Audio for Professional Bull Riders Shows Goes for Both Venue and Broadcast
To some, PBR is code for a beverage once found in bowling alleys and enjoying a resurgence in urban hipster enclaves. But, in much of the rest of the country, that acronym conjures up the meanest eight seconds imaginable. That’s how long competitors in the Professional Bull Riders shows have to try to stay atop a 1,650-lb. bucking bull. These weekly touring competitions are also a niche in broadcast sports where the live sound and the televised audio interact more vigorously than in most sports.
Brady Schwarz is the touring FOH mixer for PBR. Through a Midas M32 digital console, he takes in signals from the two venue announcers, Brandon Bates and Cliff Atkins, who keep the crowd apprised of the action through handheld Heil PR 35 microphones from a podium just in front of the FOH position, and from a DJ who creates the shows’ live underscore, including walk-on themes chosen by each rider.
One other sound source is unique to PBR: Flint Rasmussen, aka The Entertainer, is part emcee, part interlocutor, part equilibrist. With painted face, he prowls the ring, keeping the audience engaged between rides with wisecracks, banter with the announcers, and the occasional song — often while climbing the ring’s rails and other structures — through a Countryman boom microphone paired with a Lectrosonics UM400 wireless beltpack transmitter fitted with a custom mute switch (a Lectrosonics REFUM), similar to ones used by referees.
All wireless mics use a Lectrosonics Venue system. Live sound is pumped through 60 JBL VerTec boxes, powered by Crown 8000 amplifiers, in a flown center array that PBR owns and that has traveled with the show for five years.
The Broadcast Side
Out in the IMS Productions main truck, A1 Mark Harrier takes in audio from a number of sources: mainly Audio-Technica BP4029 stereo shotgun crowd microphones placed along the perimeter railings, four Sennheiser 416 shotgun mics attached above the chutes, and A-T BP4027s and 4029s on handheld cameras. Other sources include commentary from the broadcast announcers working from a booth just above the bull-release gate and interviews by arena reporter Leah Garcia, using a Lectrosonics handheld mic microphone.
Most critical, through, says Harrier, is the audio from eight riders — of the 40-plus who compete each day — wearing Lectrosonics transmitters connected to Countryman omni lavaliere microphones. (A ninth mic is a lavaliere on “Shorty” Gorham, one of the “bull fighters” who distract the bulls to allow the rider to escape after a ride.) These are tucked into riders’ vests, often into the same pockets they use to hold their gloves before a ride, secured with gaffer’s tape.
“That’s where the best sound comes from,” says Harrier. The mics capture everything from anxious conversations as riders lower themselves onto the bulls to the bone-jarring thuds as their bodies hit the ground. In between are plenty of opportunities for colorful language.
Most of the shows are taped and shown later, but key shows — such as the Jack Daniel’s Music City Knockout event, which took place last weekend at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena and is part of PBR’s Built Ford Tough Series (BFTS) — are shown live on CBS Sports.
Harrier’s strategy for ducking “F-bombs” is his familiarity with the riders. “I know which guys will probably drop an F-bomb when they hit the ground,” he says. “Some of them will say it while they’re still in the chute. We all do the show week after week so I get to know which ones tend to get colorful and when.”
The BFTS is televised every week on CBS Sports Network, with the final rounds of the two-day competition shown on CBS Television Network on Sunday Aug. 23. BFTS telecasts are produced for the PBR under a multi-year agreement with David Neal Productions, a Los Angeles-based production company led by Emmy Award/Peabody Award-winner David Neal, who serves as executive producer.
Venue sound and broadcast audio have few boundaries between them. “Viewers at home will hear some of the DJ music in the venue through the crowd mics,” says Schwarz, talking on a break before a mid-August show at the Nashville event. “The trucks will also send me their signal as a stereo mix, along with a separate channel for Leah, if we need to bring any of that to the crowd in the arena. We have to test her mic especially carefully before each show, because, if they change a patch in the truck during the show, we could get some very nasty feedback in the arena if we put her microphone live.”
Schwarz also gets a stereo mix from the Click Effects CrossFire video and graphics system in one of the IMS trucks, for a total of five audio lines coming into the venue, as AES digital audio on a fiber cable. Home viewers will hear music through the open effects and crowd mics. “There is a lot of cross-pollination of audio for these shows,” he notes.
In addition to mixing the live sound for the house, he also mixes for a live show on Sirius XM and for a live-streaming show from PBR LIVE via CarbonTV. It’s a lot to keep track of, and he relies on a few listeners around the country to text him feedback on those additional mixes. “They’ll listen,” he says, “and let me know if they need to hear more of one thing or less of another.”
Everyone involved in the production of bull riding says nothing prepares you for it. “It’s not a formula show,” says Harrier. “It’s chaos, slightly controlled, and like no other sport.”
Director Brian Douglas acknowledges the niche nature of PBR but says that’s part of its charm. “You’ll be surfing through channels and see this and stop and go, ‘Wait a minute.’ You’ll watch because it just grabs you.”