Small Mixers Do Pack a Punch
the past few years, I’ve seen fewer and fewer (if any) mixers in the field in
most ad hoc news situations. The prevalence of laptop/netbook/smartphone audio
editing programs and increased availability of mobile broadband and other Internet
portals makes the mechanics of editing, producing and transmitting a ready-for-air
news report as simple as a click of the keys.
N.Y. State Senator Thomas
Libous (left) and N.Y. State Assemblyman Gary Finch inside WEBO’s temporary
studio in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Lee. The small Alesis MultiMix 8 USB at
the bottom of the picture was the go-to mixer for this broadcast.
However, when those reports
turn into live originations, as they sometimes do, you need more audio inputs
than the single jack on the laptop and smartphone, and you need the ability to
mix those multiple inputs in real time. That’s why a small mixer should be in
the inventory of every news department or radio engineer’s emergency kit.
this column, I’m defining a small mixer as a device that will mix at least
two-to-12 microphone and line-level audio sources. It can be powered by line or
battery power. When I came into the business back in the late ’60s, the
utilitarian Shure M67 mixer was the standard, and it is still being used today.
have a low serial number JK Audio RemoteMix Sport which I’ll take with me if I
need to mix two mics and audio. It can feed a dial-up phone line (RJ-11), a
handset interface and, with the right connecting cords, a cellphone, codec or
broadcast loop. The unit has a built-in phone line limiter and runs on both AC
line and 9 volt battery power. My older unit uses a Daptor Three to interface
with Bluetooth applications. The newest version RemoteMix 3.5 has built-in
interfaces for a cellphone (wired), and for connection via phone-grade
Bluetooth, as well as the legacy RJ-11, handset and codec connection
from manufacturers such as Comrex, Tieline, AEQ and others have built-in mixing
capability to keep the loads light but versatile. So, too, are the two-input
(mic and line) dedicated cellphone interfaces like the Conex Flip Jack and the
JK Audio RemoteMix One. See my review of the RemoteMix One in the Nov. 7, 2012
issue of Radio World.
All of those will help your
news people and broadcasters in the field produce reports and programming with
audio quality that complements the production values of those reports.
But when water is running
over the door sills to your newsroom/studio, and your station needs to get back
on the air to provide information that can save lives, you need options — and
fast. That’s how a small mixer — an Alesis MultiMix 8 USB in this instance — helped
the listeners of WEBO(AM/FM) in Owego, N.Y., hear that information, during the
aftermath of Tropical Storm Lee last year.
on-air and engineering teams work from the station’s emergency remote on-air
studio (a borrowed RV) during the aftermath of flooding from Lee in September
President and General Manager Dave Radigan had to evacuate the main studio
location and equipment, and at the same time re-establish operations from the
station’s transmitter site in a recreational vehicle. “Our survival instincts
kicked in. We were smart to grab whatever equipment we could when we evacuated,”
he says of the event.
MultiMix 8 USB, with three handheld microphones, was hardwired into the AM
audio processor, and its audio traveled on a twisted copper pair to a junction
box on a telephone pole at the transmitter site. An unused underground wire
pair carried the audio into the transmitter building, and was hardwired into
the transmitter’s audio input. Radigan said, “No audio connectors were used;
none were available, other than the XLR coming out of the processor. From there,
it was copper pair wire, twisted together enough times to keep them (the pairs)
from coming apart, and in some cases, covered with electrical tape.”
primitive setup would allow WEBO to broadcast information released by public
safety officials, and reports with information from amateur radio operators who
themselves set up temporary operations at the high ground of the transmitter
Village, town, county and
state elected officials used WEBO to reach out to people in the area. After the
flood, when the local weekly and daily newspapers couldn’t publish or gather
news because of the flooding, businesses relied on WEBO commercials to let the
people in Owego know which stores were open and where to get supplies.
The constant in this business
is that nothing is constant, and your normal everyday operations can be
disrupted in seconds. Backup plans are best formulated before they need to be
executed; operators and (where still active) news departments do need backup
equipment like those small mixers available.
in a backup kit does not have to be new stock. Reconditioned items can work
well, once tested for operational reliability, and keep the project under a
budget. Once a backup kit is assembled, managers, engineers and news people must
resist the temptation to cannibalize the kit for other uses.
While we don’t need the
capability to mix a live band on a news job, the small mixer — whether built-in
or standalone — can help us tell our stories a bit more easily. Spending less time
on the mechanics of the production and transmission means we can spend more
time on producing the compelling content our listeners and advertisers
appreciate and expect — whether that content is produced under “routine” or
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Paul Kaminski is news director for the Motor Sports
Radio Network, a contributor and freelance reporter for CBS News, Radio and
since 1997, a contributor and columnist for Radio World.