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Radio Readies for Rio

A look at just a few of the complex radio operations needed to cover the Summer Olympics

RIO DE JANEIRO — Officially known as the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, but more commonly called Rio 2016, the 2016 Olympic Games will take place in Brazil Aug. 5–21. More than 10,000 athletes from approximately 200 countries and territories will compete at 38 venues across Brazil.

Broadcasting such a major event is, of course, a massive operation, and since 2001 it has been handled by Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS).

Headquartered in Madrid, OBS is responsible for delivering unbiased live radio and television coverage of all sports from every venue to the Rights Holding Broadcasters (RHBs). This feed is called the International Signal or the World Feed and will be delivered to the 97 radio RHBs — a figure that includes those broadcasters who hold sub-licences.


Radio delivered extensive coverage at the Olympic Games in London in 2012. “OBS offers broadcast commentary positions at all competition venues where radio RHBs can deliver coverage tailored to their specific listening audiences,” explains Jorge Pickering, head of Broadcaster Services.

“Commentary positions offer RHBs a view of the field of play and can accommodate one, two or three people. They come either equipped or non-equipped. Equipped positions are furnished with a digital commentary unit, which also provides all necessary monitoring feeds, a video monitor to view the international video signal and with a real-time information service workstation. Unequipped positions only have power and connectivity allowing RHBs free to use their own equipment.”

The venue commentary areas will also be fully staffed by OBS personnel to assist RHBs in their operations and provide support. A Commentary Control Room will be located in close proximity to the commentary positions at each venue.

“Although OBS does not provide commentary in the world feed, it is included as part of the Multichannel Distribution Service,” said Pickering. “MDS is a subscription service that delivers to the Rights Holding Broadcasters’ home territory a complete Olympic package of feeds via encrypted worldwide satellite. The MDS includes commentary in English, but this is generally used for television broadcasts. However, those RHBs that also have radio rights can use this commentary.”

On the technical side, Isidoro Moreno, head of engineering at OBS explains that the Host Broadcaster provides RHBs with International Sound for Radio (IS-RA).

“IS-RA is a stereo international sound mix of sports specific sounds and the natural atmosphere of the venue. In addition, OBS offers to RHBs connectivity from the venue to the International Broadcaster Centre and from the IBC to their home countries. The audio feeds are routed from the venues to the IBC Commentary Switching Centre before being delivered to the RHB’s unilateral area within the IBC and redirected to their destination.”

The IBC, located in the Olympic Park in Barra, will serve as the primary base of operations for OBS and the RHBs.


OBS provides positions that enable commentators the best view of the action. “At the IBC, radio RHBs can receive stereo international sound from each venue either in analog form, by copper cable, or digital, via fiber cable, format,” said Moreno. “OBS uses extensive IP technology for both TV and radio broadcasters. In case of signals for radio, audio over IP is mostly used for contribution of radio international sound feeds and for commentary and coordination audio exchange between competition venues and the IBC. Although radio stations have been extensively using ISDN systems until now, in Rio, we expect more and more broadcasters to move to IP-based audio transport.”

Moreno concludes, “For the first time, OBS will provide broadcasters with access to an audio server from where they can retrieve the audio content for all athlete interviews conducted by the Olympic News Channel, a team within OBS that is responsible for producing a 24/7 news feed during the games.”

According to Pam Melbourne, Major Events Planning editor, BBC Radio Sport, the corporation’s production model is very different to previous Olympic Games. “For the first time we will have a split site operation. Production and the final technical mix will all be done from our base at Salford in the United Kingdom.”

Melbourne says that the BBC will have a team of engineers managing the outside sources, presenters and radio mic operation in Rio, and key producers at events such as track and field, swimming, track cycling and rowing. “The whole project is managed in Rio by the editor of 5 live Sport, Michael Carr, and myself.” 

She goes on to reveal that Eleanor Oldroyd and Mark Chapman will present the “Morning Show” from Rio, while Mark Pougatch is at the helm for 5 live Sport. Jonathan Edwards will anchor the evening athletics finals, while Steve Parry and Karen Pickering will be poolside for the swimming sessions.

The BBC World Service will send a small radio team to Rio to provide its global listeners with an Olympic Service, but will work very closely with colleagues from 5 live to share content where rights permit.


