venue), having multiple busses becomes an absolute necessity. Not only will you need the program bus — sending audio back to the station — but you’ll need a bus that handles headphone communications as well.

The Behringer Xenyx 1202FX comes with four mic preamps (on XLR connectors); one post-fader aux send per channel (which you could use to develop your headphone mix); and a three-band EQ per channel input. In addition, it has four stereo inputs (via 1/4-inch TRS) connectors. Main, FX and monitor outs are done via 1/4-inch TRS connectors.

The Denon DN-408x has an intuitive layout that can be learned quickly.
You could also consider the Denon DN-408X. It’s an eight-channel, two-bus mixer with five mic preamps (on XLR connectors). It also has two built-in compressors to better handle screaming announcers; built-in EQ; and balanced outputs (on XLR) with a USB port for getting audio in and out of a computer, which is great way to integrate pre-recorded interviews and game highlights.

The Henry Engineering SixMix has 10 inputs (two of which are mic level on XLR connectors) including an integral A/D + D/A digital audio USB computer interface. On the output side, it has a stereo Program mixing bus, a Mix-Minus output, a Cue bus with internal Cue speaker, headphone outputs for the operator and a guest as well as monitor outs.

The Mackie ProFX8V2 comes with four mic preamps (on XLR connectors) with optional phantom voltage; three additional stereo inputs (on 3/4-inch TRS connectors); and balanced outputs via XLR and 1/4-inch TRS connectors. In addition to its stereo bus (which has a ganged gain control), it has a stereo effects bus, a monitor bus and USB connections for getting audio in and out of a computer.

SIDELINES AND COURTSIDE

The ifbr 1a hooks on to your belt, gives you a headphone out, and allows for great mobility around a sports venue.
Sideline (or courtside) interviews are commonplace now. In order to accomplish these, you need both a wireless mic and wireless talkback, which necessitates mixers with multiple busses.

You will need to develop a headphone mix that all the talent can hear when using a roving reporter. In this way, the rover can hear the other talent and they can talk to one another in a bus that is “off-line.”

Choices in wireless mics are numerous and come in a wide range of prices. Among the many manufacturers to consider are Lectrosonics, Shure, Sennheiser, Audio Technica and Sony.

The ifbt4 features 250 mW of output power.Mounting the antenna as high as possible will give good coverage of any sports venue.”
Stay away from receivers that have fixed or integrated antennas; always go with a receiver with antenna connectors. That way you can connect a real antenna and locate it in such a manner that it has the best line-of-sight to where you expect your remote talent to be standing.

For example, if you are at a football venue, you will likely have line of sight to the entire field from the broadcast booth. Use a directional antenna in this application, and attach your antenna to the window sill and make sure no bodies will end up in front of it.

For basketball, the situation can be more difficult, since you will find yourself at courtside. One option (though you must make sure it is secure and can’t tilt over) is use of a tripod-type speaker stand with a short PVC extension. Place the antenna at the top of that, getting it up and over everyone’s head. Proximity to courtside would also dictate an omnidirectional antenna.

Removable front signage allows for branding customization for each tournament.
Wireless talkback may be new to you and there aren’t as many choices on the market. But again, look for talkback transmitters that have an antenna output via a connector; avoid any with an integrated antenna.

One such system is the Sennheiser EW 300 IEM G3. Among its salient features are its 1680 frequency choices in total (you specify the band when ordering); automatic scan for available channels; Ethernet access for the transmitter allows control via IP; operation in stereo mode; receiver battery indicator; and an auto-lock feature prevents accidental changes in settings.

Another choice for wireless talkback is Lectrosonics. The IFBT4 is a frequency-agile transmitter with 256 UHF channels available (using 100 KHz steps) and 250 mW of output power. Its complementary receiver is the IFBR1a, which will operate up to 8 hours on an alkaline battery. The transmitter features an XLR input and a mic preamp; the receiver is meant to drive headphones or an earpiece for the remote talent. The IFBT4 is meant to use an external antenna; mount the transmit antenna up as high as you can to optimize coverage to all remote talkback receivers.

THE BIG EARS

The spacious producer station features a custom-designed partially recessed rack for the console, VU meters and network closures, along with plenty of workspace.
Another common feature for courtside or sidelines are parabolic “ears” used for gathering live sound. (While this can add excitement to the live broadcast, make sure you are running the remote broadcast through a delay unit!)

Wildtronics makes a 22-inch clear polycarbonate parabolic reflector with an integral mic mount; you supply the mic. There’s an XLR output on the rear of the dish and a short cable is used to connect your mic to that output. You can hold the reflector and point it by hand, or you can use to attach the handle to a tripod by way of a 1/4-20 threaded socket. It’s quite likely you’ll be getting this mic audio back to the remote mixer by way of a wireless mic, and likewise, the person operating it will need his or her own talkback receiver.

