So What is Event Communications?
by Chris Dodds, Managing Director, The P.A. People.
So who are The P.A. People and what is Event Communications? A common response from our crew is ‘Don’t be fooled by the name on the shirt’, particularly at some of the larger international events that we work on.
Whilst domestically The P.A. People are reasonably well known for our audio system designs and installations in larger sporting venues around the country, what may be less well known is our role in providing production communications and audio systems on a rental basis to the world’s largest events.
The P.A. People is one of two contractors worldwide who provide wired production intercom, two-way radios, wireless full duplex comms, CCTV and stage surveillance systems, theatrical cue lights, video transport, and audio systems to support the production of major sporting events.
We work on major events like the Ceremonies for Olympic and Paralympic Games and their many feeder events such as the Asian, Pan American, and European Games. The Event Comms team are also involved in the provision of audio and comms systems for many sporting, corporate and cultural events and ceremonies not only here in Australia but also many overseas.
So what is Event Communications? From our perspective it is the provision of communications systems in the broadest possible sense:
- We facilitate communications between a community-based sporting event organiser and their participants, no matter how far they are spread out.
- We facilitate communications between producers in multiple countries for a multi-venue annual general meeting.
- We facilitate communications within the production team, ensuring everyone gets their cue when and where they need it.
- We facilitate the audience being part of the experience for major sporting events, teams, and codes.
By its very nature, the provision of comms systems is being executed at its very best when no one even acknowledges that we exist. When the comms system has been designed effectively and is working optimally it should be transparent. People should be able to do their job without impediment. But when it is not done correctly, everyone is quick to complain.
The core of most communications systems is a wired intercom system. Dependent on the scale of the event this could either be a digital networked HelixNet party line system, or possibly an Eclipse Matrix Intercom, both from Clear-Com.
After the wired intercom system, we would typically look at adding an integrated two way radio package. The P.A. People pride ourselves on the level of RF engineering that we apply to these larger projects which can typically involve more that eighty radio channels and well over a hundred radio frequencies to coordinate.
Apart from the typical wired headset comms systems and fully integrated two way radio systems, The P.A. People also provide a number of other systems to facilitate Communications for the production team. One sub system that is growing in its popularity is the use of CCTV for both stage management and security.
“We used our CCTV panel in the light booth all the time,” said Travis Hagenbuch, Lighting Designer for lighting design group Full Flood at 2015’s Baku Asian Games.
“We used it to help focus lights in places we couldn’t see, we used it to mimic some TV camera angles, and even to check smoke machines under the stage. Not having to send someone to do all those things helped save a lot of time.
“Everything supplied to us worked flawlessly, was flexible, and was intuitive to use, and I’ve never seen a comms system this large and complex. The integration of all three of Lighting’s radio channels into the headset panels was a life-saver when trying to talk to the crew and find someone quickly – that’s a feature I wish was on a lot more shows.
“The P.A. People’s staff made communication on this project effortless. There was always a quick reply on the comms channel, and help was always quick to come if we needed anything, even up to our 6th floor booth. The importance of good communication multiplies with the scale of a show this large, and we were very happy with the system and support we had.”
Another common feature of a contemporary event communications system is the use of an IP Network as the overarching backbone to the project.
For example, the entire comms system in Baku was delivered over a large Ethernet network. The P.A People deployed 20 fibre connected network nodes in and around the venue, including one at the Bulvar Cauldron in the city centre some 10km from the venue.
“Our philosophy is to create a network centric environment and to deliver and connect all of our comms elements over that backbone, including the matrix systems themselves, matrix keystations and partyline beltpacks, CCTV cameras and viewers, timecode displays, cue lights, file and print services, and audio.
Not only do we deploy our services across the network, but we also monitor almost all our sub systems using IP and SNMP technology, from the radio bases to the UPSs and everything in between” commented Paul Barrett, The P.A. People’s Senior System Engineer for the project.