The Harlem Globetrotters Aren’t Just Whistling ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’

The Harlem Globetrotters recently finished their U.S. tour schedule. Actually, all three Globetrotters teams did, crisscrossing North America roughly from Christmas to early May before heading out on an international excursion and then a tour of military bases. The Globetrotters — the team turns 90 next year — aren’t a broadcast proposition most of the time, but they have plenty of on-court sound to match their athletics, theatrics, and comedy.

Andrew McCharen at courtside, mixing for the Harlem Globetrotters

Andrew McCharen at courtside, mixing audio for the Harlem Globetrotters

The Globetrotters field a full complement of players, as do their traditional and feeble nemesis, the Washington Generals. But all of their audio is controlled by one person for each iteration of the team. One of them, Andrew McCharen, brought a theater-technology background to what was his first time mixing a sports event this year, the Globetrotters’ “blue” team. It helped, he says.

“I mix the sound but sometimes will also do lighting and video cues,” says McCharen, who is also a stage technician at the University of North Florida Fine Arts Center in Jacksonville. Other than checking out a few Jaguars games there, he has had little direct experience with sports as a media-technology proposition. But the Globetrotters’ theatricality and athletic prowess made the experience a bit like mixing a Blue Man Group show.

“They keep me on my toes,” he says. “It’s a show, but they can go off-script unexpectedly, and I have to stay aware of what they’re doing at all times. If they need a certain microphone, I have to react fast without losing my cool. In fact, that’s one of the things they look for in a tech. They splash water a lot, and, if one of the microphones gets clogged, I’ve got to figure out which one it is and get it changed out, then get back to the console.” In other words, McCharen is the A1 and the A2 rolled into one.

He mixes the games courtside, through a Presonus 16-channel FOH console that usually plugs into the venue PA system, although the team also carries a small portable PA comprising four Mackie 15-in. speakers and a Crown 6000 Series amplifier for smaller venues and as a backup in case the main PA fails. Both referees are wired for sound, as are two Globetrotters and the “showman” — a team member-cum-interlocutor whose patter keeps the show moving — and the Generals’ coach. They wear Countryman B6 lavalieres, which the team switched to this season, McCharen says, because the mics are better able to withstand the water antics that are a big part of the act. Transmitters are a combination of Shure ULX and UR4 bodypacks. The announcer uses a Digital Reference DRV 1000 handheld mic.

The Globetrotters play venues ranging from NBA houses like the American Airlines Arena in Miami and the Staples Center in Los Angeles to college courts like University of Tennessee – Knoxville to high school and municipal event centers.

“It’s all over the place,” says McCharen. “The sound can change every night. I’ve learned that the baseline frequency for a bouncing basketball is around 100 Hz, where the ‘thunk’ and the ring are, where they resonate in an arena. From there, I have to be careful when two lavs pick up the dribble at the same time,” to prevent comb filtering and other artifacts when the same source is picked up by two transducers.

Also, he adds, he has to keep the dialog clear and above any effects sound, and, between players, coaches, and refs, there’s plenty of dialog. “I’m kind of limited in the amount of parametric [EQ] control that I have on this console,” he says.

McCharen communicates with house techs and the announcer via a Point Source Audio CM-i3 intercom headset, whose earbuds he prefers to more-typical over-the-ears muffs. “The earbuds are a slick solution,” he says. “There’s no more getting tangled up when in a hurry. I love being able to remove an earbud in a split second in order to react to a mixing challenge.”

But he gets most of his audio cues for adjusting the sound from the court, where even gestures from a showman like 6-ft.-7 former Chicago Bulls draft pick Hi-Lite Bruton might get missed in the melee. “You have to constantly watch them to make sure they’re getting what they want,” he says.

Nonetheless, McCharen would be up for another tour with the Globetrotters if the opportunity arises next year, he says. “It’s sports and theater all in one.”

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