California Chrome’s Big Moment Will Be in 5.1 Surround Sound

By: Dan Daley, Audio Editor, Sports Video Group

The NBC Sports Group’s Triple Crown show on Saturday will be in 5.1 surround audio for both NBC and NBCSN. In fact, the contender for the first Triple Crown in 36 years is prompting the Peacock network to expand its overall programming around the Belmont Stakes race to 16 hours, beginning with documentary and other packages on Wednesday evening and culminating with the race itself on Saturday, when Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome could become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

According to Rob Hyland, coordinating producer of NBC’s horseracing coverage, the show’s audio on race day will follow the horses from the paddock to the track, providing a narrative that leads directly to the start of the race.

“We’ve choreographed the way we’re going to present the time after ‘riders up’ through the beginning of the post parade,” he says. “‘New York, New York’ will play while the horses are in the paddock, and, once that song finishes and you hear the call to post, we added a couple of microphones … to be in that tunnel with Chrome as he makes his way through. At a certain point, [NBC Sports commentator] Tom Hammond will get it back to Tom Durkin, the track announcer, who will let the crowd know that the Derby winner and Preakness winner California Chrome is about to make his way to the track. We’ll have some microphones to account for this moment. We will definitely take advantage of 5.1 surround.”

There’s a lot to mix, and A1 Wendel Stevens, who also mixes NBC’s flagship Sunday Night Football franchise, follows a formula for sports in surround, whether it’s NFL or horseracing. “The event action takes place in the front left and right,” he explains. “The announcers are hard center; the surrounds are primarily used for surround-sound crowd mics. Our surround-sound image is focused primarily around the finish line and winner’s circle. There is a stage with musical performances at the finish line, which make it the natural center of things. Our eight crowd mics, [which are] a combination of Sennheiser 416s and ME64s, are located around this area.”

A pair of Sennheiser 416 shotguns on two robotic cameras will be in the tunnel to capture swelling crowd sounds as the horse approaches the track. Additional microphones will be on Chrome’s owner Steve Coburn and trainer Art Sherman. As often happens with high-profile events, participants may be wired for sound, but the A1 won’t know if that will occur or which participants it will be until just before the start of the event.

That’s the case at the Belmont Stakes, where Stevens says up to three mics will be available for jockeys. BSI will supply the high-power microphone transmitters with Sennheiser MKE2 lavaliers. Race caller Larry Collmus will wear a Sennheiser headset system to describe the race for viewers. “It works well for me to hear the broadcast and myself and drown out the crowd,” he says.

Stevens will be working from NEP’s ND3 truck, which has been the primary remote truck for the Triple Crown for nearly a decade.

Wendel, who has mixed the Triple Crown on NBC since 2011, says the audio mix communicates the narrative emotionally. “Our producer, Rob Hyland, wants to lean more on nat sounds during certain sections of the show. He wants to convey more of the buildup, tension, and emotion of the crowd and event by letting me and my audio crew push things a little bit, when it makes sense. My crew spends about a week setting up the horse race, with announce locations everywhere around the track. Making sure that a 100-plus–person crew can communicate is just as big a job as mixing the show. But, for me, the time between the call for ‘riders up’ and the end of the race is some of the busiest and most exciting in television.”

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