A Preview of Kentucky Derby Sound

Thundering hoofs meet chattering commentators at this weekend’s Kentucky Derby. The NBC and NBC Sports Network shows will have lots of both. The NEP ND3 truck is managing the former, the NEP SS24 rig the latter, and both are using Calrec Alpha audio consoles. The effects submix is being done from ND3C using a Calrec Q2 analog console.

Speaking of analog, Churchill Downs has plenty of that kind of cabling, which is fine with Wendel Stevens, the A1 who is mixing the show in discrete 5.1 surround audio. “Most of our traffic is on DT-12 cables in analog, because the track is nicely wired with DT and XLRs,” he explains. “But we do use six MADI streams for signal distribution throughout the compound.” He will be joined by Ryan Outcalt and Dana Kirkpatrick sharing submix duties. Lee Pfanner is the A1 mixing the NBCSN shows.

The track is heavily covered for sound: 16 camera mics – a mixture of Sennheiser 416 and Audio-Technica BP4029 shotguns – are blended with five mics on the starting gate, comprising four Sony ECM-77 lavaliers and a Sennheiser 416 shotgun.

But lots of other sound elements are critical to providing a complete picture for viewers, including Audio-Technica BP3025 stereo microphones on the bugler, choir, and marching band. The crowd will be picked up by an array of Sennheiser ME64 cardioid condensers, which Stevens says he chooses for their high output levels.

Riding atop all this over two days of shows will be 16 commentators and announcers using a total of 35 microphones. Eight of these are wireless, provided by BSI, which is also handling the IFB. The extra mics are necessary on a show that covers a lot of ground. “Reporters move from location to location throughout the show, sometimes switching microphones, depending on locations,” he explains, noting that RF wireless often won’t work reliably indoors in some environments.

Stevens won’t know until just before the race how many — if any — microphone sources he might have on the jockeys, for whom weight is the critical issue. “We meet the jockeys in the jockey room,” he tells SVG.  “The transmitter is normally inside a pouch, which is attached with large safety pins on the jockey’s inner layer of clothing. Usually, the transmitter pouch is located on the jockey’s back, with each rider requesting whatever tweaks to make the mic more comfortable.

“BSI provides the transmitters,” he continues, “and the elements are Sennheiser MKE2s. The transmitters are full-size, high-powered units to provide enough power for track-wide coverage. The mic element is ideally located under the jockey’s clothing in the jockey’s armpit area, keeping it away from wind and dirt. The front of the jockey during a race you hear nothing but wind, slapping clothing, and dirt thumps.”

Like most sports, horseracing offers some peculiarities, and several can be really peculiar, such as the need to avoid leaving microphone cables coiled along the ground, which to horses look an awful lot like snakes.

This year, though, so close to the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, security has changed some broadcast work habits. “We have to be conscious not to wrap up field gear in black garbage bags, so that it looks like something a bad guy left lying around,” Stevens says. “Everything has to be clearly identified as NBC’s. After the Boston Marathon bombing last year, this became a concern.”

Password must contain the following:

A lowercase letter

A capital (uppercase) letter

A number

Minimum 8 characters


The Latest in Sports Video Production & Technology
in Your Inbox for FREE

Daily Email Newsletters Monday - Friday