All Fiber, All MADI, All the Time for the MLB All-Star Game

For Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game and Home Run Derby this week in Phoenix, CP Communications is extending its use of fiber/MADI cabling and routing to all audio distribution and routing. And there’s lots of wireless, too.

CP’s recently refurbished HDRF5 truck now has a full–fiber-optic routing and distribution system, as well as a dedicated digital production submixing section in the middle of the trailer that pairs a 32-fader/128-input Stagetec Aurus console with a 128-I/O Stagetec Nexus Star router. A similar system for the effects submix was configured in a flypack for the NBA Finals in June.

“In the past, we’d use a Midas or Yamaha console in a separate, smaller trailer to create the submix,” says Kurt Heitmann, SVP for sales and marketing for CP, “but, with more digital moving into the workflow, we decided to put together the digital console and router system, and it’s been working very well.”

For the All-Star Game, which will be broadcast on Fox Sports tomorrow from the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, and the Home Run Derby, to be broadcast on ESPN today, the Nexus Star has fiber connections to four 64-input base devices (aka field boxes) located around the stadium and taking in audio signals from a total of 40 outfield FX microphones, player and coach microphones (10 Quantum QT-256 micro-transmitters will be in use on both days), and other wireless sources. The signals will be sent to the Nexus router, which also houses the main CPU for the Aurus console used to mix them.

There’s more wireless audio this year. The CP truck is fitted with four racks housing four Sennheiser EM-1046 diversity systems and 20 channels of Shure’s H4 wireless system. There are dual-channel receivers for the Quantum player/coach microphones and eight Sennheiser SKM5200 talkback units for the on-air talent.

Wireless signals will be sent optically via PPM’s ViaLite interfacility RF-over-fiber system, which consists of an optical transmitter, optical receiver, and the optical fiber using laser-intensity modulation, in which the RF signal is used to directly modulate the intensity of the laser light source. This technique, says Heitmann, removes the need for additional frequency or digital conversion and produces a very low-noise, very low-latency, and low-distortion transmission path.

From the router, the submixes will be sent via MADI streams to the Game Creek production truck used by Fox Sports and the NEP production truck used by ESPN, both of which use Calrec consoles for the main production mixes. For Fox Sports’ All-Star Game show, Joe Carpenter will do the production mix, and Jonathan Freed will do the submix. For ESPN’s broadcast of the Home Run Derby, Scott Pray is the production mixer, and Robert Qua will handle the submix.

“In the past, we’d be transporting audio on copper, and we’d have to repatch between the two [events],” says Heitmann. “With the Aurus and Nexus combination, all the patching is virtual and done within the router. We can do early testing of the system, and, once that’s done, you don’t need to touch it again, so each network stays out of the other’s way. It’s more time prepping in the shop, but it really cuts down on the amount of time on the field, and you get a chance to catch any problems very early on.”

ESPN submixer Jonathan Freed considers the use of the console/router combination a template for the future of distributing digital audio to multiple broadcasters at the same event.

“In the past, all of this was analog and copper, and all of the microphone sharing was done via analog distribution amps and copper cabling,” he points out. “Now all of the effects microphones are shared by all of the broadcasters on the same router and are transported and distributed via fiber and MADI. It’s a much more sophisticated way of doing it. We piloted this arrangement on a large scale at the NBA Finals, and it worked so well and sounded so good that we pushed for it to be used at the All-Star events.”

Freed says adoption of the model isn’t a slam-dunk; networks will have to evaluate it from an operational and cost perspective. But he’s sold: “It’s going to make the whole system more effective and efficient.”


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