Legends Behind the Lens: Fred Aldous
The man with a musician's ear took sports television audio into a new dimension
The story of American sports television is engrained in the history of this nation, rising on the achievements of countless incredible men and women who never once appeared on our screens. During this pause in live sports, SVG is proud to present a celebration of this great industry. Legends Behind the Lens is a look at how we got here seen through the people who willed it to be. Each weekday, we will share with you the story of a person whose impact on the sports-television industry is indelible.
Legends Behind the Lens is presented in association with the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the SVG Sports Broadcasting Fund. In these trying times — with so many video-production professionals out of work — we hope that you will consider (if you are able) donating to the Sports Broadcasting Fund. Do so by visiting sportsbroadcastfund.org.
By Dan Daley
Fred Aldous brought a musician’s ear to broadcast-sports audio. That’s evident in “Crank It Up” — a three- to four-minute “drum solo” composed solely of sound effects from NASCAR tracks and cars and now a fixture on Fox Sports’ coverage of NASCAR races — and in the collaborative audio-team effort that he led.
In college, Aldous’s instruments were the trombone and the guitar, and his passion blossomed, in the late 1970s, in the recording studio. But he found it far more interesting to be on the other side of the glass, in the control room.
His bridge to broadcasting was a visit to a television station, where, within minutes, he spotted and fixed a monitoring problem the audio team had been experiencing.
“The rush of live television was sensational,” Fred recalls. “Knowing you have one shot at making it right was intense. I was hooked.”
Twenty-three Emmy Awards later, the sports-broadcasting industry is glad he did.
From News to Sports
Starting in 1981 at KUTV Salt Lake City, he began mixing weekend newscasts. The stations — and the responsibilities and experience — became progressively larger, and the connections to broadcast sports began to take shape. At Video West Productions, the postproduction arm of KSL-TV Salt Lake City, Aldous mixed Utah Jazz games and other sports events from the company’s 35-ft. single-frame remote truck. Then came Mizlou TV Sports, an independent sports-production company that had the broadcast rights to several college bowl games.
“I started to hone my sports-mixing chops working the games for Mizlou,” he remembers, adding that this was the gig that began his peripatetic career as a traveling A1. “They were paying me to travel to cover sporting events. My travel career had begun!”
Aldous went freelance in 1986, a move sparked when CBS Sports had come to Salt Lake City to do a skiing event and needed audio support.
“CBS liked what I did and started to call me to mix NCAA basketball coverage,” he says. “This was my start into network broadcasting. It was happening pretty fast because the amount of sports coverage had increased and the broadcasters needed more freelancers to get it done.”
Working with CBS, Aldous extended his portfolio of sports shows to NFL; MLB; NASCAR; NCAA basketball; the 1992, 1994, and 1996 Olympics; and a host of other freelance gigs. During that time, he benefited from guidance from Mike Rokosa, who would become director of field operations, and especially from the mentoring he received from Bob Seiderman, CBS’s lead audio mixer.
“It was a great time in my career,” Aldous says. “I was fortunate enough to be involved with high-profile events, including Super Bowls, World Series, the Olympics, the Daytona 500, and many NCAA Final Fours with CBS.”
“When the big moments are happening, Freddie is always going to have the best sound.” – Fox Sports director Artie Kempner
As his sports portfolio broadened, so did the outlets he was mixing for. He did shows for NBC Sports, ABC Sports/ESPN, Turner Sports, Showtime, and HBO as well as for CBS Sports into the 1990s, when sports on television began to become the media juggernaut it is today.
And a philosophy was emerging, one that would guide the arc of his career. “I want the viewer at home to be a part of the audience in the stands,” he told the Verge, “because the field of play never moves in front of you when you’re in the stands.”
But it was with Fox Sports that Aldous hit his stride. In 1994, when Fox Sports landed the broadcasting rights to the NFL’s NFC conference, he was one of the first hires by Emmy Award-winner Jerry Gepner, who led Fox Sports’ nascent NFL initiative, which had to be assembled in a matter of months. As he had done with every other aspect of his career, Aldous learned quickly and innovated.
“It was the first time the NFL had allowed us to put microphones on the field of play,” he recalls. “We put microphones on the umpires. The sound was tremendous.”
In fact, it was a turning point in the sound of broadcast sports, as broadcast audio became the way to bring viewers more deeply into a game than ever before.
“There were meetings about where the microphones would be placed because size and safety was a concern,” Aldous told LineUp in 2014. “I have had to work out a balance to keep it interesting to the viewer and acceptable to players and league. There are a lot of sounds that we have to be careful about broadcasting. My job is working with producers, directors, and engineering to figure out what it takes to do something.”
Observes Jerry Steinberg, retired SVP of field operations for Fox Sports, “What Freddy brought to the sound of broadcast sports was a desire to push the envelope, to bring the sound of the field into everyone’s living room on Sunday. At Fox, they challenge you to stick your neck out, and Freddy was one of those guys who was always willing to do that.”
In 1998, it became official: Aldous was now the lead NFL mixer and the league’s new audio consultant. However, he continued to lend his talents elsewhere. Tom Sahara, VP, operations and technology, Turner Sports, entrusted Aldous with the audio design for the network’s 1998 Winter Olympic coverage, the 1998 Summer Goodwill Games in New York, and the 2000 Winter Goodwill games in Lake Placid, NY. He was also involved for three years with Turner Sports’ coverage of Wimbledon tennis.
When Fox Sports acquired the broadcast rights to NASCAR in 2001, Aldous was once again called upon to revolutionize how viewers heard a sport.
“Chairman David Hill wanted to change the way people watched and listened to sports, and he gave me the resources to excel,” Aldous told LineUp, resources that included creation of a submix position to manage field sound and let the A1 focus on the production mix of the show. Out of that, “Crank It Up” was conceived — the first time a broadcast gave its sound effects center stage. It changed the nature of broadcast-sports audio, underscoring it for the near-cinematic proposition that it had become. It also cemented his relationship with the network, as he began in 1998 as its audio consultant and senior mixer.
“I was blessed to have a great audio support team that shared my vision,” he says. “We made magic.”
As much as Aldous brought to broadcast audio, he felt the need to give back. In 2007, Sennheiser executive Dave Missall approached him about doing a mentorship weekend on NASCAR with a student. Aldous immediately agreed. “It made me realize that there was a real dearth of educational resources for broadcast audio,” he says, “let alone sports broadcast audio.”
After several years of mentoring, he approached Kirt Hamm of the Conservatory of Recording Arts in Phoenix about collaborating to develop a broadcast-audio curriculum.
After the 2014 NASCAR season concluded, Aldous realigned his priorities to further pursue education ventures and to spend more time with his very supportive (and very patient) family.
After a career that spanned virtually every major sport and every major network; has earned more than 20 Emmy Awards in the categories of Best Live Sound, Technical Achievement, and Technical Team Remote; and saw him mix every Daytona 500 and Super Bowl that Fox has aired but one, he continues to keep his hand in by mixing the NFL A game for Fox Sports. And reining in what has been a non-stop four decades in broadcast has also created more precious time with wife, Bev; daughter, Rachael; and granddaughter, Avery; and for playing some music, golfing, and riding his beloved Harley.
The video in this profile was originally produced in 2015. For more on the life and career of this industry legend, visit their profile at the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.