CTS Audio supplied a massive Crown-powered JBL VTx PA for Oprah Winfrey’s The Life You Want Weekend tour, seen here at the Philips Arena in Atlanta. Dubbed one of the world’s most influential women, media superstar Oprah Winfrey has built her career around empowering others. Through her multi award-winning talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, she shed light on all aspects of humanity—interviewing Americans from all walks of life, telling their stories and offering viewers advice on how to get the most out of life.
While her show ended back in 2011, Winfrey’s popularity hasn’t dwindled and neither has her influence. Committed to continue her effort to inspire fans, Winfrey took her advice to the road this past fall with The Life You Want Weekend—a traveling, two-day arena event that combined motivational speakers and her own one-woman show to provide fans with the means to get out there and make the most out of life.
Providing sound for the challenging event was Brentwood, TN-based CTS Audio, which was hired by Scott Moore of Go Live Productions to supply and design the audio system and ensure that every attendee would have the same experience listening to the show no matter where they were sitting. While the tour involved a series of speakers—Winfrey presenting her life story portion on the Friday of the tour, and the rest of the speaker series following on Saturday—the sound system was as complex as some of the biggest arena rock shows.
“The set up is quite different,” said Mike Taylor, VP at CTS. “There’s a stage in the middle of the room, and they do most of the speaking from there. We have to fly everything in a giant catwalk structure. Really we do that to make sure that every seat has the same experience whether sonically or visually.”
The show took place on two stages, with a traditional main stage at the back of the arena and a second satellite space jutting into the center of the crowd. To provide audio that was centered as needed around the different stages, CTS flew traditional left and right arrays comprised of JBL VTX 25s (16 for each side, totaling 32), and then a third, central rig made of 68 JBL V20s that surrounded the central satellite stage.
“Essentially we had to build a custom PA set up for the nature of this show,” explained Jon Schwarz, head sound engineer for the tour. “One of the biggest benefits we had with the new JBL V20s was that we could get up to 110 degrees of horizontal and 12.5 degrees of vertical coverage per box. There were a couple of instances where the PA’s center delay hang was almost at FOH, and we actually were able to wrap the PA enough that it fired behind it to cover seats closer to the satellite stage. That was pretty incredible.”
Jon Schwarz mixed every stop of the tour on an SSL Live L500 desk. Taylor also said that he found the V20 speakers ideal for spoken word events, noting that run bi-amped, they allowed CTS to save a few channels of amplification. The entire system was powered by Crown iTech amplifiers controlled with JBL’s HiQNet Performance Manager. Console-wise, the event was mixed with an SSL Live L500 desk at the FOH position, and a Yamaha CL5 console used to mix monitors. “Intelligibility was our number one goal,” said Schwarz. “We had to make sure every seat could hear intelligible voice coverage.”
As for RF hurdles, CTS faced a unique challenge, as during Winfrey’s monologue, she would hold her microphone the way she was trained during years of broadcast television—at the bottom. This caused some disruptions for CTS, which was using Shure’s UHF-R wireless system.
“We consulted with Shure and got the Axient system for Oprah because it had a superior antenna system, and uses the dual transmitter, which fixed the issues we were having out there,” Schwarz said.
“We have two channels of Axient, with another 16 channels of wireless between the headsets, handhelds and lav mics,” added Taylor.
Even though the event took place in an arena, there were aspects of the tour’s sound system that varied from a traditional music concert set up as there was an in-the-round PA for speaking and an end-stage system for DJs as well as video rolls, helping to draw the crowd’s attention to the presentations.
“We didn’t need a large regiment of subs,” said Schwarz. “The PA has quite a bit of low end, so being mostly a spoken-word event, we were able to utilize the full range of the PA’s ability”.
CTS provided four crewmembers for the tour, including Schwarz, Mark Kimmel, Jon Smith as System Tech, and Dave McMullin as RF Tech.