The nationally broadcast Rockefeller Center Tree
Lighting Ceremony included numerous high-profile
guests and sizable RF effort by Wireless First.NEW YORK, NY—The annual Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony in New York City has become a major entertainment event over the years, telecast across the country. This year’s lighting incorporated the work of longtime RF provider Wireless First.
When construction workers decorated a 20-foot tree with paper garlands, cranberry strings and the tinfoil ends of blasting caps in the early years of the Great Depression, they had no way of knowing they were starting a beloved holiday tradition. Today, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in late November has blossomed into a two-hour television special, complete with nostalgic hosts, the Radio City Rockettes and performances by pop music acts.
As in years past, NBC hired Wireless First (these days owned by Clair Global) to wrangle 86 channels of wireless RF that spanned a full city block, which it did so using its new CF 1090 Fractal Antenna, designed and manufactured by Wireless First/Clair Global. At this year’s live ceremony, the Today Show’s Al Roker and Savannah Guthrie were joined by musical guests Michael Bublé, Cee Lo Green, Faith Hill, Carole King, Katharine McPhee and Javier Colon, while crooners young (Justin Bieber) and old (Tony Bennett) provided prerecorded performances. Individual performances, commentary and interviews occurred throughout the block occupied by Rockefeller Plaza (bounded by 49th and 50th streets and 5th and 6th avenues). Wireless First chief engineer Josh Flower remarked, “We had multiple stages all over the plaza, and we had to deliver 100 percent coverage with zero dropouts. The hosts were free to travel anywhere within that block, and an RF hit on such a high-profile show would be simply unacceptable.”
Wireless First’s 86 channels were divided among intercom, microphones (for performers and hosts), IFBs and personal monitors. The live performers played on two stages, one on either side of the ice rink in front of the tree. “The trick was to zone out the receive antennas so that we had consistent coverage around the plaza without allowing the antennas to interfere with each other,” said Flower. “We set up three zones—one on 49th Street, one on 50th Street, and one in the Channel Gardens directly across from the tree—also using the same receive antenna system to feed both the intercom and the host microphones. That way, we knew anyone who had to transmit would do so to the same antenna system, ensuring the same range no matter what the device.”
Flower used Shure UA870 UHF active directional antennas for the receive side; on the transmit side, Flower flooded the area using the Clair Global CF 1090 Fractal Antennas. “The CF 1090 is very consistent throughout its coverage pattern,” he said. In total, three CF 1090s transmitted to 32 drops of wireless intercom, six IFBs, and 16 channels of wireless personal monitors.
The show’s receiver and transmitter hardware was a mix of Sennheiser and Shure products. The show hosts used Sennheiser SKM 5200 handheld wireless microphones. Flower gave them Sennheiser SK 5212 lavaliers for backup and added a redundant receiver rack across from the tree (the CF 1090s acted as the receive antenna for these 12 channels). Neither safeguard proved to be necessary. The musicians switched between the two stages as needed to facilitate the show’s logistics, and a collection of Shure UHF-R wireless microphones delivered the vocal inputs. On stage, Sennheiser 2000 and G2 Series wireless personal monitors aided performances.