Firehouse Productions, Shure Deliver Audio at Tony Awards
The live telecast of the 69th Tony Awards on CBS took place on Sunday, June 7, at New York’s iconic Radio City Music Hall. With a steady stream of ensemble cast musical numbers, constant costume changes for hosts Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming, and a live orchestra, the audio challenge was considerable, especially because virtually every live mic on stage was wireless. Firehouse Productions (Red Hook, NY) was again brought on board to meet the show’s considerable audio needs.
“We were managing around 200 channels of wireless again this year, including mics, in-ears, comms, and visiting media,” reports Vinny Siniscal, Director of Firehouse’s RF & Communications Division. “Whenever I have a live event with that kind of channel count, I count on Shure wireless. Firehouse has a track record of success on big events like this, and that’s a big part of the equation. This show was no exception.”
To meet the demands of the production, Firehouse supplied 60 channels of UHF-R wireless. Of these, 32 channels used the Shure UR1M micro bodypack and were dedicated to principal performers. The remaining channels were combo systems with either standard UR1 bodypacks or UR2 handheld transmitters with either Beta 58 or Beta 87 capsules.
In addition, all eight in-ear channels were Shure PSM 1000 systems with diversity reception. “Anyone singing had the option of an in-ear mix,” says Siniscal. “We had 16 bodypacks available, and they sounded great. For everyone else on stage – primarily the dancers – we had the traditional sidefills.”
As RF Coordinator for the telecast, Siniscal was charged with designing and installing the antenna system, frequency coordination for all systems, and tracking and monitoring it all during the show. He relies on a variety of tools and techniques, including input from Shure.
“I’m now running Wireless Workbench 6.11, and the new features have really taken the software to a new level. I used a combination of IAS software and Workbench 6.11 for frequency coordination,” says Siniscal. “The new monitoring section is excellent, especially the ability to use Tabs to set up channel groups. So instead of looking at 60 or more receivers, I just pull up the tab for that task and view only what I need. It also means I can work two or three numbers ahead during the show to make sure every channel is approved before it hits the stage. I can’t say enough good things about the upgrades Shure made. Workbench 6.11 makes live RF monitoring a whole lot easier.”
Assisting Siniscal backstage was independent RF technician Sisse Jonassen. “This was our fifth year working together on the Tonys, and she is absolutely indispensable to the Firehouse team. She is there for the build out and tuning during rehearsal week. Then, during the show, she is my eyes and ears with the cast members, making sure everything is properly connected and working. Meanwhile, I’m strapped to my scanners and software, and we’re in constant contact to make sure everything is working before it goes on stage.”
In his system design, Siniscal relies on a variety of helical and dome style antennas in multiple zones to cover the stage, the audience, and multiple backstage areas – anywhere the producers might use for a segment. Firehouse uses a custom distribution amplifier to send the audio downstream, which includes eight Shure UA845-SWB active antenna splitters in the signal chain.
“Our biggest challenge was the RF noise floor, which has definitely gotten worse over the past year,” notes Siniscal. “Freedom Tower down at 1 World Trade has fired up its antenna spire for testing, so even though we’re still in the same venue with a similar channel count, the wireless landscape gets more challenging every year.”
From Chenoweth and Cumming’s expansive opening medley riffing on a host of classic Broadway show tunes, to the closing rendition of “Oh, What a Night” by the cast of “Jersey Boys,” the Firehouse Productions team delivered flawless RF throughout the broadcast. “We had a great night in wireless world,” concludes Siniscal. “Every channel was stable, everything sounded great, and our customers went home happy. That’s what it’s all about, and that’s why we choose Shure wireless.”