COMMUNICATIONS BACK TO THE STATION

A look from the producer's seat during game action.
We all know about the popularity of amateur sports and how that translates in to sales potential. Still, money is always an issue when it comes to provisioning remote broadcasts. If you were to emphasize the purchase of new headsets, wireless mics and talkback, and perhaps even the “big ear,” you could easily find yourself over budget.

However, there are some relatively inexpensive means by which you can use the public internet to get your programming back to the station, to complete the system.

Use of Skype for inexpensive communications has been done for as long as AoIP has existed.

A relative newcomer to this space is ipDTL, which requires nothing but two computers (connected via the internet) running the Chrome browser and USB audio interfaces. A different service, also using Chrome, is Source-Connect Now. (Refer to the links in our “Resources” sidebar for more information on these services.  Both require a modest subscription fee.)

The Sennheiser HMDC 26—slightly more money.
Naturally, using the open, public internet for remote broadcasts presents potential problems. You get what you pay for, right?

The major issues typically are:

Availability. Sure, internet access is nearly ubiquitous. Still, if you don’t visit a venue ahead of time, you won’t know for sure whether or not it’s reliable — or even exists.

Traffic flow. Even if you know of a “solid” internet connection at a remote venue, you can never be sure how it will work for you when the venue fills up with fans and other users. A network connection provided by the venue could easily fail or slow to a crawl during an event. While this would be OK for live reads done by remote talent (which seem to be the emphasis of both ipDTL and Source-Connect Now), since they can always do multiple takes, it would clearly be unacceptable for a live sports broadcast.

User training. In my experience, many people doing remotes have enough problems making simple gear work for a remote. If you send them out with a computer that needs to be configured in any way, be ready for tons of panicked phone calls.

The engineering issues inherent with use of the public internet are effectively addressed in the designs of professional AoIP codecs, many of which have been previously discussed at length in Radio.

PUT IT ALL TOGETHER

The SixMix was designed by broadcasters and thus has a more familiar layout for radio personnel.
At this point, you may be thinking that no radio station puts this kind of emphasis on amateur sports, but I’m glad to disagree. Yes, they do! Let’s consider one example.

West Virginia Radio Corp. owns and operates 30 radio stations throughout West Virginia and Cumberland, Md., in addition to operating the MetroNews Radio Network, with more than 60 West Virginia affiliate stations.

MetroNews has held exclusive broadcast rights to the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission State Basketball Championships for more than three decades. MetroNews also has a newly formed partnership with the Mountain East Conference (NCAA Division II) to produce and distribute radio and television for its conference championship tournament annually.

Each year, the WVSSAC and Mountain East basketball tournaments are held in Charleston, W.Va., at the Charleston Civic Center over the course of a three-week period; and during that run, WVRC produces and distributes all 56 live basketball games on the radio, in addition to which they broadcaster 20 on television. 

WVRC’s typical arrangement for a radio crew includes three courtside talent positions: Play-by-Play, Analyst and a “spare” spot used for a coach’s postgame interview. Each is equipped with a headset and ClearCom announce box.

The producer/engineer is responsible for mixing the broadcast, as well as directing the talent and running all production elements, commercial breaks and pre-recorded interviews. The producer also edits interviews for upcoming games during the current game.

For many years, WVRC utilized venue-provided courtside conference-style tables for its talent and workspace. However, after recently entering into a long-term agreement with the SSAC for continued production of the events, WVRC decided it was time to build custom furniture, turning to David Holland of Omirax to get the ball rolling.

Its ability to pick up sound from sidelines or courtside will give your broadcast a very live feel.Make sure you use a delay unit as well—you never know what words will be uttered by players and coaches.
“We really put a lot of emphasis on the technical quality of our broadcasts,” said Chris Moran of WVRC. “The content and formatics of the show have always been top-notch, and are still to this day produced on-site for the entire tournaments by our President and CEO Dale Miller. But he also believes strongly in being world-class when it comes to the technical execution of everything we do.

“So our mobile production rig is no exception. We’re using a Mackie 1604VLX4 console that we built the furniture around. For media playback, we utilize a 360 Systems Instant Replay, as well as a VoxPro system for editing and playing back interviews. We use all Lectrosonics wireless mic and IFB gear for our sideline reporter. For transmission, we are sending our program back to Morgantown for uplink on two redundant paths — one using ISDN with Telos Zephyr Xtreme units, and the other over IP using Telos Z/IP Ones. Both paths carry full 20kHz stereo audio, as well as automation closures which we also originate from courtside.”

As one can easily see, if a high-quality, professional result is desired, the people producing the show need to know what they want and they must be willing to commit the resources needed (both human and financial) as well.  West Virginia Radio Corporations commitment to the WVSSAC is a great example of that.

One of the key phrases teams reiterate is that “there’s always next year.” Your season is likely well underway, and if it’s too late to implement now, it’s not to start planning ahead for next year. Remote sports broadcasts are a strength of radio, and you should always play to your strengths.

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