While one of every seven Americans watched the second 2015 GOP debate, it was what they didn’t see that made the difference. There were none of the usual line array speakers to obstruct the view of the debate stage. Production Resource Group (PRG) and VUE Audiotechnik worked together to deliver an innovative solution that addressed the unique production challenges of the event and the location.
The CNN-broadcast debate took place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs in Simi Valley, CA, and averaged 23.1 million viewers, becoming the most watched televised debate in CNN’s history.
The GOP debate set was built atop a scaffold-type structure that was around 40′ tall and placed above the Marine One helicopter, with Air Force One as the backdrop for the candidates. Space on the set was limited and designed to handle the 11 candidates, moderators, live audience, and minimal technical crew. For this reason, all of the typical backstage equipment was allocated to one floor below the stage on the second floor of the library.
PRG provided the audio and lighting solutions for this debate and submitted an audio design by PRG Project Manager Mark Boettcher. He worked closely with PRG’s Senior Systems Engineers Bill Daly and Alan Henig, who both have many years of experience with similar systems for televised events. Boettcher explains his process. “I designed a system that would allow me to adjust on the fly using the techniques that we had used successfully in previous installations.” The audio system was installed, tuned, and tested in just two days. Daly and the team tuned the system and time aligned each row.
The audio design featured 24 isolated under-the-seat zones and 11 fold back circuits. Under-seat speaker systems have been used for decades on television projects; nonetheless, in working with the client, PRG recommended this to be the best choice as this was something they’ve had plenty of experience with. The final audio design was implemented with the help of the CNN-hired Mix Engineer Dave Tennant and Audio Assistant Chris Rucker. It featured 142 distributed VUE Audiotechnik i-2×4.5 speakers with 70˚ x 70˚ dispersion placed under seats, with a number of the speakers dressed in red silk speaker fabric to conceal them within the red carpeting for on-stage monitoring.
Working closely with the client, PRG’s solution addressed the fact that the venue was a very reverberant environment and allowed the audio team to keep the overall sound pressure level down low for the show, which in turn provided the best end-product for the television truck. “The biggest challenge of mixing on an event like this is simply knowing where you rank in the eyes of the producers compared to the rest of the production and being okay with it,” Tennant says. “First and foremost is ‘how it looks on TV’; and second would be ‘how it sounds on TV.’ Eventually you get way down on the list to ‘how it sounds in the house.’ However the house ultimately will affect how it sounds on TV, so a great sounding house mix equals a great broadcast mix. Mark and Bill’s tuning and timing of the room was spot on. Any adjustments that I had to make during the actual event were extremely minor. Based on the reactions of the live audience, every syllable, nuance, and inflection spoken by the candidates were clearly heard and understood. What more can you ask for?”
In addition, with two JitaCams rigged above the audience, there was a concern in adding more obstacles for the camera crew to navigate around for clean camera shots. “While it was a very labor-intensive installation, visually the audience didn’t see any large PA clusters hanging in the camera shots and once the audience was seated it was very difficult to even notice the speakers under the seats. However, they did not hear a sacrifice in audio quality by using this system design technique,” says Boettcher. Tennant adds his thoughts on the audio solution. “Other than 142 speakers distributed across a 5,000 sq. ft. set, the install and setup was actually quite straightforward. Having amp, splitter, and wireless worlds all located on the floor below the set actually simplified the install.”
The console of choice for this event was a Yamaha CL5. Boettcher explains, “This provided us with plenty of surface control for the show, plus enough matrix and mix output capabilities to handle the all the requirements.” The stage boxes were connected using Audinate’s Dante(Digital Audio Network Through Ethernet) network routed over CAT5e from the stage boxes (Rio 1608) to the console. “I broke the system out into four zones fed from the console to provide quick access for Dave to adjust on the fly,” continues Boettcher. “These zones were, the front row, remaining main floor, house right bleachers, and house left bleachers.”
The speakers, console, and microphones were connected to the set via cabling that was dropped down to the second floor technical compound. For the speaker systems, Neutrik NL8 multi-line speaker cable was used to route four zones of the PA through each cable. “This number worked well, as the locations we chose to break the NL8’s out into separate zones corresponded well with the design,” says Boettcher. “It was even better when we got in the middle of the install and had to re-design on the fly; it offered us the ability to re-route several zones at a time with very minimal effort.”
The zoning and fold back requirements were all controlled using four Meyer Galileo 616 loudspeaker management processors. Boettcher chose this specific processor for the large number of outputs and its internal matrix capabilities. “This allowed me to use fewer processors and route just a couple of matrix mixes from the console to the processors and then further matrix the feeds to the correct zones. Additionally, the Galileo processors offer a very solid and reliable network backbone.” Using a Microsoft Surface tablet, Boettcher was able to wirelessly connect through a WiFi router back to the equipment rack, allowing him to walk through the seats. “While Bill (Daly) and I were optimizing the system, I could very quickly, efficiently, and easily adjust any of the parameters within the PA system from the Surface. Historically with a system of this size it would require us to have an operator to sit by the EQ rack for efficiency.” This allowed them to optimize the entire system in less than six hours.
The amplification was entirely provided by Lab.Gruppen FP2400Qs. These were chosen based on their ability to easily run eight VUE i2x4.5 speakers on each amplifier channel. PRGs VUE i-Class loudspeaker inventory is made up of a custom-built model of the i2x4.5 that operates at 16-ohms, allowing larger quantities to run in parallel on each amplifier channel. “Using a four-channel amplifier meant I could use less of them, achieving a higher space to function ratio,” Boettcher explains.
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