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Sochi Gears Up for Olympic Radio Coverage

Broadcasters will cover the games from the International Broadcast Centre

The Sochi Main Media Centre is home to the IBC and Main Press Centre. (Credit: Sochi 2014 Winter Games)

SOCHI, Russia — The world’s radio broadcasters will be in Sochi in February to cover the Winter Olympics, starting with the games’ Opening Ceremony on Feb. 7.

They will cover the games from the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) in Sochi, from commentator positions at the various stadiums and other venues, and in mixed zones adjacent to the venues where broadcasters will get to “mix” with and interview athletes.

Radio has a long history of covering the Olympics. The 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam were the first to receive radio’s attention. However, full-blown radio coverage didn’t occur until the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.

The core of the Olympic Games coverage — the sound and video from the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and live feeds from the venues during actual events — is being produced by Olympic Broadcasting Services. An agency of the International Olympic Committee that is dedicated to providing consistent quality coverage, OBS has been host broadcaster for all Olympics Games since 2008.

OBS is also the manager and operator of the IBC in Sochi, and the associated Mountain Broadcast Centre nearby. The IBC is the headquarters for radio and TV rights holding broadcasters. (Non-RHB reporters and print are housed in the nearby Main Press Centre.) Located within walking distance of the main competition venues in Sochi’s “coastal cluster,” the low-rise IBC is 62,000 square meters in size, with a functional floor space of 38,670 square meters (416, 240 sq. ft.).

A Second View of the Sochi Main Media Centre (Credit: Sochi 2014 Winter Games) “The standard OBS studio module is just over 47 square meters [500 sq. ft.], large enough to support a basic radio production facility,” said Matt Mason, OBS’ head of information and publications. “This said, many RHBs have requested custom-tailored facilities.” The RHBs typically outfit their own studios.

Broadcasters usually arrange the RHB connections to their home countries, he added. “However, they can be provided by OBS, based on individual RHB requests.”

The competition venues — both in Sochi and in the mountains for skiing and similar events — are where the action truly takes place at the Olympic Games. They are the locations of the all-important “broadcast commentary positions,” where RHB announcers can deliver coverage tailored to their specific listening and viewing audiences.

A total of 532 broadcast commentary positions are available when all venues are counted. Each position accommodates one, two or three people. “Radio broadcasters will occupy up to 79 commentary positions throughout the Sochi Olympic Winter Games site,” Mason said. “BBC Radio will be using five of these.”

At the venues, OBS selects commentary positions to provide the RHBs a full view of the event. “The exact locations depend upon the venue’s physical design, the sport and the broadcasting industry best practices related to the coverage of the particular sport, but generally speaking they are centered on the middle of the field of play,” said Mason.

The Main Media Centre Hotel for journalists is close to the IBC and MPC. (Credit: Sochi 2014 Winter Games) At the mountain venues, the commentary positions are located in temporary cabins. These cabins provide each RHB with an enclosed space that has power, lighting, and a heater.

RHBs have the option of booking either equipped or unequipped commentary positions at the venues.

“Equipped commentary positions are provided with a state-of-the-art digital commentary unit — integrated into the OBS digital commentary system — and connectivity,” Mason said. “Unequipped positions are essentially empty, with power and connectivity according to the RHB request.”

In either instance, venue commentary positions are fully supported by professional personnel in the commentary control room located near the commentary positions at each venue.

A Far View of the Main Media Centre Under Construction in Sochi (Credit: Sochi 2014 Winter Games) “Commentary audio from the equipped positions is routed to the RHB studios through full-bandwidth connections to the commentary switching centers in both the IBC and the MBC via redundant fiber paths,” said Mason.

“At unequipped commentary positions, RHBs can order uncompressed full-duplex audio lines to IBC/MBC, ISDN lines and Internet access.” Commentator positions are also provided at the Medals Plaza.

The audio feeds from the venue locations are routed to the commentary-switching center in the IBC. The commentary-switching center is the main hub for coordination circuits and international sound for radio (IS-RA).

All RHB/OBS and IS-RA circuits terminate in the commentary-switching center, with the option of patching this audio to the radio broadcasters’ spaces in the IBC. Inside the IBC, RHBs can receive stereo international sound from each venue in either analog or digital format (IS-RA Package).


The Olympic Park in Sochi is home to the IBC and MPC, plus various Olympic venues. (Credit: Sochi 2014 Winter Games) As the name suggest, the “Mixed Zone” is a space outside the venue where radio broadcasters can “mix” with athletes to do interviews. Given that there are many venues throughout the Sochi Olympics, there are many mixed zones.

Broadcasters will head out to these zones — microphones and radio links in hand — to interview their country’s athletes as they become available. The audio from these interviews will be routed back to the RHBs’ studios in the IBC.

“Beyond their own original coverage, radio rights-holders will have access to feeds provided by Olympic Broadcasting Services, akin to its host broadcaster feeds for television rights-holders,” Mason said. “OBS provides these RHBs with IS-RA produced for mix with their commentary feeds. This will be available to the RHBs in the IBC as part of their package, in either analog or AES/EBU format.”

The bottom line: The 2014 Winter Olympic Games will be the most sophisticated radio Olympics to date, in terms of the coverage provided and the electronics employed. From radio’s standpoint, the games have come a long way from that first analog broadcast from Amsterdam, 86 years ago.

James Careless is a regular contributor to Radio World International in Ottawa, Ontario.