When mixing audio at a
sporting event, broadcasters need to think in terms of the listeners
rather than themselves.
Turn a mic to the
crowd, and make your broadcast more engaging.
It is my observation
that a majority of small-market sportscasters do not understand the
concept of deploying a crowd microphone.
Yes, we go to a lot of
trouble to make radio studios quiet (as we should). The situation is
much different when away from a studio.
Listeners should be
treated to the sounds of what is happening, not just announcers’
voices. Remember, listeners tune into a sporting event on the radio
because they cannot be there in person. It makes perfect sense to
demonstrate the flavor of the scene by putting a microphone out to
pick up crowd and action noises. So many times you hear announcers
close-talking their microphones, so much so that you might think they
were doing the broadcast from a studio rather than a baseball or
Announcers must stop
thinking that listeners are tuning in to hear them. Mix the audio so
the listener feels he or she is sitting at the game.
If you were in the
stands at a game and there was little or no crowd noise, you would
feel there was something wrong. It is the sound of the crowd reaction
and the clash of players or bats against balls that give a listener a
more complete sensory experience.
Almost any inexpensive
or beat-up old microphone will do to pick up crowd sounds. It doesn’t
even need to have good frequency response.
The big guys will use a
microphone just to pick up the crack of a bat at professional
Basketball games are
different. There is usually plenty of noise in the packed arenas, so
an extra microphone is not normally needed.
Keep in mind that too
much crowd noise can mask what an announcer is saying, and
unfortunately that is bad too. Occasionally there is a situation
where a crowd mic will hear a fan using four-letter words. Good
microphone placement should more or less eliminate that problem, so I
wouldn’t use that as an excuse not to use a crowd mic.
Our local high school
football team competed for the state championship title last fall. I
was in a car listening to the first half of the game. No crowd
microphone was used and it sounded very dry. When I reached home and
turned on a television I discovered the television folks had employed
a crowd microphone. It was an entirely different sound and was a much
more exciting game even when I closed my eyes to just hear the audio.
(Did you get that? Television had better sound than radio!)
Again, sports announcers
should not think of themselves first; instead, they should think of
the listener. When they bring in crowd noise, they capture the spirit
of the event and have an entirely different presentation.
On another matter, more
audio is not necessarily better — it is usually worse.
Watching VU levels is
critical to keeping announcer audio clean. As an engineer, I have
often been appalled at how bad audio can be from a game when it did
not need to be if audio levels had been watched more closely. Mic
gain should be set before the game for the loudest possible level
when the announcer shouts during a touchdown, etc. Remote broadcast
units typically do not have much audio headroom. Voice peaks can
easily be clipped by running the audio into the red on a VU meter.
Listeners quickly will
tire of distorted audio. Give the listeners a break and increase
listener retention by keeping the audio clean. It makes a world of
difference, especially for listeners who are only mildly interested
in the event. Those people typically tune out from fatigue.
If you have the choice
between more audio level or less audio level, less is better. Peak
clipping distortion is an easy way to grate on listeners’ nerves.
A Modest Proposal
Let me offer a suggestion to those who are speaking before a live group or for video. This is becoming increasingly pertinent as more radio stations are encouraging broadcasters to use multimedia coverage for events.
Please hold the microphone away from your mouth. Much of the enjoyment is found in seeing someone speak. Covering a face with a microphone keeps viewers from experiencing the expressions and emphasis in a speech or song. Some of us supplement our hearing by reading lips.
If the microphone needs to be close, have it resting on the chin and talk over it. The sound will be just fine. Trust me. Television reporters do it that way, and everyone else should too.
Pass this tip on to everyone you know. It makes perfect sense.
A similar situation
happens when announcers close-talk a microphone to the point where
breath noises and p-popping occurs. It’s not pleasant for the
listener. Remember, radio is communication should be between one
announcer and one listener at a time. That personal one-on-one
relationship is a hallmark of the most successful announcers.
One way to help fix this
problem is for sports announcers to listen to their own audio in an
air check, just like studio announcers do. Sportscasters could learn
something from that time-honored technique. If they sit back and
listen to more than the game score, it might come to them that the
listener is not hearing the game the way a fan would in the stands if
he had a good buddy explaining the action to him.
Yes, sports announcers
paint word pictures with narration, but the crowd reaction and play
sounds are important parts of a broadcast. Best not to leave the
extra sounds out.
Persons WØMH, CPBE, has over 30 years’ experience. He has written
numerous articles for industry publications over the years. Learn
more at www.mwpersons.com.