Live From X Games L.A.: ESPN Shows Off Refined Approach to Sound in Farewell to L.A., Part 1
Beginning the 19th year of the Summer X Games franchise, ESPN has honed the sound so precisely that last year’s version managed to scale up in number and complexity of events even as the number of trucks contracted to two from three the year before. This year, Summer X Games 19 (Aug. 1-4, ESPN), the last one in Los Angeles’ L.A. Live complex before it moves to Austin, TX, next summer, tackles an even more sprawling action campus with an even more compact roster of resources.
This year, the Big Air megaramp and the Global Rallycross, along with the X Games’ debut of Gymkhana, move to the Irwindale Speedway in the San Gabriel Valley, a dozen or so miles east of downtown L.A. and away from its previous home on Chick Hearn Court between the L.A. Live parking structure and the L.A. Convention Center.
“One of the biggest changes technically this year is, all the venues and the host [feeds] go back to [ESPN broadcast center in] Bristol[, CT,] on their own transmission path,” explains Jason Blood, long-time A1 and newly appointed audio architect for X Games. “Whereas, in years past, we had a broadcast-center truck that would integrate the different venues and the host set and send one fully produced program feed back to Bristol, now each venue and the host set feed individual transmission paths back to Bristol, [where] the D7 control room in the Bristol Digital Center integrates the show.
“We use MADI interfacing between venue trucks and TOC [Transmission Operation Control],” he continues, “which enables us to get the audio signals we need between each venue and TOC and our TV-operations facility on-site, and from our transmission encoder/decoders on-site that connect to Bristol via fiber or satellite. When a venue is too far away to accomplish this, we use video/audio embedding/de-embedding via fiber in addition to RVON I/Os to get other additional audio feeds to and from certain locations.”
The L.A. Live site (Venue A) covers the Staples Center and the Event Deck from the NEP SS25 truck and its 86-fader Calrec Alpha is manned by A1 Steve Kaura, lead A2 Tim Bischof, and four additional A2s. Six Calrec Hydra boxes are deployed between Street and Vert on the Event Deck and inside Staples for the six other events, which include Best Whip, Freestyle, Moto X Racing, and Enduro.
Florian Brown is the main mixer for Venue B in Irwindale (Big Air/Rally) in NEP SS32 and its 72-fader Calrec Alpha and three Hydra boxes. Sean Weathersby is the lead A2 along with four other A2s covering Big Air, Gymkhana (a new event this year), and Rally cars.
Blood says the expansion of the X Games franchise — there are now six games a year over seven months in Los Angeles; Aspen, CO; Brazil; Barcelona; and Germany — has led to a highly refined operations capability, maximizing the productivity of the equipment and the personnel. For instance, the shows no longer use separate submixers and consoles for effects.
“Which means we are now asking the A1s to accomplish the main production mix and the effects mix,” Blood says. “So they are literally maxing out these audio consoles — every fader, every layer, every input — and they are recalling different setups to accommodate the different [events] in order to squeeze in every mic possible to capture the sound. This means, too, that the A2s are working twice as hard: they often have to relocate and reposition microphones and field boxes from one venue to another. What this audio crew has accomplished this past year on these shows has made me extremely proud, and I really couldn’t have asked them to work any harder or to have done any more than what they did.”