NASCAR Roars Back on NBC
NASCAR’s reappearance on NBC, starting with the Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series this past weekend, heralds no major audio changes, but the Peacock network has followed through on its intention to make it “bigger and bolder.”
“A lot of great work has gone into perfecting the sound of NASCAR by some great audio people in the 10 years since NBC held rights for the races, so I would say there is no major reinventing of the wheel,” says Karl Malone, director of sound design, NBC Sports. “[But] we are taking the experiences gained in those in-between years and making sure we can accurately tell the story of the races in the best way possible for the viewers at home.”
NBC Sports fielded a total of 214 microphones, including those used for the prerace coverage and the in-car stereo effects mics, with about 200 of them for the race itself. The mics range from DPA de:fine 66 and 88 headset mics to Audio-Technica BP4029 stereo and Sennheiser MKH8070 shotgun mics.
According to Malone, the new Game Creek trucks built for this application provided the capability for sharing resources intelligently, using the Calrec Hydra network as well as router connectivity. A total of five consoles mixed different aspects of the race, from the prerace show and the race submix to the live and playback feeds of communications between drivers and their pit crews.
“These driver-and-crew communications are sometimes where the stories unfold and are critical to being part of the narrative of the race,” Malone explains. “Capturing these communications live is not the problem; when to push the fader on those live conversations is when the talent and experience of the audio engineers shine through. It’s live TV sports at its most exciting.”
(As SVG reported last week, the decision to tap Game Creek Video to build the production unit that the NBC NASCAR production team will call home for the next five months was a departure; NBC historically has relied on NEP Broadcasting. The production will rely on the new PeacockOne and PeacockOneB as the core production units, Robo1 to handle the robotic cameras and tape release, Discovery for the pre- and post-race coverage, and FXD for audio submix and editing.)
These NASCAR shows also signal that all NBC motorsports, including F1 and Indycar, are now in 5.1 surround. That, says Malone, is where NBC can create a signature sound.
“It gives us the ability to have a signature 5.1 architecture: for example, where we place the sound of the engine when we are using the POV in-car camera shot,” he explains. “Engine noise in Formula One and Indy cars come from the rear of the car, whereas NASCAR engines are in front of the driver but resonate throughout the car. We try to re-create accurately the positioning of the engine noise to relate to the POV camera. We do this for all NBC motorsports, and, like most creative audio, it adds to the viewers’ appreciation of the images they are seeing. BSI is handling the in-car RF camera and mics, and we are very looking forward to their rock-solid reliability and enhanced sound perspective from inside the vehicle.”
There are other things that Malone and his crew listen for. “NASCAR is a loud event, and, in the 5.1 world, intelligibility of the announcers in the stereo downmix is our goal,” he says. “The SPL levels can reach 120 dB when cars first peel out, and having a 6-dB separation between the center voice channel and the race sound in the front left and right speakers helps us maintain a clear amount of headroom for the talent mics to cut through and remain intelligible in such a dynamic audio environment.”
Going forward, viewers may also notice that there are more opportunities to just sit back and enjoy the sound effects. Malone says there will be some “drum solos” when the talent lays out and the noise takes over.
“This is primarily the director’s decision, and who knows how often that might occur,” he says, adding, “As much as we love our announcers and their storytelling abilities, we hope it happens a lot.”