Eight minutes or less

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Eight minutes or less

Jan 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Seth Vinitsky

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As an engineer, I tend to design projects geared toward engineers. By that simple, yet confusing statement I mean that often times I forget that the people who use most of our systems do not have signal flow diagrams floating around in their heads. So when tasked to design and build a remote broadcast studio for the network flagship broadcast of the Baltimore Ravens on WBAL and WIYY radio, I first had to determine who was going to run the broadcast and what needed to be accomplished. Running the broadcast fell to three talented producers, Matt Bochniak, Colin Ward and Ryan Bogash, who could make the end product sound air worthy. The goals were simply described and daunting: Build a remote rig that has all the capabilities of a broadcast studio including multiple sends, multiple IFBs, record capabilities, both off-air and live, redundancy, live updated copy but paperless, Internet connectivity and maintain enough flexibility to meet the capricious needs of an NFL broadcast, but can be broken down and stowed in less than eight minutes -- and make it user friendly. The time limit was set so that our personnel and gear would be able to ride with the team rather than incur the extra weekly cost of travel.

Remote overview

To be able to break down the remote in less than eight minutes, we needed to design an innovative way to run and pack the remote. We decided that during the run of the broadcast the remote rig must be modular, divided into six sections: two equipment racks, a mixer, a director rack, a highlight station and a locker room wireless mic/IFB set-up known as the "lunch box." Each piece when packed, including all wires, computers and monitors, fits into five Hardig cases that then nest together to form two large roll-able units.

Each section had to be pre-wired and then simply connected by 25-pair trunks. For the main backbone, we used Studio Hub+ mini-ties and pre-fabricated 25-pair Cat-5 terminated to Amphenol connectors. Every input and output was then represented on the mini-tie panels. All the producers have to do when setting up this remote is connect the mini-ties. While this may have been more work during the design and build process it allows for a much easier set-up and run of the broadcast because every broadcast becomes standardized. Every mix minus is run the same way, and every IFB works flawlessly because during the set-up there is no room for operator error. This type of design also allows us to comply with the breakdown time constraints.

Headphones, mix minus and IFB

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The broadcast package fits into a few road cases. Ryan Bogash sets the level on the crowd mixer.

One of the most complicated problems we encountered was determining what each person in the booth was going to hear, as each person had specific needs. The talent, Gerry Sandusky, Rob Burnett and Stan White, needed to hear a faux mix of the board that limited crowd noise so they didn't feel the need to scream and a return from the station. To accomplish this we used a Whirlwind Mix 44 that features four inputs and four outputs with each input able to mix to any of the four outputs. Input One to this unit was an auxiliary feed from the board while inputs Two and Three were feeds from the station (ISDN and POTS/ISDN backups).

Output One of the Mix 44 ran to a Henry Engineering Multiphone Master unit, which provides talkback interrupts to small headphone amplifiers. This product almost completely met our needs but in the end I needed to modify it slightly. To begin with, Sandusky, the main play-by-play announcer, and his spotter needed to hear cues from the director while Burnett and White did not, but all of them needed to hear the same faux feed. The Multiphone Master unit can run 12 multiphone slave headphone amps through three RJ-45 jacks but all of them hear the same feed and interrupt. By cutting a few traces and inserting a homemade op amp circuit I bypassed the talkback circuit on the third RJ-45 jack thereby allowing all talent to hear what they were supposed to and nothing more. The headphone amps also needed to be modified. They came from the factory in a small chassis without a back, a momentary cough switch and a status LED that was not wired to the circuit board.

With the help of a local metal shop we created a new chassis that included three surface-mount Neutrik Ethercon connectors on the back and a Neutrik female XLR connector on the side. I then changed the switch to a toggle and wired it to a DPDT relay that operated the LED as well as allowed audio to pass from the XLR mic jack to the Ethercon connector on the back. By making these changes we made a small box act as a mic on/off control and headphone amp, which eliminates clutter and is perfectly designed for a headset microphone.

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Checking the connections and paths before the fans arrive.

Output Two of the Mix 44 ran to a second Multiphone master that then sent audio to a wireless IFB and the locker room. The third output of the Mix 44 ran to an input on a Broadcast Tools 8x1 switcher that feeds a Fostex headphone amp for the director. Other sources on this switcher include a program feed of the mixer, the ISDN IFB from the studio, and prefader direct outputs from the mixer of the locker room, press room, phone hybrid and the field wireless.

