Networks’ Audio Sounds Some New Notes for NFL Season

There will be some new wrinkles in NFL sound across the networks this season, nuanced but noticeable. Perhaps the most pronounced change is the new parabola-microphone mount that Fox Sports is rolling out in force, having experimented with it over the past four months.

The new parabolic, fabricated by Klover Products of Janesville, WI, has what Klover President Paul Terpstra says is a “true” parabolic design, intended to focus the audio more intensely and exclude extraneous sound.

“Other [parabolic enclosures] are what I’d call hemispherical,” Terpstra says. “They [are said to] allow for more flexibility in terms of how the microphone is aimed inside. That might be good in theory, but it sacrifices clarity when you can focus on multiple points and distances.”

The search for a new parabolic commenced two years ago, after the league moved the umpire, whose microphone was used to pick up cadences and other scrimmage audio elements, to reduce injuries to officials. And that was when Terpstra, a mechanical engineer, was introduced to Fox Sports execs at the 2010 All-Star Game.

A full complement of the new parabolics — two per sideline and one each in the two end zones — was first used on preseason-game telecasts on Fox. Klover has fabricated more than 50 units of the Klover MiK 26 — enough to equip six NFL and three college crews — for delivery to all the Fox teams covering football, including college games.

According to Fox Sports audio consultant and senior mixer Fred Aldous, the new parabolic dishes will initially be fitted with Neumann KM183 microphones. “But, with the new design,” he says, “we are going to go back to the drawing board and test several different mics over the next several weeks to make sure we are getting the most out of the parabs by putting the correct mic in there.”

Terpstra says Fox Sports’ involvement in developing the MiK 26 warrants giving the network exclusivity through the 2012-13 NFL season; after that, it will become available to other customers. CP Communications has purchased several to be used as spares on Fox games this season.

“These new parabolic microphones sound very good,” says Michael Davies, director of engineering for Fox Sports. “We’ve especially noticed the improvement on college football,” which he says has never allowed the umpires to be wired for sound. “We’ve always had to depend on sideline microphones, parabola mics and camera mics, to pick up the audio for those games.”

He adds that, although the design of the parabolic has been mostly finalized, there will be some tweaks in the future, including ways to strengthen the enclosures, based on this season’s experience using them. Some additional training is also necessary, Davies says, because the true-parabolic design makes them more directional than the more conventional designs.

“The [conventional] design allows more flexibility in terms of not having to intensely focus directly on the subject, but [it does] so at the expense of fidelity,” he explains. “With these, we have to work harder at pointing them, but the payoff is [more precise] audio.”

Fox has also implemented new hard-disk–recorder software for the first time this season. Sigma Broadcast’s SpotOn is a utility that can play out WAV- or MP3-format audio files from a touchscreen, keyboard, or mouse. Davies says SpotOn was being used by Sky Sports, which is partially owned by News Corp., which also owns Fox.

Fox gave it a tryout during NASCAR shows, and A1s liked it, he says. The unit replaces the Instant Replay hard-drive player previously used in the field for prerecorded audio elements. It also automatically creates a log indicating which elements were used and for how long, lightening the A1’s administrative load.

CBS Adds New Wireless
Other networks have some new wrinkles of their own this year. Phil Adler, longtime A1 for CBS NFL shows, says he and several other A- and B-game crews will be using Sennheiser SK2250 wireless packs. The custom, 250-mW version of Sennheiser’s SK2000 bodypack produces extra output power to allow the transmitter to send the signal farther. CBS has also replaced its small Mackie submixers with a newly updated Midas Venice II mixer, a transition that began last season. Adler says this move, too, was partly a reaction to the loss of the umpire microphone two seasons ago.

The combination of Big Ears parabola mounts loaded with Sennheiser MK2 microphones through the new wireless system and mixed through the Midas console has produced a significantly improved audio signal. “It sounds amazing, crisp and clear,” says Adler. “We had to dial back some of the high end off the parabolas, it was so clear.” CBS Sports is also deploying DaySequerra’s new iLM8 loudness meter to ensure that its live 5.1-surround mix and downmixed stereo content meet CALM loudness requirements, DaySequerra-DTS Mono2Stereo processors are helping improve announce quality and control of mono content on the fly.

At ESPN, Monday Night Football A1 Scott Pray says this year is a relatively quiet one on the audio front, sandwiched between last year, when ESPN changed its submixing to a Stagetec Aurus digital console, and next year, when four new MNF trucks will roll off NEP’s assembly line. But even small changes mean a lot: Pray notes that trimming announce talent in the booth from three to two this year means one less open microphone, reducing the noise floor and crowd-noise intrusion into the center channel.

ESPN also has a streamlined music arrangement this season, with an on-site music director, Jon Bonci, working closely with the network’s music department in Bristol, CT. Pray says he has about 72 music cues per game and they are built around city, team, and game-strategy themes. Music is pulled down from links to ESPN’s Bristol servers and stored on a local disc drive at the game site.

“The music is more specific to the game and the location every week now,” says Pray. “It also works more smoothly with the graphics and gives us a fresh sound every week.”

On the college side, ESPN has brought all of its dozen or so shows each weekend up to discrete 5.1 surround, a process begun last year. This includes the taped shows shipped to affiliates, which are now all compatible with discrete surround. All the college games will use a DaySequerra iLM8 loudness meter, and all college packages will use a Bexel-supplied booth fiber kit and IFB rewetters on the booth end of the chain.

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