NAB 2018: On Air Mic Flags To Make Its Show Debut
The manufacturer produces the ubiquitous brand IDs for microphones
They’re in almost every shot, every time a microphone is on camera. The mic flag — the miniature billboard that adorns handheld and podium microphones for every television network — is perhaps the most-seen but least-noticed element on sports shows. Yet it’s also a constant reminder, in the competitive cauldron that is broadcast sports, of who is putting on the show.
In 1979, a Connecticut company named Quality Name Plate (QNP), a manufacturer of metal and plastic identification tags and plates for everything from airplanes to appliances, got a call from a nearby fledgling television network.
“ESPN called up the owner of our company and asked if we could make them a mic flag,” says Lindsay LaChance, a customer liaison and product specialist at QNP. “The owner at the time said, What’s a mic flag?”
The company soon learned and eventually formed subsidiary On Air Mic Flags, which has made tens of thousands of mic flags for ESPN, the NFL, YES Network and the New York Yankees, the New England Patriots, the Orlando Magic, the Houston Astros and Texans, and the Super Bowl. Lately, many are being made specifically for events, such as all-star games, the NFL Draft, NCAA March Madness, the various X Games series, and NASCAR’s flagship races.
The ESPN flags are the company’s longest-running sports products, and several vintage ones have found their way onto eBay, where they’re going for around $25, about what they cost to manufacture in quantities. (One-offs and very short runs can cost closer to three times that.)
The flags’ robustness — they’re made from PVC plastic and acrylic, with logos printed to adhesive vinyl — means that they can survive hits on the sidelines. But that hasn’t tamped sales, because the proliferation of sports networks, individual teams creating their own offline content, and now streaming brands means that demand remains high. That’s why, says QNP Marketing Director Robyn Rataic, the company is exhibiting at its first NAB Show (Booth C2662, where it will be offering a $100 discount on orders of 50 or more).
“The market is just getting bigger,” she explains. “[The show] gives us access to a wider range of broadcast clients.”
According to LaChance, some sports networks may be fabricating their own mic flags, using resources like in-house scenery and prop shops. But, she adds, sheer volume can make even large-scale users turn to companies like hers. She cites a call from long-running police procedural Law & Order for help with mic flags for the many fictional news stations and networks whose microphones are deployed during “press conferences” on shows. “We were surprised that a big show like that was cutting and gluing its own flags,” says LaChance. “Not everyone knows that there’s a business that makes these.”
The arrival of HD, 4K, and now 8K has had an effect on mic-flag design. She notes that layering, which creates a three-dimensional effect — the YES Network’s mic flags, for instance, have three distinct layers of materials — is a good match for higher resolution. And the potential for greater scrutiny means that the flags have to be made more precisely: for instance, to prevent seams’ showing.
Another change seems to be due to the microphones themselves. In some cases, LaChance says, they are getting thicker, necessitating the use of alternative types of connective materials between flag and microphone, such as the flexible vanes used on the Rycote types that QNP produces, which hold better and longer on larger mics than the usual foam friction holders. And, instead of getting bigger as more sports networks and shows come around, many mic models are smaller: for example, microphones like Shure’s MV88 plug into smartphones and are used by bloggers and podcasters on location.
“They’re starting to ask us to create little decals for those microphones,” she says, far smaller than the usual 2½- and 3-in. flags on most mics. (Only boxing seems to want them larger.)
The mic flag is often the single most ubiquitous branding for any sports network, show, team, or league. Says LaChance, “It’s usually the first thing and the last thing [the viewer] sees on television,”