Calrec Sits Down to Discuss Audio in Sports With A1 Mixer Devin Barnhart
Audio plays a crucial part in any sporting event broadcasted on television or live streamed on the internet. Calrec took the time to have a conversation with A1 Mixer Devin Barnhart about his career and how he plays a vital role in the live production ecosystem.
Q: What’s your current role and what does it involve?
A: I’m a freelance audio A1, though most of my work is for ESPN, where I’m one of the main A1s for the NBA. I’ve recently taken on ABC college football, which includes the play-off bowl games and national championship. I’ve also worked on the X Games; Little League World Series; professional football, soccer and baseball; and the WNBA, all the way through the finals. In fact, I’ve done pretty much every major sport for ESPN, except for tennis.
Q: How did you get into broadcast sound?
A: My interest started back in seventh grade – helping the choir teacher with the PA. I continued to get involved with that side of things through high school. Eventually, I started my own production company, doing live sound and corporate events.
I never really considered the TV side of things at first; it was just a natural progression of what I was doing. It all grew surprisingly quickly; meeting Steve Meyer at Mira Mobile in Portland in 2000 was a turning point. Mira Mobile was crewing the Portland Trail Blazers NBA games at the time and I was hired to do the visiting team productions. I was given a list of what I had to do for an NBA visit show on a Tuesday and, by Thursday, I was doing it!
I kept getting more and more opportunities and found that I was enjoying the work. Eventually, I ran into some ESPN people and started filling in on the network’s NBA shows… that lead to everything I do now.
Q: What was it about live broadcast sound that attracted you and what keeps you interested?
A: I have loved pretty much everything about the job from the start – setting up, routing, integrating whole systems, figuring out the problems of EQ’ing… and just making stuff sound good. Most importantly though, I love the fact that I still get excited going to air. When the director starts counting down to the start of the show, I still get a little nervous knowing millions of people will watch what we are doing for the next three to four hours.
Q: What Calrec consoles have you used over the years?
A: I think I probably used my first Calrec console around 2004, once I’d gotten off the regional trucks. The Golf Channel NEP trucks had analog Calrecs in them. The first time I used a digital Calrec was in 2007 – it was my first NBA show for ESPN, on the Omega console. Through the years, I’ve used the Omega, Sigma, Alpha, Brio, Summa, Artemis, and Apollo – so, quite a few! Nowadays, I’m mostly on 144-fader Apollo surfaces.
Q: Can you describe a couple of typical broadcast set-ups?
A: For the NBA, we have a regular booth and stand-up mics at the center table. There are probably 10 or 12 mics around the court, plus crowd mics, wireless stick mics, back-up stick mics, backup headsets and then up to six additional wireless mics, depending on the size of the show. Those are for coaches, referees, and players. The NBA has five remote ins – up to 12 channels: Elvis [EVS LSM replay] channels, four others for the Spot Box server and then also graphics. We also build a lot of outputs for transmission feeds to the people running the show back in our studios in Bristol, Connecticut.
For college football, I’ve probably got 20 channels between the Elvis, Evertz Dreamcatcher, Spot Box and graphics, which is for a four-man booth. We use upwards of 40 effects mics, depending on what’s going on at that game and the seating situation. We also have somewhere between eight and 14 cameras mic’ed every week, depending on how much point of view we put out. So, there’s a whole lot of channels and gear!
Q: Having the bigger fader count on the Apollo probably helps then?
A: Definitely! The shows I’m on are just getting bigger and bigger, so being able to reach out and grab for anything I need makes a big difference. It also helps to be able to lay out panels in a way that I’m used to. I do a lot on muscle memory, so most of my layouts are kind of the same. My console set-up follows the same structure no matter what sport I’m doing. Also, the larger frame size dictates some of the space in the truck. A bigger console gives you a little more room to sit back and still get to everything you need.
Q: What are the stand-out aspects of the Apollo?
A: I think it comes down to versatility and power being available when you need it most. I love the internal routing options – being able to feed outputs back into the console internally and being able to re-patch and create routes without having to rebuild everything. A primetime ABC show might have three different sets of mix minus programs, and I often need to adapt those as the show progresses.
The internal resources and the way I can call on them make a big difference, too. For example, with all the embedded and RF feeds, there are a lot of delay issues these days. Keeping the pre-delayed, on-air talent and routers in time, but not messing up people’s IFBs, can prove stressful. The Calrec Apollo makes it straightforward when dealing with these kinds of things.
Q: How has your job changed over time, and where do you think it is going?
A: When I first got into this field, a lot of feeds were still in mono; you could run a show on a 40-channel console. Now, shows are much bigger; even the smaller ones are massive in comparison to anything from those days. To cope with this, there are increasingly more productions back at Bristol, but hopefully they’ll keep mixing on-site. I think there’s still a lot to be said for physically going out onto the court or the field and making decisions right there. You can lose a lot of time having to explain things from miles away.
Inevitably, on-site production will get physically smaller and smaller, while the infrastructure grows. With the NBA, we have 14 or more paths of transmission, depending on the size of the show. That’s a lot for a set-shoot-strike show. We will also be asked to provide more second-show content for streaming and other services – either by building complete alternative program mixes or providing sub-mixes.
And it’ll get even more interesting with immersive and object-based formats, like Atmos, coming. Especially when thinking about how you want to present the audioscape and what options there might be. Many broadcasters have standards for how they want their content produced, and we’re already seeing the development of similar standards for new distribution formats.