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Studer comes dancing with Strictly at Tower Ballroom

For the first time on a Strictly OB, the topology was based on a conjoined Vista 8 and Vista 5

When Strictly ComeDancing, theBBC’s flagship Saturday night celebrity dancing competition, relocates once a year from Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire to the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, the production infrastructure likewise heads north, with the OB recording trucks set up in a nearby scanner park coopted for the occasion. With the TV show now in its 10th year (see TEN! Strictly marks a decade of dancing with BBC S&PP at Elstree), BBC Studios and Post Production’s Andy Tapley and lead sound supervisor Tony Revell evolved what they describe as an “elegant workflow” in Blackpool, mixing the show entirely on three Studer digital consoles.

For the first time on a Strictly outside broadcast, the topology was based on a conjoined Vista 8 and Vista 5, alongside a Vista 1 that handled the surround sound mix within Red TX’s reconfigured Red II 3D/7.1 OB truck. (This also housed a dedicated grams area.) Both the Vista 1 and Vista 5 were supplied by Terry Tew Sound & Light, along with 60–70 channels of radio mic and IEMs. Tew also handled RF frequency management.

Tapley explains: “Linking the Studer Vista 8 and Vista 5 cores via HD provided 96 channel tie-lines, as well as 64 bi-directional MADI streams between the Vista 1 and Vista 5. This meant it was easy to submix and main mix between the two.”

Mixing live in the ballroom was FOH sound engineer Nick Cook. Three of the fibre stageboxes were located by the splits for radio mics and band circuits with the fourth assigned to audience mics. FOH also took its feeds from these splits.

The multis on the OB’s resident Vista 8, operated by Andy Tapley, carried all band, orchestra and music circuits, as well as the dancers’ radio mics, while two fibre multis to Tony Revell’s Vista 5 ran 26 audience mics, presenters’, judges’ and vocal mics.

Both stereo mixes and surround mixes were created in the OB. Stems were provided to sound supervisor Richard Sillitto, who produced a surround mix on the Vista 1 via the Dolby E encoder and Dolby Audio Tool. The resulting downmix was then compared to Tony Revell’s stereo mix. “I could precisely match the stereo dynamics Tony was using by simply interpreting his mix,” says Sillitto. “But the aim of the surround mix is to put everyone in the best seat in the house – it’s why you want to hear the audience around you.”

Running the I/O architecture via optical fibre were four Studer D21m stage boxes: two each assigned to the Vista 5 and Vista 8 where McBusted were joined by Shirley Bassey (plus a 12-piece string section and backing vocals). This was in addition to resident band leader Dave Arch’s 15-piece ensemble, fed via MADI to the Vista 8, which also handled the string submixes. The Vista 5 provided Grams feeds to FOH and monitors (sound beds, voiceovers, tracks for McBusted and couples’ rehearsals).

The eventual mix transmission was sent via MADI to the adjacent CTV OB truck where all vision mixing and VT routing take place.

Revell believes the Studer set-up had been given “the biggest workout we’ve ever known” commenting: “To be able to sit down and decide how many channels and mix busses we needed and then customise it for a particular event was really useful. It is certainly a huge step forward for us in delivering a show like Strictly live to air from an OB.”