LOS ANGELES, CA—Sports television was on the leading edge of the transition to HD picture and 5.1 audio. But faithfully capturing the ambience of a sports event can be a challenge for mixers, who need to convey atmosphere while also ensuring that the voices of the commentators are easily discernable.
Dave Grundvig is a Chicagobased independent mixer who typically works the NBA All- Star game and postseason MLB games. The comments of the notorious “bleacher bums” are part of the atmosphere at Wrigley Field, he says, which he captures with Shure SM89 shotguns. “Pretty much all the effects mics, in terms of bat crack, dugout mic, are all SM89s at Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park [U.S. Cellular Field],” he adds.
A former recording studio engineer, Grundvig says, “I tend to like to use more music-friendly microphones that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as a sports microphone” for ambience and crowd noise beds. But, he adds, “If it’s thundering and raining, I’m not going to risk putting Neumanns or [AKG] 414s or [Shure] KSM44s outside!”
During the season, he says, there is unlikely to be any onfield player banter heard on the broadcast. “People do not like to be eavesdropped,” he observes. However, he continues, “During post season, we get a little more help from Major League Baseball. We’ll put a small Sony parab [parabolic reflector] up, usually with a Neumann KM 184. It’s very smooth, very sweet, and the ball pops off the bat and the catcher’s mitt.”
But, he cautions, “I tend to not like parabs on baseball, except for doing something in the outfield. I just don’t like the way the parabs sound—very mid-rangey—and when you push them hard to reach for something, to me, the whole 5.1 collapses.”
Randy Flick, the primary mixer on HBO boxing, also handles WWE wrestling; the two sports require somewhat different mics and techniques. For crowd ambience on the wrestling tour, Flick uses a Holophone H2 Pro recorded along with multiple pairs of Sennheiser MKH416s. “There are about 10 microphones in the crowd mix,” he says.
He cautions, “We really don’t want to hear individual voices on the crowd mix. I get the mics at least 20, 25 feet away from them. As soon as we start to hear an individual whistling or talking, we’ll move them out.”
Flick takes something of a music recording approach to the action in the ring. “We usually get a lot of guys crashing onto the mat [in WWE], so we use a pair of Shure KSM32s. It’s like miking a 20-foot bass drum. We also use a lot of Shure UR2 RF hand mics with SM58 capsules. We have 14 of those that we can press into action at any time.”
Randy Flick, who mixes boxing and WWE events, favors a Holophone H2 Pro plus Sennheiser shotguns for crowd ambience.Ringside handheld cameras are each mounted with an Audio-Technica BT4027 stereo long shotgun. “It’s not disposable, by any means, but the cameramen take a beating down there at ringside. They’re in the mud, the blood and the beer!” laughs Flick.
Phil Adler, a freelancer who works primarily for CBS, covers a lot of boxing matches for HBO, Showtime and USA. A former recording studio mixer, he likes to build his own soundfield rather than use a single-point-source mic system. “I would rather take more of the entertainment approach and pepper the place with a bunch of microphones. The trick is, how do I capture as much of the excitement of the building as I can get and still make sure things are clear and that you can hear the commentators?”
For boxing, Adler relies on Sennheiser MKH416 or MKH70 short shotguns on all four corners, in addition to MKE-2 lavs with Lectrosonics body packs on the trainers, and MKH816 long shotguns on the handheld cameras at ringside. Sometimes he’ll reach for an Audio-Technica 4071L: “That’s a very nice substitution for an 816. My personal stash is a combination of A-T and Sennheiser,” he reveals.
Any mixer working a boxing match leans heavily on the center overhead mics, he explains. “I’ve been using the AT825 stereo mic a lot lately. Audio-Technica has got a lot of nice specialty stuff, stereo mics especially, that have been just wonderful in the field.”
Freelance sports mixer Phil Adler, a former
music engineer, likes to build his surround
soundfield using individual mics.Grundvig has found a novel use for Shure’s MX391 teleconference mic. “For the NBA All-Star game and postseason MLB, we’ve put them along the whole perimeter of a basketball court on the floor, just outside the foul line, and we have miked the outfield wall. With its cardioid pattern, it pretty much rejects a lot of stuff behind it and reinforces everything in front of it. For basketball, we’re able to hear more talking as they march up and down the court. The squeaks and ball bounce are obviously more defined.”