Live From The Open: ESPN Audio Team Ready To Bring the Sounds of St. Andrews to Millions
ESPN’s production of The Open (more commonly known in the U.S. as The British Open) begins in earnest on July 16 with a full day of coverage that will rely as much on a wealth of audio sources as on a wealth of video sources to help give golf fans at home the sensation of being on the Old Course in St. Andrews. And the challenge this week is a bit more than usual, with both rain and wind in the forecast.
“Rain isn’t as challenging as the wind, and we also have to utilize a certain bit of technology to get the plane out of the audio mix as it is buzzing around,” says Kevin Cleary, remote audio specialist, ESPN.
While lead audio mixer Jamie McCombs and audio submixer Peter Puglisi handle the audio mixing, Cleary is making sure that transmission is just as spot on. He will be handling transmission checks to ESPN’s Digital Center in Bristol, CT (via Level 3 fiber and SIS satellite).
“There are a lot of moving parts, with the work Peter and Jamie are doing and then integrating in SportsCenter,” says Cleary.
One thing the team won’t have to worry about getting out of the mix is the noise of fans who, back in the U.S., can interfere with a production with screams and yells timed to make it to air.
“St. Andrews has a very respectful crowd,” says Cleary,“and they are much more fans of the game than of individual players.”
McCombs concurs on the difference in the fans. As for the wind and rain, fuzzy wind covers can help with both cutting down on the sound of the wind and dissipating the sound of the rain.
“We struggle with how to protect the mics from the elements,” he explains. “You want to make sure they don’t fail on you and also don’t overwhelm with the sound of rain beating on them.
While McCombs focuses on bringing the sound effects together with the music and announcer mics on an audio board that is actually two Calrec Artemis boards tied together, it is up to Puglisi to bring together the 72 mics provided by the BBC (including a tee mic, a fairway mic, and two green mics) with 50 unilateral ESPN mics on the course.
“All the signals are discrete, with our 50 mics capturing more of the crowd with mics in the fan areas and pavilions,” adds McCombs.
A true links course, St. Andrews presents a challenge compared with more-modern golf courses, which can provide natural places for galleries of fans to stand. A true links course has nine holes linked in a line heading out from the first tee and then nine holes linked in a line heading back in. At the Old Course, the first tee is next to the 18th hole.
“The biggest problem here is, there are no galleries around the greens,” says Puglisi. “For example, on the third and 15th holes, the crowd on the third hole will cheer for the players on 15, and the crowd on 15 will cheer for the players on three.”
The most important holes from an audio standpoint are the tee at the first hole and the entire 18th hole. Puglisi has eight mics at his disposal on the first tee; on the 18th hole, there are mics under the famed Swilcan Bridge and four more along the fairway.
“There are no holes in the audio as they walk up the fairway,” he adds. “You can hear what you see.”
Other mics on the course include five shotguns that are able to move around independently, four parabolics, and then seven mics inside bunkers around the course. Also helping out is an Izotope ANR-B adaptive noise-reduction unit, which can take the noise frequencies where the airplane propellor is heard and quiet them greatly.
“We just try to follow along with the pictures and try to make it sound better than it looks,” says Puglisi.
Adds Cleary, “We’re looking for more-nuanced sounds of golfers on the course and the sounds of the game rather than the sounds of the crowd. It’s a nice balance.”