Little League World Series Gets Big-League Sound

For those viewers who strain to hear any errant snippet of on-field or on-court dialogue they can through a serendipitously angled parabolic microphone or lavaliere left ajar, they will be in heaven this week as the final stretch of the Little League World’s Series plays out in South Williamsport, PA. Thanks to choice microphone placement and more aired dialogue than one can usually find, the games’ narrative develops in real time, more voluble (and arguably way more coherent) than any reality show, drawing the fans in as they listen to strategy and drama unfold before them.

The initial games were played in two side-by-side stadiums: at Howard J. Lamade Stadium, A1 Steve Kaura mixed both the 3D and 2D show from a single truck, the NEP 32 3D; at the Little League Volunteer Stadium, Paul Krugman mixed from Dome Productions’ Trillium truck. Both mixed on Calrec Alpha 100 consoles. During Championship week this week, the action shifted solely to the Lamade field.

This year’s games are the first Little League World Series matches to be aired in discrete 5.1 surround. Krugman says that crowd ambience is being steered mainly into the rear channels, putting the viewer right behind home plate. It’s the setting for a surprising amount of dialogue including umpire calls and discussions by managers and coaches with players and each other. Coaches and managers wear Sennheiser SK-250 transmitters while umpires use Quantum transmitters with Countryman lavalieres. That audio is further supported by Sennheiser 816 shotgun “pick” microphones secured at the corners of the dugouts and aimed to capture coach-runner banter, glove “slap” and other effects at the first and third bases. All that’s restricted are what might appear to be questionable calls and discussions between the umpires themselves. And all of what is heard is in real time — there is no integrated delay circuit employed at the stadiums.

“As a result, what you’re getting is a real close look into the strategy of the game on the field,” says Krugman. “You realize that this is not a bunch of 12-year-olds tossing a ball around — there’s real strategy, real coaching going on, real scouting reports. You’re getting all the interactions that take place on the field.”

The bat cracks, any baseball game’s signature sound, is captured using a pair of Sennheiser 416 short shotgun microphones angled at 40 degrees from behind and to either side of the plate. Krugman says that creates a natural stereo image without using simulation. Additional wired Sony ECM77 lavalieres are folded into the padding of the outfield fence with signal transported via DT-12 cabling, adding that aspect of the parks to the rear effects channels.

Microphone placement follows some very specific rules having to do with player safety. For instance, no microphone can be positioned in such a way that it could possibly be in the way of someone chasing a foul ball. That fits into a larger picture that includes unique features such as breakaway bases to avoid jamming arms and legs during slides.

Just as there is a lot of leeway when it comes to the on-field audio, both Krugman and Kaura also get to exercise a certain amount of creative production flexibility. With fully integrated communication between the trucks during the initial games, both mixers can tap into each other’s feeds, bringing in the parallel game’s sound during lulls like pitching changes in their own games, and tossing mix-minuses back and forth to each other. Again supporting the idea of the game as its own narrative, the announce talent also cooperate, pulling back commentary when, for instance, a manager visits the mound or when action appears imminent at the corner bases.

“Steve and I are given a lot of discretion, and that really gives us a sense of ownership of the production,” says Krugman. “There’s a real artistic sense of input we get and we get to put formulas aside and just let the story tell itself.”

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