NILES, IL, June 26, 2013 — The 2013 Tony Awards broadcast was a critical and ratings success, posting a 20 percent increase in viewership. With the show’s move from the Beacon Theater back to Radio City Music Hall, the theme for the night, as stated by host Neil Patrick Harris in the epic opening number, was to “make it bigger.” To cope with the show’s expansive production requirements, RF systems provider Firehouse Productions went with an all-Shure approach to wireless microphone systems and in-ear monitoring systems.
“This was my third year as RF coordinator for the Tony Awards. We had great success using Shure systems last year, so when we began preparations for this year’s show, I wanted the same consistency, reliability, and great sound from our wireless systems,” says Vinny Siniscal, director of the Firehouse Productions wireless and intercom systems division. “We also love the Shure micro-pack, which is smaller than any other bodypack on Broadway, with a very stable RF system. So that’s what we went with.”
Firehouse supplied 48 channels of Shure UHF-R® wireless and eight channels of Shure PSM® 1000 personal monitor systems. The mics included eight handhelds along with 40 UR1M micro-bodypack transmitters, most of which were in use during host Neil Patrick Harris’s opening number. “The opening had a little bit of everything in it,” notes Siniscal, “with cast members from every show on Broadway, major set changes during the number, and audio from out in the audience as well as the whole stage. From a wireless perspective, it was a huge challenge, but there were no issues. Everything went off exactly as planned.”
The Shure UR1M micro-bodypack transmitter offers several features that are attractive for theatrical and broadcast applications. Costumers love it for its size (1.92 by 2.38 inches), extended sweat resistance, and light weight. The UR1M gets at least six hours of continuous use on two AAA alkaline batteries (nine hours with lithium), features rugged all-metal construction, and offers a full range of premium wireless features, including infrared frequency assignment and live system tracking through Shure Wireless Workbench® 6 software.
“One thing I loved about having an all-Shure complement was the ability to monitor everything through Wireless Workbench 6,” says Siniscal. “You’ve got all these different Broadway casts, going from one production number to the next, sometimes with nearly every channel of microphone and in-ears on stage at once, with multiple people constantly asking for status reports. Having everything be accessible from Workbench 6 made it much easier to manage and took the stress level of the show way down.”
Among the challenges of the Tony Awards broadcast is the production’s increasing reliance on video walls as set pieces, which can be a strong interference source for wireless transmission. “The producers tend to use just the key physical elements of the sets from these Broadway shows, with the rest of the atmosphere created by video walls,” says Siniscal. “It makes my job more of a challenge, but using high-end wireless systems with well-designed antenna systems can overcome that. We have a week of rehearsal to fine-tune the system, so by show time, we know what we’re dealing with and we’re ready.”
At Radio City Music Hall, the production design required wireless coverage across the stage, out in the house, plus backstage, including the dressing room areas. “We use helical and dome antennas from Professional Wireless Systems, combined with the Shure UA845-SWB wideband antenna splitter to control the system, and everything worked out great,” Siniscal reports. “Shure licenses and distributes the PWS helical antennas, so it’s obviously a good match. We also had some Shure 900 MHz channels in play to help us get the coverage we needed.”
For Firehouse Productions, using systems that shine under the most trying conditions is just good business. “Coordinating over 150 channels of wireless for live TV in midtown Manhattan is a tough job, but we are no strangers to it. I knew from experience that the Shure UR system and PSM 1000 in-ears would give us seamless RF, and they did,” reports Siniscal. “Obviously, our job is to keep our customers happy so they will come back. This was our third straight year doing the Tony Awards, so hopefully that means we’re doing something right.”