ORLANDO, FLORIDA - MARCH 2012: This season's NBA All-Star Weekend, which included "rising stars" contests, a slam dunk contest, and similar events in the run up to Sunday night's big game, took place at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. Although basketball took its rightful place at the center of the festivities, performances by Nicki Minaj, Pitbull, Chris Brown, and Ne-Yo with Nayer framed the event, and high-energy audio set the tone throughout. Even the American and Canadian national anthems, sung by Mary J. Blige and Neverest, respectively, were amped. As they did last year, NBA Entertainment entrusted Wireless First/Clair Global with the monumental task of (1) handling wired and wireless audio for all of the performers and events and (2) delivering it to the house and to the broadcast feeds, in addition to providing behind-the-scenes communications.
"The challenges of the NBA All-Star Weekend really revealed themselves last year," explained Jason Spence, president of J Sound, who consulted with Volume Inc. on sound design for the event and then mixed monitors on game day. "Audio distribution was - and is - a big issue. Last year, we had analog splitters - racks and racks of them, in fact - and they not only compromised the sound, they also made errors easy to commit and difficult to track down." Clair Global's Paul Cervenansky, the systems engineer for both years, concurred, "Last year, I was in charge of a wall of copper, and all of the consoles had stage racks. The broadcast trucks dropped off fiber heads to which we successfully converted. It all worked and we delivered a great show, but it was a nightmare for me, especially when someone wasn't getting a signal in a high pressure situation."
This year, Wireless First/Clair Global brought a Stagetec Nexus system to the NBA All-Star Game. With appropriate options, the Nexus hardware accepts inputs of any analog or digital format and then, via a software interface, routes them to any number of outputs with truly negligible latency and no loss of information. "The Nexus system has taken patch changes to a whole new level," declared Kevin Sanford, president of Wireless First/Clair Global Broadcast. "Instead of staring at five 80-input, four-way splits and devoting up to several minutes to any patch change request, this year, Paul [Cervenansky] sat behind four 19-inch displays and exercised his index finger to make error-free patch changes in the time it takes to click a mouse. Moreover, he had a visual of the entire system on those screens with real-time metering information of cross points making it easy to fax lines and keep a good gain structure throughout the system." Although now an expert, Cervenansky was grateful for the help of ESPN mixer Jonathan Freed, Stagetec USA president Rusty Waite, and Stagetec VP of broadcast systems James Williamson for their assistance.
Wireless First/Clair Global also handled the wireless audio for performance microphones, personal monitors, and communications, coordinating with the NBA to avoid interference with other RF users. "The biggest challenge was getting solid RF coverage throughout the whole arena," said Josh Flower, RF and comms system engineer. "We were surrounded by LED screens in the walls and the deck of the halftime performance area, which make our lives easier by raising the RF noise floor." Where possible, Flower maximized signal to noise by decreasing transmission distances. For example, he had a directional IEM antenna just twenty feet away during the national anthem performances on center court.
The use of Clair Global's new CF 1090 fractal antenna proved crucial. "Jeff Briggette, RF engineer with Clair and I, tried a few other types of antennas, but they fell short because the noise from this particular LED wall had a distinct transmission orientation," said Flower. "The CF 1090 fractal antenna is position insensitive. It transmits and receives across all orientations and thus provides more noise-free signal." Flower used a combination of CF 1090 fractal antennas, and a custom RF-over-fiber system to provide complete RF coverage in the arena bowl, the locker room, and the adjoining hallways.
Thirty-two channels of Shure and Sennheiser wireless mics, eight channels of Shure PSM 1000 wireless personal monitors, and eighteen channels of Telex BTR wireless intercoms kept the RF team busy. In addition, there were six node Riedel system that provided communications between the broadcast compound to inside the arena and to the Sprint pre-game concert outside on the street. Noted Spence, "The Shure PSM 1000 personal monitors were exactly what we needed for this event."
RF-over-fiber proved to be an effective solution for the RF challenges Wireless First/Clair Global faced. "I know that everybody's jumping on the RF-over-fiber bandwagon," said Sanford. "We've been deliberately hanging back a bit to properly assess the advantages and disadvantages of the various systems that are out there. We found this worked so well at the NBA All-Star Game that we're currently in the process of building a few customized systems to use in various circumstances."
ABOUT WIRELESS FIRST, A CLAIR GLOBAL COMPANY
Wireless First, a Clair Global Company, has decades of experience in handling wireless communications for television and theatrical productions, concert tours, corporate events and themed environments; servicing all the major television networks and production companies, including ABC, NBC, MTV, NBA, Buena Vista Pictures and Radio City Productions. Under the auspices of Kevin Sanford, Wireless First has offices in Mt. Vernon New York, Nashville and Los Angeles.