Eleanor Oldroyd, who will kick off the daily action on BBC 5 live. “The BBC radio presence in the IBC is quite small,” she continued. “We have a few off-tube commentary areas, a technical control room and desks where Michael and I will work closely with our colleagues back in Salford, but also on site from BBC TV Sport, Online, News, Nations and Regions.”

All lines from Rio will go through the IBC and mixed if required, then forwarded to MediaCityUK in Salford. “Where we will present our programs, we have host-supplied fully-equipped positions and for other venues we will use ISDN connectivity with our own kit. We have an ISDN connection inside Team GB at the Athletes Village,” she said.

“This enables us to talk to medal winners or support staff if they’re still competing, or if it’s very early or late at night. The BBC will have a newsgathering presence at the holding camp. All output for BBC Radio is edited back in the U.K. We use VCS at Radio Sport, while local radio uses Radioman. All content is now easily shared within the BBC system.”

Melbourne concludes, “It’s an incredibly busy summer for our team. Once the domestic football season finishes, we’re off to Euro 2016, there’s international cricket, Wimbledon, The Open Golf, Formula One, International Rugby Union, The Olympics, The Paralympics, and the Ryder Cup. So, it’s a challenge — but one we will meet to provide listeners to the BBC with all the action from these tremendous games.”

As regards German coverage, Alexander Bleick, ARD, head of Radio Team Rio 2016, says they will have 51 journalists on site in Rio. “We will have around 30 reporters doing live coverage, stories, news, talks and interviews.”

Bleick explains that ARD will set up its own production area within the IBC, with a switching control room, studios for both live transmissions and other productions. “We’ll have 18 technicians and production personnel on site. Although we will take our own technical equipment, we will book circuits via OBS.”


Igor Tominec is Head of Sports at Radio Slovenia.
Credit: Sandi Fišer Alongside the reporting of the sporting events, ARD will be producing stories about political, cultural and environmental topics, plus live coverage from “German House” — a feature that will be celebrating German athletes.

“We work like a news agency for about 50 radio programs in Germany. We offer interviews, news, stories and the possibility to talk to our experts in Rio. Each individual program makes its own decisions about what parts of the offered content they are going to use. We`ll probably reach between 25 and 30 million listeners in Germany every day.” 

He continues, “Reporters use iPhones for live coverage, when they are not reporting from venues or the IBC, where ARD has booked commentary positions. We’ve got our own live App (ARD MuPro App), which is similar to ‘Luci live.’ All the stories will be produced on laptops. Editing is carried out using DiGAS.”

Flemish-language Belgian broadcaster VRT will deploy more than 10 production personnel to cover the games in Rio. In addition, around 20 reporters, commentators and editors will be in Brazil — although some of these will be shared with VRT’s television operation.

“We not only share our people, but we will also share facilities with our French language counterpart, RTBF,” explains Leen Sannen, the VRT producer responsible for Olympic coverage. “We will have dedicated mixed zone positions at the swimming events, hockey games — again shared with RTBF — and in the athletics stadium. In addition, we will share a stand-up position with RTBF in the TV tower. All of our feeds will be routed via the IBC.”

Back at the IBC, the sharing arrangement will also be in evidence. “VRT and RTBF will have a shared office and that will include a radio commentary booth,” says Sannen. “Editing will be carried out by the news teams on Avid laptops.”

Slovenia is planning to send around 60 athletes to compete in 12 different sports. According to Igor Tominec, head of Sports at Radio Slovenia, planning for Rio started in the summer of 2014.

“We will be sending eight commentators assisted by two technicians from our radio broadcasting team. In fact, all of our production output is being handled by our own staff brought in from Slovenia. That team will be using a program studio and working office located in the IBC.”

Tominec reveals that Radio Slovenia is using ISDN lines for live broadcasts and portable computer units for audio editing on-site. “Editing is carried out using both Dalet and Adobe Audacity systems which are ideal for our requirements.”

So what does he see as the biggest challenge for this year’s Olympic Games? “Providing a great deal of programming with a limited number of staff on-site, plus the transportation of those persons between venues in what is a huge country. But we will be providing the very best coverage of the Slovenian athletes.”

Philip Stevens reports on the industry for Radio World from Essex, England.