Venue Q&A: Clear-Com’s Rom Rosenblum

By Rick Price, chair, SVG Venue Initiative, and president, MOEBAM! Venue Media Services

rosenblum_romRom Rosenblum’s career has taken him from the radio department at Hofstra University in Hempstead, Long Island, where he received his operator’s license and discovered the world of broadcast engineering, to Houston, TX, where he worked locally as well as nationally and internationally (Olympics, World Cups) before heading to San Francisco and a position with Clear-Com.

Currently, Rosenblum serves as an applications engineer for Clear-Com, where he provides support, system pre-sales design, product development, post-sales support, and much more.

Rosenblum recently sat down with SVG to discuss his role at Clear-Com, the greatest challenges facing the venue industry, and best practices for wireless communications.

As an Application Engineer at Clear-Com, I am sure you get to meet a lot of people and solve a lot of problems… tell us about it.
It’s kind of a jack-of-all-trades position. Obviously, I help design systems. Our most common thing to do is to figure out how to take a device and turn it into a milkshake, something that it wasn’t necessarily meant to do but [the client may say] hey, I need it to do this but on Tuesday it has to do that and, oh by the way, on election night it has to do something completely different in 35 different ways. So, that’s kind of what we do. We figure out how to stretch it. We commission big systems when they go in, and train the staffs of whoever buys the system. We help out in product development.

Everybody in our business is damaged. We all wanted to be musicians or actors and we figured out fairly early on that we’re kind of good at the tech stuff and we could make more money and be less rejected at that. Feeding my ego by making new things and figuring out ways to help people, it pours gasoline on my fire.

Can you describe any common mistakes or issues venue operators experience when deploying, using, and managing an intercom system and the RF usage needed for proper operation? What are examples of current challenges have you seen/experienced with in-venue wireless communications?
Off the top of my head and in no specific order, not everything has to be on for every show. Sometimes, when you walk into a venue, you sniff out what’s going on there — there’s stuff lit up that they’ll never use on that particular show but [they may think] it’s on all the time so we’ll leave it on because we want to be able to claim this [space]. There should probably be some level of flexibility that doesn’t exist today.

[Secondly,] I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked out of a truck — because A1s, we all pride ourselves in not getting our fingers dirty by not getting in the elevator and going up to the press box – and seen five or six antennas from different kinds of systems within a like one- or two-foot space. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that you can’t do that. Very often in their zeal to get through the day, the A2 or the comm tech might not pay attention to the fact that there is a similar band antenna very close to where your stuff is deployed, and obviously that’s not good.

We, as a community, need to raise our voices because the IT guys have certainly done it and they’ve been able to get away with stuff that we have historically not been able to get away with, which is stretching the limits. You walk into any major stadium area even today with a 2.4 spectrum analyzer and there’s no noise floor anymore. There’s no noise shag rug any more. Everything is up to 11 and they seem to be getting away with it and now I understand why. So we need to stand up to these guys.  2.4, like it or not, is a place where, because of the licensing situation, a lot of our stuff is going to be for awhile.

To try to compete with that stuff is very hard, but the fact of the matter is, you go into a lot of stadiums and even the coaching staff can’t use their wireless stuff because of this overabundance of RF energy that the IT departments are putting out.

From a venue-operations and broadcast-support perspective, what are three best practices you recommend for ensuring all wireless comms will work in/at the venue?
First and foremost, it comes down to the architecture of the facility. There are places that are built with no consideration for RF propagation and it’s possible to not only build so that you have better RF propagation but also to remodel — when the remodels happen, as they all do — to be able to have that as one of things that you consider. Being aware of not putting barriers to RF in the way you build; there are ways to make concrete not so RF unfriendly, there are ways to build out walls so that there are places for RF to sneak around. There are ways to set up lighting so that they don’t create the electromagnetic field that can trap certain frequencies.

Number two is that to ensure — because everybody wants to host the Super Bowl one day — that there is an overabundance of dark glass and home-run category cable, preferably shielded, around your facility, not only between the truck dock and the booth but out to somewhere near the locker rooms, in different places around the field, making sure it gets up to the eyebrow area of the arena where you might want to be able to place things like secondary or tertiary antenna arrays or even something as simple as their being able to get a new technology comm box or follow-spot operator without having to make a home run.

Whatever you think you need, add another 25% and you won’t have enough two years from now. I think you need to plan in an overabundance of fiber and category cable.

Number 3 is I believe that every venue has to have, as part of its mandate, some administrative or managerial position that constantly trains their staff plus puts into play a cooperative group between the rights holders and either the unions or the guilds or whoever’s operating and keep a flow of new blood going through the system and cooperating with the manufacturers so people like us come in and are giving classes, or people are learning what the new technology is and challenging it and finding new ways to get more out of it than we imagined. I think there’s a responsibility towards education that is never given enough credence and the venue itself needs to take some responsibility for that.

Based on your experience, tell us what you think next big development that will challenge effective RF management in sports venue audio/video technology.
We’re going to lose spectrum more and more and more and this is something we’re all going to have to learn to swallow. We’re going to have to change our ways by an order of magnitude. We’re going to have to lose RF gear because we’re just not going to have the space. Now, some of the technologies are moving forward to be able to play nice, but even those are not a big panacea.

Every chip that they take away provides another opportunity somewhere else if you’re lucky enough to see it. Now, having said that I believe that we’re going to see big boosts in fiber and network connectivity that’s going to allow us to do things that we haven’t yet imagined… It will require as us to be able to make some hard choices and to get those production teams to make those hard choices and I think that’s part of our responsibility to be able to help them gain that kind of maturity. As an A1 I can tell you any piece of RF gear that I can put away and not use is a big deal.

SVG’s next addition to the SVG Venue Playbook will be RF Management Best Practices for Venue Operators white paper–  Is creating a document like this a valuable resource for the industry? Why?
It’s in everybody’s best interest to make sure that we’re all playing nicely together. As we move into some different technologies like frequency-hopping spread spectrum — which has been an uphill fight for guys like us because we make products that utilize that — very few people understand it. As we move towards those new technologies, papers like this will be invaluable if in nothing else explaining these technologies to the general population, which is vital. It has to happen.

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