MLB Postseason Preview: Three Networks Gear Up for Big Sound
In-grass and player mics are part of the audio-gathering arsenal
All you need to know about the broadcast audio for the MLB Postseason could be summed up in the moment when Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton made a heroic catch of a ball hit by New York Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier in the second inning. The impact of Buxton’s slamming into the padded outfield wall sounded like a John Bonham kick drum, picked up by ESPN’s Crown PCC160 boundary-layer microphones ringing the outfield wall. It announced that baseball’s effects sound had reached a new and noisy plateau.
All three networks involved have geared up their sound for the MLB Postseason. ESPN worked the AL Wild Card game. Turner Sports handled the NL Wild Card game and will handle the National League Division and Championship games. Fox will cover the American League Division Series (along with MLB Network) and Championship Series and the World Series. It’s a lot of baseball, and it’s going to generate a lot of sound.
In recent years, both Fox Sports and ESPN have migrated some football effects-capture techniques to baseball, such as on-player audio (and, in Fox’s case, some of its golf experience, too). For Tuesday’s AL Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium, ESPN augmented the in-ground Quantum5X AquaMics that it buried in the grass around home plate for the Sunday Night Baseball season with additional in-ground mics at the pitcher’s mound (one of which was accidentally crushed during pregame activities) and along the first- and third-base lines. A1 Dan “Buddha” Bernstein and submixer Joel Groeblinghoff managed the audio from the NEP EN2 truck.
“The home-plate microphones were game-changers,” says Kevin Cleary, specialist, remote production operations, ESPN. “When we first heard them, in Houston at the start of the season, we looked around the room; we thought this was an anomaly. But then we kept getting that amazing bat crack every time. Having those microphones and getting those sounds had made us rethink how we do some things.”
According to A1 Joe Carpenter, Fox’s audio will build on techniques the network used in last year’s World Series and this year’s All-Star Game. These also include Q5X AquaMics, 14 of which will be buried in the shallow outfield, near each infielder’s position, and around the pitcher’s mound.
Carpenter, who’ll be working out of NEP’s EN2 truck in New York and Game Creek’s Yogi in Cleveland for the ALDS, says he relies less on in-ground microphones at home plate and more on the parabs in that neighborhood, with their A2s helmeted and positioned closer to the baselines. “I think the parabs pick up more detail — the sound of the Velcro on a batting glove being ripped open,” he says.
He is also using a technique honed during golf shows this year, apportioning eight channels from EVS playback decks discretely to four cameras covering the infield. “The philosophy is, Record everything all the time.
“Cameras 2 and 4 are the main game cameras,” Carpenter continues. “They’ll usually cut to [Camera] 2 as soon as the ball is hit, so I’ll use all eight channels to isolate that. And since everything is iso’ed, if we need to hear something on a replay, we have it.”
Turner has mobilized an initiative for postseason sound this year. The network — which will be working from NEP Chromium, SS18, SS25, and TS2 for the NLDS and adding NEP ND7 for the NLCS — will deploy considerably more effects microphones than in the past, such as Klover parabs along the base paths. For the NLCS games, Turner will for the first time use Q5X AquaMics, buried about 3 in. deep in the shallow outfield and around both the pitcher’s mound and the batter’s box. A mic will be placed both in front of and behind the mound; four will be in front of home plate and two behind it; and mics will be installed along the first- and third-base sides and about 15 ft. into the outfield behind the shortstop and second baseman.
“We’re definitely looking at a number of things that will bring the viewer in closer still,” says Chris Brown, senior director, technical operations, Turner, noting that the AquaMic version used for the NLCS will be an advanced model.
“Turner Sports has been using PlayerMics for NBA for some time, so they’re well-versed in that,” explains Lee Estroff, VP, strategic accounts, Bexel, which provided much of the gear for Turner. “Using them for baseball is new for them.”
In fact, the use of the on-player and onfield microphones is transitioning from novelty to an integral part of broadcast-sports audio. “It’s become both more accepted and expected now,” notes Quantum5X CEO Paul Johnson, pointing out that this will be the first time all three networks broadcasting MLB Postseason games will be using both on-player and infield microphones. CP Communications will be supplying the Quantum5X microphones for ESPN and Fox Sports. (The first application of the prototype of the Q5X PlayerMic was for baseball, when CP Communications provided a QT-5100 transmitter to ESPN during batting practice at Yankee Stadium in 2001.)
Although the networks are using the same wireless microphones, Johnson says, each has its own techniques, pursuing specific sonic goals. But what sets these intimate audio-gathering devices apart for baseball is that they are being used live, instead of with replays as they are with NFL and NBA games. “From the grunts of exertion on the pitcher’s mound to the pop of the ball in the catcher’s glove or the bat cracks,” he says, “these kinds of microphones capture the immediacy of the game. It really makes baseball vivid.”
Both Turner and Fox are also implementing techniques that will reduce any sudden loss of all audio in the event that live sound has to be killed for profanity. ESPN has begun producing two mixes: one with the on-field mics and one without. Rather than kill the audio entirely in the case of an on-field curse, for example, ESPN flips over to a full mix without the field microphones to create a seamless effect.