As you may be aware,every year at this time a bunch of oddly dressed blokes chuck around some old pigskin at an obscure location in the United States of Americaland, and for some reason, a few hundred million around the watch it on TV.
But they don’t necessarily watch it for the sport – if that’s what it is. No! They wait for the half time entertainment and the commercials believe it or not.
And from a video production point of view, it is Y-U-G-E as good ol’ Darrel Eastlake used to say (RIP).
Sennheiser had been tasked with creating the wireless audio side of things, and as we are fans of their gear and like it very much, we thought we’d find out how they approached such a mammoth task. Apparently the singer, someone called Shakira, is important enough she gets her very own special mics too!
Just prior to halftime, there was no shortage of excitement in the game as the Kansas City Chiefs staged a dramatic comeback, tying the game at 10-10. Once the clock ran out after the second quarter, the Halftime Show crew had approximately six minutes to dispatch and assemble the entire stage, located nearby the field’s 30-yard line. Antenna systems for the wireless microphones were set up in advance on either sideline prior to the game, along the stadium wall behind the team benches.
“It is not a traditional concert environment where you can put antennas out on the side of the stage where they are relatively close to the performer,” observes Gary Trenda, Lead RF Technician for Orlando, FL-based Professional Wireless Systems (PWS). “We deployed antennas on the sidelines and aimed them at where the stage was going to be; then we used an RF-over-fiber system to connect back to the receivers, which were in a rack room under the stands.”
For the Halftime Show performance, wireless receivers are usually placed at a further distance than at a typical rock concert, since the Halftime Show stage is temporary and must be disassembled after just 14 minutes. As such, the wireless must perform flawlessly – despite not having the advantage of close proximity to the stage. “In a show like this, reliability is critical,” says Trenda. “We’ve got to pick up the signal at a longer distance, and it really needs to be rock solid.”
For Shakira and Bad Bunny, the RF team deployed four channels of Sennheiser Digital 6000 wireless – three separate mic channels for Shakira, and one for Bad Bunny. Shakira sang several songs through a gold sparkled SKM 6000 handheld transmitter and MD 9235 dynamic cardioid capsule, before being joined onstage by Bad Bunny, who also sang through an SKM 6000 – colored in neon yellow, coupled with a distinctive red MD 9235 capsule.
“This is my second Super Bowl using Sennheiser digital systems, and our experience has been that even in a crowded RF environment, it is a very reliable microphone system,” says Trenda. As one would expect, the RF environment at the Super Bowl can be challenging: “In the stadium area alone, there are probably 500 frequencies of mics and IEM-type systems – so we are really looking to zero in on the mics we care about and filter out anything else. This is why we applied 6 MHz cavity tuned filters in front of the Sennheiser receivers. The filters are tuned specifically to the frequencies we were using for that pair of microphones.”
With 23 Super Bowl Halftime Shows under their belt, preparation is key for ATK Audiotek. Among many other activities that take place, a site survey is conducted around September in which a crew is dispatched to examine the local RF environment. RF coordination is done by the NFL Event Frequency Coordinators (EFCs). Lead EFC Loren Sherman assigns frequencies for the Halftime Show so every dimension of the performances can be carried out. The crew loads in a week and a half prior to game day, and then crews are allocated time for on-field rehearsals. This year, ATK and PWS ran through full rehearsals of the Halftime Show three times – each time carefully scanning the RF environment to ensure smooth operation.
Support when it counts
On a scale of programming such as the Super Bowl, RF crews inevitably face last minute challenges – in this case, the performers’ preference to use aesthetically stylized microphones had to be reconciled with transmitters aligned to the right frequencies. Trenda explains: “We had a blinged out black microphone, one that was painted a metallic red, and another that was blinged out gold — but the transmitters were in a frequency range that we were not able to use at the Super Bowl. So, we called Sennheiser and they were able to send handheld transmitters in a range that was exactly what we needed for the show. We then swapped out the blinged out shells onto entirely different transmitters. The support from Sennheiser was fast and dependable.”
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