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Broadcasting Formula 1: ‘Not an easy life… but the benefits are worth it!’

We talk to the noise boys bringing the sound of Formula 1 to the small screen

“F1 is the most challenging environment I have had the pleasure of working within,” comments Ryan Campbell, senior projects engineer at Gearhouse Broadcast, which was awarded the contract to build a series of interconnecting flyaway pods for Sky Sports F1 in October 2011. Campbell echoes Alan Bright’s comments (from part one of this two-part feature) on the difficulty of competing for a slice of the available radio spectrum – one that is continually shrinking as more and more broadcasters from around the world send teams to cover the previously Eurocentric sport.

“With hundreds of broadcast crews from various regions, the need for working with each other is key to the success of the project,” he says. “For example, some races have upwards of 2,000 frequencies required to work together, which definitely keeps us busy!”

Gearhouse’s Sky Sports F1 audio system bears many similarities to the BBC’s, based as it is around a Lawo mc²56 desk, Wisycom radio mic receivers (pictured right), Riedel 128 frame, Dolby 5.1 hardware and Genelec 8030 monitoring. “Having longstanding relationships with the suppliers of the above equipment provides an ‘open-door’ policy when customising enhanced operator interfaces,” explains Campbell. “At this level of broadcasting. this is essential for Gearhouse to facilitate Sky Sports with an extremely flexible system.”

Presentation microphones are primarily SM58 capsules bolted on to Wisycom MTH400 transmitters – chosen to “minimise the background noise associated with F1,” according to Campbell – and Sennheiser SK2000 IEM transmitters based in the audio pod feed from a Riedel matrix. Audio-Technica AT835 stereo microphones, fitted to all four RF cameras and rigged in both the pitlane and paddock, provide what Campbell describes as “the 5.1 ‘glue’”, while a radio mic, IEM and Motorola radio talkback system is supplied by Wireless Works UK. “Key to the radio mic system are K&L hand-tuneable bandpass RF filters,” explains Campbell. “These help reject unwanted RF from our 12 backpack and high-powered kits.

“In addition to the high-powered backpacks, we use custom-built – by Paul Murray of Audio Assist Ltd – high-power kits comprising a Saras one-watt RF amplifier, aluminium frame, Wisycom MTP40 transmitter and Anton Bauer battery and mount. These are belt-mounted and used, for example, for Martin Brundle’s famous gridwalk and for high-quality floor manager replies.”

Gearhouse sends a small team of about 10 engineers and riggers to every race (Sky Sports F1 has the rights to broadcast live in the UK all 19 grands prix), and Campbell himself has attended “all but two races over the last three years”. Commenting on the effects of that much travelling on one’s personal life – the 2014 Formula 1 season runs from 16 March to 23 November, taking in races on five continents – he says: “I can only speak for myself when I say that travelling so much for work takes its toll on relationships. I think the key is to make very moment count when you are home.”

“It’s a long time for the crew to be away from their families,” agrees Bright, but says Presteigne “[tries] to ensure we have enough staff so people can take a break from the tour when needed”. He adds: “There is a strong spirit of camaraderie amongst all the staff who work long-term on F1, and we all try and help each other out when we can.”

“[Our] pros travel from race to race [but] there are gaps in the schedule where they can make it home for a few days,” concludes Christian Bockskopf. “It is not always an easy life – but the benefits are usually worth it!”