Jeri Palumbo Thrives in the Hot Seat

There are a number of A1s who have a decade and a half of experience mixing throughout the major leagues — NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA — as well as NASCAR races and have done these shows for the leading sports networks —  ESPN, TNT, Fox Sports. Only one of them, however, also looks good in a dress.

Jeri Palumbo’s résumé demonstrates a wide range of expertise. The West Virginia native started out down a music track when she entered Julliard at 19. Her music-arrangement and orchestration skills landed her session work in Manhattan recording studios in the 1980s, where she was bitten by the tech bug at a time when audio was just beginning its migration to digital.

“I discovered the Fairlight, and it rocked my world,” she says of her first interaction with that seminal digital audio workstation and sampler. Like many musicians at that time, she initially viewed the MIDI-powered world of synthesizers, samples, and drum machines as competition for flesh-and-blood musicians, but, in short order, she came to view digital audio’s promise as a boon to sound in general. Her interaction with the Fairlight also sparked a nascent affinity for technology, and, after a move from New York to Charlotte, NC, Palumbo found herself simultaneously playing in a band and working on IT systems for a major bank, where she did such chores as beta-testing the original IBM OS/2 and Microsoft Windows Op systems and supporting the bank’s interstate LAN systems.

‘A Baptism by Fire’
But Charlotte has more to offer than banking, and she soon found herself combining her audio knowledge and musical talents doing postproduction audio at MediaCom, a production facility whose clients included ESPN and Speed channel, editing audio for sports and other shows on an Avid AudioVision. And in a classic scenario that has played out thousands of times on music recordings, one fateful day, Palumbo was called in to replace an A1 on a live sports show NASCAR RaceDay, then on TNN. Except it wasn’t quite the plucky understudy doing a “show must go on” number for an ailing star.

“I found out later that no one wanted the job,” she recalls, laughing. Perhaps not knowing what she was in for was a kind of blessing. “I said I do postproduction and not live mixing, but they just said audio is audio. The show had several live satellite feeds, and I was learning it on the fly. It was really the hot seat. Just before the show, the EIC gave me a phone number and said, Call this if you have a problem with the mix minus. I looked at him and said, ‘What’s a mix minus? I do postproduction!’”

But it was that show that Palumbo looks back on as the real beginning of her career as a broadcast-sports A1. It’s the kind of accidental good fortune she wishes on everyone but also wishes didn’t need to be bestowed.

“It was a baptism of fire, and, while that’s the way it still seems to have be to get started in this, it would be better if there were more internship opportunities in broadcast audio,” she says, in the same breath acknowledging that live location mixing is not where networks are inclined to take chances on new faces. (She’s a huge fan of Sennheiser’s program that picks promising broadcast-audio aspirants and lets them shadow a pro for a day on big shows.) When she lectures at audio schools and programs, she says, she encounters a maddening lack of awareness of the potential of broadcast audio as a great career track, not only on the part of the students but often by the instructors as well. Only rarely does she find teachers who proactively bring broadcast sound into their curriculum, singling out Appalachian College in Moore, NC, as one of those few.

Although she expects that the development process for future A1s will continue to be more circumstantial than intentional, as it was for her, she’s pleased with the proliferation of regional sports networks and more collegiate and high school games getting onto television, which will offer more opportunities for entry-level audio professionals. “That will increase the odds of something happening,” she says.

As for being a woman mixing major-league sound, Palumbo doesn’t view herself as an anomaly, preferring to believe that craft trumps gender. That’s not to say she hasn’t had her share of sexist experiences. She recalls one show in particular where the directors made snide comments on an open comms channel throughout the show, topped off by one of them coming back at the end of the show, leaning over ,and asking her if she’d like to go somewhere later for a drink.

“You just have to have the personality that can take that, a thick skin,” she says, adding, “It’s also good be able to give it back as good as you get, too.”

Keeping her cool under those circumstances has been why Palumbo has turned mixing sports into a lucrative career. Thoroughly enjoying what she does is what keeps her there.

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