The board operator also had specific headphone needs. He needed to hear a true program mix of the board as well as an interrupt from the director and the IFB from the station. To create this mix, I used a Fostex headphone amp PH-50, which has XLR, 1/4" and unbalanced auxiliary inputs. I fed the program to the XLR inputs, the IFB from the station to the 1/4" input, and through a Studio Hub matchjack I fed the balanced output of a third Multiphone master unit. To give the board operator even more capabilities we also built in a talkback microphone to a phone hybrid so that he could talk directly to the station at all times. In addition to this feed, the highlights operator also needed to be able switch to the output of his M-audio Fast Track Pro USB sound card fed by Voxpro, the system used to capture and cut highlights.

The third multiphone unit was also used to create an IFB to guests on the Comrex Hotline or phone hybrid. Creating this IFB was tricky. The Hotline and phone hybrid needed to have an independent mix minus from the console (Aux 2) and hear the talkback from the director. But at the same time we could not send Aux 2 to the board operator, as he needed to hear a true program mix. To accomplish this mix, we used a Broadcast Tools silence sensor and sent Aux 2 to the backup input and the talkback from the multiphone unit to the main audio input. We then set the silence sensor to return to the main audio channel with no time delay. In normal operation the silence sensor passes the Aux 2 audio to the hotline and hybrid but will instantly flip to the director's talkback microphone.

Remote to the remote

The "lunch box" was created to allow the producers the flexibility of broadcasting live from the locker room of any stadium while still meeting the time constraint of an eight-minute breakdown. The lunch box consists of a medium-sized pelican case with a wireless receiver, a wireless IFB and a small mic mixer. Three wires are then plugged in: send, receive and power. In a home game scenario the talent can use the wireless mic to roam throughout the locker and get interviews live to air. When the team is away, this wireless mic is typically used to pick up the post game press conference while a wired mic is used for the live interviews. Also stashed in the box is a hand-held flash recorder and another mic that is used by a producer to get the standard post game sound bites from the players. When the live segment is over the lunch box is packed and closed in less than a minute. The producer then runs back to the broadcast booth to pack the lunch box into the Hardig cases.

Highlights, sound bites and a paperless remote

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Matt Bochniak sets IFB levels before the broadcast begins.

During the game, Producer Ryan Bogash is constantly recording and cutting highlights for the halftime show and network post game show on a laptop running Vox Pro. We realized immediately that with the time constraints it would be impossible to stream these cuts in real time back to the studio and it would be equally impossible to run the highlights from the station for the network. To overcome these obstacles we equipped each laptop with a wireless broadband card and access to a secure FTP server to which they could upload all sound. The Audiovault was then set to scan the FTP server and import new audio as soon as it became available. This system also allowed our producers to upload the recorded post-game audio while traveling from the stadium on the team bus, making it almost immediately available to the local post-game shows.

A second laptop runs a program called Stinger, which is used to play short sound bites and interviews. The program is essentially a quick pick panel with keyboard shortcuts. The cuts on this computer were uploaded throughout the week preceding the game and are typically used during the pre-game show and rejoins. This allowed us the flexibility of quickly playing recorded audio with no need to cue, and does not affect our recording of highlights.

A third computer runs a live copy database that is mirrored on a flat screen monitor in front of the talent. This computer kept our broadcast booth completely paperless and allowed the director, Colin Ward, to quickly access the live copy for sponsored events throughout the game.


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Up and running and everything''s fine.

The next major hurdle we faced was redundancy. Typically on remotes there is one ISDN line. If the line fails, the remote is over and the studio takes over. In the case of a network broadcast this remote cannot fail and for that reason we added a Telos Zephyr Xstream and a Comrex Matrix with an ISDN module.

In locations where two ISDN lines are not available we use the POTS connection on the Matrix. For ease of use, all of the connections for the telecom equipment (a Zephyr Xstream, a Comrex Matrix, a Comrex Hotline and two Telos One hybrids) are brought out to a Belkin 12-port RJ-45 patch bay.

We also needed redundancy in recording for highlights and sound bites. In addition to the Voxpro system for recording highlights mentioned above, we included two Minidisc recorders. One records a straight program mix while the other is set to record a stereo mix of Aux 3 and 4 for off-air recording.

Equipment List

Audio Technica PRO49QL
Audion Labs Voxpro 4.0
Belkin RJ-45 patch bay
Broadcast Tools Silence Monitor III, SS 8.1 II
Comrex Hotline, Matrix
Crest Audio XR-20
Fostex PH-50
Hardig AP-39689, AP-39690
Henry Engineering Guestpod, Multiphones Lectrosonics IFB transmitter, Venue receiver
M-Audio Fast Track Pro
Middle Atlantic shelves and panels
Neutrik connectors
Sennheiser HMD25QX
Shure SM89, A89SM, A27M
Sony MDS-E11
Studio Hub+ Symetrix AGC
Telos Zephyr, One
Whirlwind MIX-6, MIX-44

Vinitsky is an engineer for WBAL and WIYY in Baltimore, MD.