Fox’s World Series Coverage Offers Viewers More To Hear

A cursory glance at an incoming text from Joe Carpenter, Fox Sports’ A1 on the World Series broadcasts from Progressive Field in Cleveland, prompts a double take: “Currently burying mike in the grass.”

2016-world-series-svgCarpenter, who has been lead World Series mixer since Fox since took over the event in 2000, wasn’t moonlighting for Cleveland’s notorious Mayfield Road Mob. Rather, he was planting one of eight remotely operated Quantum5X Aqua microphones in the outfield and infield edges of the stadium’s grass field. They are some of as many as 75 effects microphones that make this World Series the most wired for audio ever.

That was underscored in the fourth inning of Game 1 on Tuesday, when Chicago Cubs’ slugger Kyle Schwarber knocked one off the padding on the outfield wall. Its impact was picked up by one of the 30 Crown PCC-160 unidirectional boundary mics that ring the outfield wall, lying on the ground and facing upwards at 45-degree angles. As the ball was returned for the play at second base, a Sennheiser MKE-2 lavaliere microphone and SK-250 wireless transmitter caught the sound of Schwarber’s arrival at the bag. Moments later, it documented the sizzle of his tearing the Velcro strips off an ankle brace after he called time.

This year’s World Series represents a new level of immersive audio, which Carpenter says is warranted by its historic nature.

“This is an epic Series, especially for the Cubs and their 108-year drought,” he says, referring to the Wrigley Field denizens’ time without a World Series win, not that much longer than the Indian’s own 71-year dry spell. “That’s the kind of game we’re doing,” he adds, noting a clearly heard ding off a pitcher’s shoe cleat from a lavaliere buried behind the mound. “If you’re really listening, we’re bringing it.”

At the plate, three Big Ears parabolic dishes loaded with DPA lavaliere elements pick up batters and catchers. Two of the parabs are located to the left of the plate and are slightly elevated, so as not to block the view from one of the plate-level VIP viewing areas there; the third is to the right and at ground level between two dugout suites. Carpenter says they’re spaced just far enough apart to warrant a 40-ms delay on one, to avoid doubling.

Also included in the slew of effects microphones are an Audio-Technica AT4050 stereo condenser microphone aimed at center field to capture crowd sound for the surround channels, AT4025 stereo shotguns aimed at first and third bases and another pair aimed down from above home plate, and four Sennheiser 416 shotguns used in pairs atop the foul poles. The signal from most of the mics comes to submixer Bob Qua in the stadium; that from the rest, to Carpenter, working from NEP’s EN2 truck in Cleveland and Game Creek’s Dynasty rig in Chicago. Both Cubs catcher David Ross and the home-plate umpire are wearing lavs, with audio going to tape.

Qua, who is working on a Presonus 32 console in the stadium, has a complicated infrastructure of his own, which he says assures a smoother game. The 40 effects mics that eventually come up on his console initially go to FiberPlex LightViper stage boxes in left, center, and right field. Those signals are sent via fiber to the broadcast compound, to the NEP truck and its Stagetec Nexus router, and then up to Qua.

“It’s complicated. It takes a lot of patching and takes a while to set up, but I don’t have to feel dependent on the copper resources you find in different stadiums,” he explains. In fact, he put the extra day before Game 1 to good use by checking every effects transducer in the field, working with A2 Anthony LaMastro, and making sure that each one registered 100% output. “If one didn’t, we changed it out,” he says. “That way, we have complete confidence in everything that’s out there.”

Qua manages the lion’s share of the sound effects, with a few key ones in Carpenter’s hands. In at least one case, there’s a very fine line between them. When catcher David Ross is behind the plate, Carpenter manages his lav mic, the better to balance him with both the umpire and the parab mics in the area and to avoid phasing and other issues. But, if Ross gets a hit, Qua takes over his effects channel as he runs the bases.

Rain’s Not a Problem
Rain was forecast for Game 2 on Wednesday, so the Cleveland ground crew covered the field with tarps just as Game 1 ended, making the wireless microphones embedded in the grass and their transmitters’ diminished batteries unreachable. Carpenter fretted about how well they’d hold up the next night with about 50% of their power remaining. “The good thing is that we can turn them off remotely,” he says. “If we can’t get at them, we can at least conserve their remaining power.”

The rest of the microphones remained in place and were ready for use, including the shotgun mics that are protected from moisture by snug-fitting condoms. (Magnum non-lubricated are preferred, we’re informed.)

Also on Carpenter’s console are feeds from the dugouts, where commentators query players and coaches during momentary lulls in the play. That’s a departure from the typical short packages recorded during commercial breaks and aired later during the game. These are live and pull the viewer in deeper when both parties’ attention is suddenly diverted to the field, as happened when Buck was talking to Cleveland pitching coach Mike Callaway and a Cubs hitter drew a sudden crowd reaction. The sound instinctively drew viewers’ eyes to the left as Callaway’s eyes darted right.

The Indians and the Cubs may be ending a cumulative 179-year World Series win drought this season, but Carpenter and Qua are making sure the sound of it is totally saturated.

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