What takes three
networks, 38 weeks, teamwork, multiple cross-country trips, lots of
RF, fiber, microphones and plenty of computer power? The NASCAR
Sprint Cup Series. That’s how these races get to a radio or audio
stream near you.
Motor Racing Network’s 53-foot truck carries
equipment; it functions as the remote operations center at the races.
Three networks cover
the series, NASCAR’s premier national touring series since 1949.
The oldest is the
Motor Racing Network, or MRN, launched in 1970 by NASCAR Founder
William H. G. “Big Bill” France as a subsidiary of the
International Speedway Corp.
Racing Network was founded in 1979 and is a subsidiary of Speedway
Motorsports Inc. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network is
focused primarily on coverage of the IndyCar Series, but for one
weekend in late July it covers the Brickyard 400, held on the
historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. IMS produces its coverage
of the 400 in association with PRN.
MRN, based in
Concord, N.C., has the most broadcasts from all of the ISC tracks,
independent tracks like Pocono and Dover. It’s also busy with
broadcasts from NASCAR’s Nationwide Series and from all Camping
World Truck Series races, and in 2013, all of the Grand-Am Rolex
Series Sports Car Races.
Engineer Bob Wolfe
works with MRN Chief Engineer Doug Watson and Satellite Engineer Mike
Motor Racing Network’s Audio Engineer Todd Costello
operates the board in the MRN trailer.
MRN hauls in a
semitrailer and satellite transmission truck. Wolfe says, “We have
three broadcast trucks, a 53-footer, 40-footer and an 18-foot truck.
The 53-foot unit gets the most work, doing about 33 venues per
Inside the broadcast
truck, there’s a main studio used to mix the broadcast, a
two-person talk booth that can be used for on-air or recording and
two edit suites used for recording and show prep. There’s enough
room for eight reporters to sit and work on show preparation before
going into one of the booths or studios. The 53-foot unit gets a lot
of work, and puts on lots of miles.
Wolfe says the truck
travels about 30,000 miles a year. That pace presents the biggest
technical challenge for the crew is repair work.
“The truck is out
6 to 8 weeks sometimes before coming back to the shop. When things
break, they must be fixed on the road. Getting replacement gear to
the truck, and then getting the gear that needs to be repaired back
to the shop or a repair facility has its difficulties. The last time
I worked at a radio station, it didn’t bounce down the road,” he
PRN, which is
headquartered at the flagship of Speedway Motorsports, Charlotte
Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., originates race broadcasts from the
Speedway Motorsports facilities — Charlotte, N.C., Bristol, Tenn.,
Fort Worth, Texas, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Loudon, N.H., Florence, Ky.,
and Sonoma, Calif.
wireless headsets are stowed away before and after the show. Each
headset is assigned a user, a frequency and a physical location at
Harrill Hamrick is
the director of engineering/chief engineer for PRN, and also mixes
the broadcast from the trailer they use as an on-site technical
operations center. Bill Parrott primarily is responsible for PRN’s
RF operations. They are joined by Ben Blevins, Tracey Rice and Scott
Hollingsworth, who rotate as the booth technician at specific races.
The booth technician is responsible for ensuring the anchors have a
solid link to NASCAR timing and scoring, and responsible for the
booth audio gear.
Both MRN and PRN tie
their anchor booth to their broadcast trailers via fiber. Hamrick
says PRN uses a Telecast Adder II, “which allows for 24 channels of
audio from the booth to the trailer, and eight from the trailer to
the booth on a single strand of single-mode fiber. Our unit has two
lasers for redundancy.”
Pit reporters and
turn announcers are connected by wireless microphone units. In the
case of MRN, Wolfe says they use RF in the unlicensed band, so it’s
a matter of scanning the spectrum at each stop and choosing clean
frequencies. PRN uses Lectrosonics Venue series receivers and UM450
beltpack transmitters. Hamrick says PRN uses two frequencies at the
track, one for pit reporters and one for turn announcers.
“We do coordinate
the use of the frequencies where SBE [Society of Broadcast Engineers]
frequency coordinators are available. We also coordinate against the
folks at Broadcast Sports Technology, who provide RF for the
MRN and PRN use
different protocols to get the broadcast mix of audio from anchor
booth, turn announcers and pit road reporters to the radio and
Uplink Dish Truck.
MRN, says Wolfe,
uses a dedicated uplink truck with an AVL Technologies dish and dual
transmitters, as their primary link to WestwoodOne, formerly Dial
Global, the program distributor. For backup, “we also have two ISDN
units on the truck ready to connect should both transmitters fail.
And if all of that should decide to quit, we have a Comrex POTS unit
ready to go.”
Taking a different
approach, PRN, says Hamrick, sends the mixed broadcast back to PRN
studios in Concord, so the production director, can record the feed
to produce a post-race highlight package that ends each broadcast. All of that is sent via ISDN to a Cumulus Media uplink, with a Comrex
Vector as a backup.
Both PRN and MRN
stream their broadcasts (post-delay feed) from their main studios.
The uplinked feeds have contact closures for program start and
finish, legal IDs, local commercial insertion and if necessary,
contact closures for a rain delay event. PRN uses a Rivendell
Linux-based automation system from Paravel Systems, connecting by IP
to their SAS router, to generate the commercial closures. It also
generates data that Cumulus Media uses to effect regional commercial
Rick Evans is chief
engineer for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network. Most of
his efforts are focused on coverage of the IndyCar Series and its
crown jewel, the Indianapolis 500, the logistics of covering an event
at the “Brickyard” are somewhat simpler. “Everything takes
place on the 9th floor of ‘The Pagoda,’ where almost everything
is permanently mounted. The pit and turn reporters are tied into the
booth by RF.”
The Pagoda at the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
IMS uses an ISDN
link to Cumulus Media to get the broadcast to its affiliates, but is
looking into using a Comrex Access for backhaul to Cumulus’
satellite uplink facilities.
Wolfe had these
words of advice for those engineers and operators responsible for the
technical operations of an important broadcast, the product of years
on the road:
“Redundancy is the
key. Have a backup for your backup. NASCAR doesn’t care if our gear
is down, they’re still going to run the race, and we have to be
ready. If you need one, take two; if you need two take four.”
Paul Kaminski is
proprietor of PK Communications Co., host of its “Radio-Road-Test”
syndicated radio program. He has been a Radio World contributor since
1997. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @msrpk_com.