The Kids Are Alright: Two Father/Son Teams Handle Audio for Colts-Jags Game

It’s a first for a major-network NFL broadcast

Longtime Turner Sports A1 Jim Budka has one solution for the looming A1 shortage: teach your kids to do it. In fact, he and his son Ben Budka joined fellow veteran A1 Dave Grundtvig and his son Nick Grundtvig working on the Jaguars-Colts game Sunday in Jacksonville, FL — the first time a pair of father-and-son audio teams worked the same major-network NFL broadcast. At the game, on CBS, Dave was the A1, and Nick submixed the audio; meanwhile, Jim handled the A2 duties in the booth, and son Ben managed them on the field.

“I’ll be setting the booth up while Ben’s downstairs on the field setting up the interview mics and time-out coordinators,” says Budka père, who began grooming his son in the ways of broadcast audio when he was still in elementary school. Ben watched as his dad set up sound for Blackhawks games on WGN when they lived in Chicago and for Braves ballgames on Turner Sports after the family relocated to Atlanta. “By the time he got to high school, he was getting good at it. I tried to talk him out of it, but, when your dad is mixing the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, it’s pretty hard to say, Don’t go there.”

From left: Jim Budka, Ben Budka, Nick Grundtvig, and Dave Grundtvig at the Jacksonville Jaguars’ TIAA Bank Field

Early on, Jim let Ben get hands-on, though not without the occasional hitch. At a Braves game, he assigned his young son to hit the play button on the DigiCart for the music lead-in to a break. Ben hit it on cue but then hit it again, causing the music to restart.

“The director calls in and says  Hey, what’s going on in there?” Budka recalls, laughing. “It was the first time [Ben] was ever called out by a director, the first time feeling the pressure.”

Ben, now 27, pursued the calling his own way, bringing a degree in entertainment media studies from the University of Georgia and an affinity for videogames to doing audio for the ELEAGUE, the esports league and show of the same name on Turner Sports network.

“I had a combination of media studies in school and learning in the field from my dad but no real formal training in pro audio,” he says. “But there was always the opportunity with him to ask questions and see how something was done. He has a wealth of knowledge and always has a story to go with it. I’m an only child so it was a way to connect. We’re friends for life, and audio seems to be the path I’m on in my life.”

Both Jim and Ben Budka are freelancers, and their working paths cross occasionally, such as at the Jaguars game. Ben, 69 and now living in St. Augustine, FL, is nominally retired but is called on to fill in as A1 or A2 while broadcast sports navigates COVID lockdowns and his dwindling cohort becomes part of what has become known as the Great Resignation. Meanwhile, Ben is experiencing the typical freelance arc, padded only very slightly, he says, by the familiarity of his family name in the industry.

“People know who [Jim] is, and that helps, but that gets you only so far,” Ben notes. “You still have to prove you can do the job every time out. It’s a demanding industry, and there is competition for the work, with more people coming over from music into broadcasting. And there is more new technology to learn about than ever, especially wireless.”

Having seen the pressure that lead mixers can be under, Ben isn’t champing at the bit to become an A1 himself.

“I like to mix, but I don’t need to,” he says. “I love being an A2, and I can be a better A2 with the kind of knowledge and experience that makes me good at troubleshooting. I also love being able to just watch the game from the field.

“But I can also see myself moving toward the production side of the business,” he continues. “Whatever it is, it’ll have to be something I feel a passion for.”

The father-son connection is a special one for Jim Budka. He recalls how his father, a card-carrying Teamster truck driver in Chicago, seemed unable to reconcile how his son would be happy working on a mix console at the rear of a trailer instead of in the semi’s driver’s seat.

“He would say I see you’re at the backend of the truck,” Budka laughs, “and I would say, Yeah, but I’m making a lot more money than I would be driving it.”

The Camaraderie’s the Thing

Dave Grundtvig has been an A1 and sound designer for NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL games and events for more than 25 years, and, like the Budkas, he and his son Nick are Chicagoans. But Dave and Nick remain Windy City denizens, and both have Bulls and Blackhawks credits to show for it. On Sunday in Jacksonville, they formed what is becoming a semi-regular battery for them, as the A1 and the effects submixer for the game.

“I would bring Nick to games when he was a kid,” Dave Grundtvig recalls. “But he seemed to start getting into it in high school, when he began doing mixing and sound design for the theater productions. He had a band, he was recording them; it began to spark his interest [in audio].”

Dave, who’s now 60, says he can identify the actual turning point: when he took Nick with him to the 2016 NBA All-Star Game in Toronto as an audio-utility hand. “He had been into audio and music up to that point, but really getting his hands on it, actually working and getting a paycheck for it, and seeing what we were doing on the road, he was like a kid in a candy store.”

In fact, that camaraderie attracted Nick Grundtvig to the calling as much as anything else.

“It was a mind-blowing experience,” says the 26-year-old Grundtvig, who spent that weekend assisting A2s, running cabling, and doing whatever else was needed for the show. “It was a super-enjoyable experience, but what made it more so was getting to know the people who work the shows, that sense of community, the constant jokes. It wasn’t like going to work at all. When I got to the hotel, I couldn’t wait to get back there the next day.”

In fact, he adds, ahead of shows these days, he scans the crew lists for familiar names, looking forward to reunions.

Nick Grundtvig developed his broadcast-audio expertise by watching and listening to his father, buttressing it with a degree in audio design and production from Columbia College. It has helped move him into the effects-submixer’s chair for several shows, along with ongoing work as an A2 for NBA, NFL, and NBA games in Chicago and for local collegiate games. But, he adds, although classroom time was useful for concepts, the core education took place in the hands-on time — from high school theatrical productions to recording bands to working with his dad.

The family name doesn’t hurt as he organizes his career strategy, but he realizes that it can be as much challenge as advantage: “I’m going to have to step out of his shadow and make my own name in this industry. I know I have to be all-in on this to make the jump to the big chair. But, right now, I have to get my reps in as an A2 and as a submixer, and keep up with the technology as it changes.”

Proud Papas

Both Jim Budka and Dave Grundtvig are justifiably proud of their sons’ achievements and desire to follow in their fathers’ footsteps.

Grundtvig says the experience of teaching Nick has reinforced in him the desire to broaden his mentoring of other broadcast-audio acolytes. “Hopefully, we can entice more young people to move into broadcast audio and into mixing it. The pressure is real, but so is the need for a next generation of A1s.”

Budka feels the same way and is part of Program Productions’ recently restarted mentoring program that connects aspiring audio professionals with veterans in operational environments.

“It’s about giving back to everyone, not just our own sons,” he explains. “If I can do that, when I go to that great big Audio Board in the Sky, I’ll be happy.”

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