Token Creek Mobile Gives High School Sports the Pro Treatment

Sports viewers in Wisconsin and Minnesota might be forgiven if they tune into a local hockey, basketball, or football game and mistake it for a professional match. Token Creek Mobile Television, a multi-truck company based in Waunakee, WI, has been sending high school games over a loose network of local television stations, led by ABC affiliate WKOW Madison, WI, in Full HD and stereo sound for four years.

High school sports are getting sophisticated coverage. Token Creek Mobile’s Chippewa truck, dedicated in part to coverage of high school sports, is fitted with a Calrec Artemis Beam audio console, and a planned HD truck that will also serve high school athletics will be equipped with a Calrec Summa (formerly called Callisto), the first of that type to be sold in the U.S. since its introduction here last October. The Artemis Beam console aboard Chippewa is a 64-fader console configured for 256×256 MADI, 128×128 AES, and 64×64 analog I/O, with the flexibility to take in 16 channel sources.

Brendan Clark, director of engineering at Token Creek Mobile, which also works regional NHL and NBA games and some NFL preseason games, says high school sports has been getting a virtually equal level of technology treatment in recent years, driven by the demand for televised sports and a viewer base that has come to expect HD picture and sound. Although the high school matches are mixed in stereo, Clark says he’ll deploy a microphone package equivalent to that used for college-game broadcasts, including separate microphones to pick up schools’ marching bands and cheerleaders. The A1 on a recent 16-game Wisconsin state basketball tournament had just returned from mixing some of the audio for the Sochi Olympics. “The technology and the talent are all at the same level you’d see with a major-league game,” he says.

Lots of Mics
Brad Zeimet, one of two A1s regularly working boys’ and girls’ basketball– and hockey– tournament broadcasts for Token Creek, on KSTC-TV Minneapolis-St. Paul, emphasizes that high school tournament productions in Minnesota get the same production treatment as pro-sports broadcasts. “The entire crew also works the pro- and college-sports broadcasts in the Minneapolis area, as well as national broadcasts,” he says. “I set up audio the same as if I’m working an NFL, NHL, NBA, or NCAA game. Just like with college events, the atmosphere and fan interaction in the building is an important part of the broadcast.”

When Zeimet works hockey, he sets up eight Crown PCC-16 boundary microphones on the glass, four at the blue lines and four in the corners, taped directly to the glass with clear packing tape. He positions four lavaliere microphones to cover school bands, one lav in each corner of the rink on the outside of the glass, and a general stereo crowd mic from the broadcast booth. There are also shotgun mics on all handheld cameras.

Basketball gets similarly sophisticated treatment. Multiple microphones are located on the hoops, with lavs nestled in the padding of the backboard right under the hoop and shotgun mics mounted on the stanchion aimed at the free-throw line, along with some shotguns placed on mic stands and pointed into the court at center court to hear the ball bouncing and sneakers squeaking.

“I also have some backcourt lavs to pick up the coaches yelling,” he adds. “These are taped under the top of the ad boards on the scorer table and pointed at each bench. We also put out shotguns mounted on the basket stanchions pointed toward each band location, and a general stereo crowd mic at the game-camera position.”

Football benefits from parabola dishes for distance pickup of sound, just as they are used at NFL and collegiate games. “I use two wireless parabs, one on each sideline, and then my operators work from end zone to end zone,” Zeimet explains. “However, one thing that is different than pro and college sports is that the [high school] teams will let the parab operators work through their sideline; at pro and college games, you are only allowed to work from about the 30-yard line to the end zone.”

One Aspect Not Miked
At the high school level, however, microphones on the field are not quite as omnipresent as they have become on pro sports. For instance, players and coaches are not miked, although audio from the referee wireless bodypacks is routed to both the PA system and the broadcast trucks. That underscores a critical rule for high school sports broadcasts, says Clark, which is that high school sports have to be presented in a positive light. Thus, foul language and any displays of bad sportsmanship, including partisan razzing, need to stay out of the soundtrack. That changes how the mix is approached.

“What we’ll do is concentrate harder on the effects microphones and sounds and downplay the ambient mics, the ones on the crowd,” he says. “You never know where a comment or catcall is going to come from.” To further support that kind of real-time editing, high school sports broadcasts are on a four-second delay during broadcasts.

Other than that, you might well be listening to a Vikings game. “Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between a high school game on television and a pro-league game,” Clark observes. “What we can bring to both of those kinds of shows these days is pretty much the same.”

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