Sound for Recent U.S. Opens Promises New Approaches for Postseason Baseball

The recently concluded PGA men’s and women’s U.S. Open tournaments saw some new approaches to broadcast audio. The Golf Hole Mic, a regulation golf-hole insert fitted with a microphone element and a battery-powered transmitter, made its world debut during Fox Sports’ broadcast of the men’s tourney from Chambers Bay in June and returned for the ladies’ last week in Lancaster, PA. For both events, 16 channels of audio were continuously recorded at all 18 holes, providing a comprehensive and instantaneous resource for replay audio, including that new microphone in the hole.

Although tonight’s MLB All-Star Game in Cincinnati, also on Fox, won’t offer a lot of new audio elements, its A1 and submixer had teamed up for the two golf events and expect to take some of what they experimented with there into the network’s postseason coverage later this year.

Joe Carpenter, A1 for both the U.S. Opens and the All-Star Game, says having a wide variety of discrete audio effects at so many locations during the golf shows added considerably to the shows’ intensity. The new golf-hole microphones — eight of them on Channel 6 of the 16-track EVS recorder — added drama, enabling viewers to listen in to caddy/golfer strategy conversations and also catching the sound of one ball hitting the flagpole on the fly. The “plop” mic on channel 5 captured the sound of the men’s tournament’s only hole in one, with four channels of shotgun mics on the putting greens recording the fans’ reactions. Channels 15 and 16 were the “sizzle” mics, including A2s thigh-deep in water hazards holding microphones on fishing poles to catch the splash.

“It really added depth to the replays,” says Carpenter. “And we were able to sneak a little of them onto air when it made sense.”

There are no golf-hole microphones at the All Star Game, but the 16-channel continuous-recording concept will likely find its way into broadcast audio for postseason baseball, predicts Bob Qua, submixer for both the U.S. Opens and the All-Star Game.

“We were recording prefader level [PFL] right to the tape machines, so, if someone missed something, we could call it up right away and have it there,” he says. “That would go for baseball, too: if a ball hits the foul pole, we can get that sound ready for the replay. It really can be applied to any sport; we were experimenting with it with golf. It’s a new way of doing things; it’s complex, but, once everyone understands the workflow, it’s really a great tool.”

Its use for baseball will require some adaptation in terms of signal path. Unlike for football or golf, where Qua does the submix from the audio compartment of an OB truck, he mixes baseball, including the All-Star Game, from the announce booth, from which he can see the entire field.

“I need to be able to see the entire game, everything that’s going on, at all times, and I can’t see that on a program monitor, not even on a wide shot,” he explains. “I need to be able to see where the ball is going to go, follow the left fielder as he sets up under it, but also keep an eye on the runner on first base to see if he tags up. You need to be able to see all of that to know what faders to open up.”

That will require some variation in the signal-transport scheme, when the 32-channel Prosonus console Qua is mixing through is a hundred or more yards away from the production truck’s router. “We’ll need to make the router work over fiber,” he says. “I’ve talked with the guys in the Game Creek trucks. Everyone says it can be done. We just have to get the right widgets in place.”

New Twists for All-Star Audio
But that doesn’t mean that the All-Star Game didn’t have a few new twists. Carpenter says that, in addition to the extensive complement of microphones usually deployed for the annual midseason match, this year, he’s using midsize Klover parabolics to cover home plate, which will better fit the tight backstop area at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Three will be used in padded boxes to increase their isolation from ambient noise.

“I’ll be able to grab a lot more gain on the front end,” says Carpenter. He’s also relying more on the Audio-Technica 4050 stereo condenser microphones and BP4025 X/Y stereo microphones he used on the crowd at the U.S. Opens.

Of all the effects mics on the field, Qua says, the most important remain the capsules embedded in the bases, paired with Sennheiser SK250 transmitters. The bags take a substantial beating during the game — between four and five complete sets of bases are prewired before the game by A2 Anthony LoMastro and are replaced as sets at the direction of umpires during the game. The transmitters are all tuned to the same upper-600 MHz frequencies, and each remains on as sets are replaced to avoid missing any audio.

That once caused a small kerfuffle during an All-Star Game. A promotion allowed a few lucky kids to come on the field and “steal” a base, and one of the kids took his back to his parents, the mic still hot. “We could hear him talking to them,” Qua recalls. “We had to find him and get the base back before we could go on.”

The All-Star Game also marks a milestone for Carpenter. The Cincinnati stadium is the only one he has never mixed a game in, and, as of this game, he’ll have completed the MLB circuit. Unlike some of the players, though, there’s not going to be any bonuses, although he was nonetheless optimistic: “I was hoping for a practice ball or a T-shirt.”

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