Education in Broadcast-Sports Audio Grows in Three Directions

If you watch television after the late local news, you could not be faulted for thinking there is a shortage of trained nurses in the U.S. For-profit colleges are saturating the late-night airwaves to explain how you, too, can get your nursing degree in only two years. So it’s surprising to also discover that these schools, many of which added nursing programs in response to what was, in 2008, a legitimate shortage of skilled nurses, might already be churning out too many of them. According to Minnesota Public Radio, New York State alone graduated more than 12,000 new nurses in 2011, over 5,000 more than the number of openings expected in 2015.

Late-night TV watchers might also have noticed at least as many ads for media-arts schools, including ones that teach a core curriculum of audio technologies. You might wonder why Madonna needs that many people to remix her records. Of course, she doesn’t, and, apparently, neither do many other potential employers of all these audio-school grads. The world, it seems, is destined to have a surfeit of people who can competently stick an orange with a hypodermic needle and do a perfect mash-up on Pro Tools.

Yet any of those latter undergrads would do well to look at what’s happening in broadcast audio. Just the growth of online sportscasting and of Hispanic media in the U.S. will assure jobs for thousands over the next decade. Yet the education landscape for this kind of expertise remains surprisingly sparse, with only a relative handful of media schools and programs addressing broadcast audio in an assertive way, although it’s better than it was even a couple of years ago.

Traditional Schools
One of the more proactive programs addressing broadcast-sports audio has been at Full Sail, in Orlando. The school’s proximity to Disney there has propelled a relationship with ESPN and ABC’s broadcast sports division. About 250 students have taken the course, which is now held under the auspices of the school’s educational program in live-show production and touring technologies, according to Corey Jacobs, course director of AV technologies at Full Sail.

Under a program in place with NEP, graduates work in a paid two-year apprenticeship program to train engineers-in-charge for remote trucks. Three graduates have already completed the program, and another seven or eight are enrolled now, Jacobs says. He adds that NEP’s March acquisition of Trio Video in Chicago will increase the number of opportunities for placements in the future. Full Sail is also working with ESPN and ABC, as well as with Golf Channel, on sports-promo spots.

What’s holding back further expansion of the broadcast-sports program at Full Sail, Jacobs says, is the lack of a truck that can be used as a lab. “It’s harder to teach and to learn this stuff without a full mobile unit on-site,” he says, adding that acquiring such a unit is a priority for the program. In the meantime, the mobile parts of the course are focused on cabling and signal transport and aim at producing competent A2s.

Jacobs is heartened by growing awareness about the program and about sports-broadcast audio as a career choice. “[Students] are starting to ask about it more than I’ve ever seen,” he says. “They’re beginning to realize how it might offer them better options than, say, music touring: a more structured work environment, the fact that they’ll know what they’ll be working on for months in advance, and, quite frankly, the travel arrangements are usually better than a typical tour bus.”

He observes that four years of recession or near-recession may be playing a part in this newly heightened awareness, with even a freelance job with a network looking more attractive than facing the larger, more nebulous audio-engineering employment market.

Unfortunately, Full Sail and a few other major media-arts colleges with broadcast programs are still the exceptions. Most pro-audio programs, like those at like Berklee College of Music, remain focused on music production, with more adding live-show production when they expand their curricula in response to that change in the larger music industry.

Online Effort
The DTV Audio Group’s online training initiative, which has been extensively covered by SVG, has had its first module, on loudness training, accessed by several thousand participants, according to DTV Group Director Roger Charlesworth. The initiative, funded largely by sports divisions at TBS, NBC, and Fox and authored by online-education specialist Learning Sciences, will focus next on the fundamentals of mixing 5.1 surround sound for broadcast sports, as part of a strategy of trying to standardize that process. Future modules will cover serial digital-, embedded-, and MADI-audio-signal management and multiplatform-compatible production strategy. Charlesworth says the 5.1 program will be extended to include editors, to help streamline the workflow process for quick-turn production.

Online training is proving popular, mirroring distance learning’s growth in the larger education market. Fox Sports, he notes, used the loudness module to train its entire 60-person audio staff, including editors and master-control workers. “What the results are showing is that people who take the online course are retaining [the knowledge], even if they’re not necessarily involved in using it day to day,” he says. “They’re getting what dialnorm is. It works and works especially well for the huge number of freelancers the networks use.”

Supplier Programs
Along with the DTV Audio Group initiative, manufacturers of audio products used in sports broadcasting are increasingly filling the void left by traditional schools. Sennheiser, for instance, runs a mentorship program that pairs promising undergraduates at media schools with veteran A1s, such as Fox audio supervisor Fred Aldous, as part of its larger Sound Academy program.

Other manufacturers offer similar programs. Yamaha’s AudioVersity, for example, focuses on live sound, including for sports venues. Shure holds seminars and workshops nationally, including Advanced Wireless Seminars and Axient Certification training sessions. The company also just launched a bimonthly series of Webinars about new products, technology, and audio-related topics, all offered free of charge. According to Shure Media Relations Manager Mike Lohman, his company’s training initiative will soon be relaunched with a new brand identity.

Since broadcast audio remains a relative sliver of the larger market, some educators have found value in partnering with manufacturers, helping choose the students for these programs. John Krivik is chairman of the Audio Engineering Society’s Education Committee, as well as an associate professor of audio and media technology at the New England Institute of Art in Brookline, MA. He has sent seven of his students through the Sennheiser program, working on NASCAR and boxing. He says the pragmatism implicit in these manufacturer-run programs is useful: students get hands-on experience with top talent in sports broadcasting and can potentially be inspired to find their way more quickly to a paying job. “People come in wanting to be the next Jay-Z,” he says, “but some of them realize that they can make more money holding a parabolic microphone at an NFL game.”

Educational programs are also a useful branding initiative for the manufacturers. As such, they’ve been a win-win: for the suppliers, for students, and for their future broadcast employers, filling a gap in the educational spectrum until mixing NFL becomes as sexy as mixing Madonna.

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