Turner, Fox Gear Up for MLB Postseason Sound
It’s that time of the year again, and the MLB postseason games have expanded once more: a new wildcard-playoff round starts with the American League game on Oct. 5. And both Turner Sports, which will broadcast the wildcard, ALDS, and NLDS games as well as the ALCS, and Fox Sports, which will show the NLCS and the World Series, are gearing up their sound for these shows.
One Word: Logistics
For Turner, the biggest challenge for sound this year is logistical: the network is covering all the wildcard games and won’t have a settled schedule until just days before the wildcard rounds begin. “We’re hoping the teams cooperate and don’t change [seed] positions, so we’ll know where we’ll need to be,” says Tom Sahara, VP of operations and technology at Turner Sports.
Among the postseason variables will be the number of remote units Turner will need to cover the wildcard, ALDS, and NLDS games, which Sahara estimates will be between six and nine trucks. And which trucks those are will be determined by their proximity to the venues closer to game time.
“The extra wildcard games leave us very little time to adjust,” he says. “We’re beyond biting fingernails; we’re working on our wrists now.”
Turner will broadcast all the games in discrete 5.1 surround and intends to utilize it more fully this year, Sahara says. “It will be more immersive than in the past” and will draw on Turner’s use of it throughout the regular season for the network’s Sunday-afternoon game package. The broadcaster will also apply the ITU-R BS.1770-2 loudness-metering/normalization protocol that Turner Sports adopted after the standard was issued last year. Turner’s audio teams will use the Dolby LM-100 meter for loudness monitoring.
Sahara says that, although no specific new techniques or technologies are being applied to postseason broadcasts this year, what viewers will hear will be a highly consistent sound from game to game, league to league, as a result of intensified interaction among Turner Sports’ A1s. Led by lead mixer Jim Budka, the A1s participate in scheduled conference calls that discuss various techniques, such as miking home plate with parabolic or shotgun microphones, debating the mics’ various merits, and then agreeing on a unified approach for all the broadcasts.
“That consistency is going to come from that exchange of ideas, for sound around home plate, around the bases, and in the outfield,” says Sahara. “Jim develops the audio philosophy by talking with the show’s directors and producers. Then we take that and talk with the mixers about how to achieve that vision.”
New Parabs for Fox
At Fox, A1 Joe Carpenter says the focus remains on 5.1-surround mixing. Working from either Game Creek Dynasty or NCP 10 truck, depending on the city, he’ll have the expanded postseason array of microphone sources to work with. These include Sennheiser SK250 transmitters and MK2 lavalieres positioned in the bases and a Quantum transmitter fitted with a DPA omnidirectional lav on the umpires and, he hopes, two players from each team per game. MLB greenlights the use of microphones on the umpires but gives each an on/off switch; miking players is at the teams’ and the individual players’ discretion.
“Baseball players are superstitious,” Carpenter notes. “If they let us put a mic on them once and they had a good game, they’ll likely let us do it again. If they didn’t have a good game, probably not.”
He may also try to work in some of the new parabolic microphones that Fox commissioned from Klover Products for the current NFL season. The mic’s “true” parabolic design is intended to more intensely focus the audio at a target and exclude extraneous sound.
But mainly, Carpenter says, he will be refining the 5.1-surround mix. Some of that will come through sharply changing the focus of the surrounds and the main action in certain situations.
“If the runner leads off first and the pitcher tries to pick him off, as the camera goes tight in on the play, I’ll collapse the sound around that,” he explains. “You have the close-in sound from the base mic catching the pop of the ball in the glove and the sound of the slide, you hear the ump make the call, and I’ll bring the crowd in around it. It becomes almost a fast mono, in-your-face kind of perspective. Then it eases back. It’s a great effect.”
Another effect has been to keep an ear on what’s happening off-camera, such as when a runner on second looks like he wants to take off, while the focus is on the batter at the plate. Carpenter begins bringing in the audio from the infield, such as a shortstop’s rising warning calls to the catcher. The viewer is alerted that there might be some infield drama about to take place even as the batter remains the focus of the shot.
“[Announcer] Phil Buck likes to have all of that kind of audio in his headset, and he might react to that before the cameras pick it up,” says Carpenter. “We have more microphones to work with [in postseason], but there’s more to it than just more sources. It’s how we’re evolving the 5.1 mix.”