Taming the beast Live to Air
A obvious sign of whether a television series is popular is if it returns for another season. 3 years is good. 5 years is great! But 25 Years is truly unbelievable.
WHAT NOW! was fortunate enough to celebrate it’s 25th year on television last year.
This Iconic show has forged a place in the heart of New Zealand’s children (and parents) through it’s irreverent and chaotic format, all unfolding LIVE TO AIR to make sure there’s no 2nd takes or regrets!!
Of course making 2 hours of Live Television is challenging at the best of times, but add 150 5-9 year-olds, a Gorilla called Camilla, remote presenters beaming in from anywhere via satellite and absolutely ANYTHING else the producers want to throw at you proves a constant challenge.
I started on WHAT NOW! in 1984 as a young keen eyed sound trainee. Through the years I have been lucky enough to return for blocks of the show and for the last 2 years I have directed the show in the studio live to air.
One of the most important things for me as the Studio Director of this programme was great sound. Following the dialog on this programme is crucial to engage our audience and vocal clarity in loud and physical environments is always challenging. For that reason TVNZ chose to purchase a Lectrosonics Venue series 6-channel radio mic system and Countryman E6 personal mics from Sound Techniques.
The system has been brilliant! The freedom it gave me to go wherever I wanted, in and outside the studio, and know we would have coverage was very reassuring.
Two things that have really impressed me with the Venue Series are:
1) The continuity of signal: Due to the enormous area the front people cover in 2 hours we decided to push the conventions of the technology and position the diversity aerials a fair way apart and focus them on separate areas. As the RF technology has improved immensely we get away with having two discrete receive points rather than a redundant receiver. This gives us great range and when the systems are locked in – I have to say it feels like you’re listening to a cable mic. The continuity of signal is very impressive!!
2) The amount of system data available at a glance on the front panel:
Digital radio systems are amazing, not the least part due to the amount of meta-data now available at the receiver that provides crucial information about the transmitter at a glance. Knowing what systems are switched on (or switched off!!) is absolutely critical. Add to that the battery level of the transmitter (which is crucial over 2 hours LIVE) and the modulation of the packs is also great !
Additionally the E6 Headset mics have been a great pairing with the radio systems. These mics have worked brilliantly for us for several reasons:
Clarity: The difference in ‘punch’ on the presenters from wearing chest mounted lavalier mics to the E6 was enormous.
Rejection: The Mic has very little colouration due to it’s very tight polar pattern and close proximity. This has been a huge advantage in getting the studio PA level up to a volume that can even begin to compete with 200 screaming 5-9 year-olds!! It has also helped a lot in giving the presenters freedom to perform. This is a very physical show with lots of mess! Having the mic right on the presenters face has helped a lot in nailing the physical comedy of the show.
Episode 40 last year was the 25th anniversary of the show, so it was decided that something special needed to happen. “Lets bring back a whole lot of the presenters from the last 25 years!!”. “Brilliant” I said in the production meeting, while inside thinking "how the hell are we going to deal with this ?!!!!"
After the show format took shape it became obvious that we were in dire need of another additional Venue System. So the call was made to Sound Techniques who have a hire system available (phew!). They were very accommodating in getting the system down to Christchurch in enough time for our soundies Patrick and Nick to tune it to work in conjunction with the existing frequencies. Again the feedback on the venue system was invaluable. They kept the original venue receiver setup the same as normal knowing how well it worked. Utilising the diagrams in the operational manual to collate 6+ more non-conflicting frequencies was easy and then they visually scanned through our RF environment to identify channels clearly away from all the other RF noise. A few tweaks later and we had 12 harmonious frequencies that could be used simultaneously. Considering the other 6 non-Lectrosonic radio systems used about the studio, it becomes no mean feat in a pretty ionized environment!
So off we went on our final 2 hours of chaos for 2006. Having 12 personals in the mix certainly kept the sound boys busy – but we got a great result. Thanks to Sound Techniques for their continued support of our operation down in Christchurch – it makes all the difference.
Thanks to Richard Hansen, who contributed this story