Latin American Idol is a Wireless Winner

November 18, 2008

South of the Equator, Shure Triumphs in the Battle for Bandwidth BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA, November 18, 2008 — Similar to American Idol, the hit U.S. show, Latin American Idol is a reality television show that enjoys a huge following. Just like its U.S. counterpart on many other levels, the program provides contestants with an opportunity to achieve superstardom, showcases celebrity guests, and uses the judge's stand as a pulpit for lively and spirited discourse that sometimes extends into the audience as well. On the surface, one might easily construe that the only difference between the shows is that one is in Spanish and the other is in English. This is absolutely wrong. "We tend to do many things our own way," says Juan Pablo Banchik, sound director of Latin American Idol. "From a production standpoint, standardized methods that apply to “Idol” shows in other countries don't often work down here." Banchik, who works for FremantleMedia, the UK-based production company behind the “Idol” franchise worldwide, has been with Latin American Idol through all of its three seasons, the last of which concluded earlier this month. A Full Sail graduate whose career has moved from the New York studio scene back to Latin America and live concert sound, he has occasionally bent the rules established by FremantleMedia to keep the show on its proper course. "Fremantle has a series of 'technical bibles' that explain how every aspect of the show should be produced," Banchik relates. "I knew I was in trouble when the book on sound said that the judges had to be miced with lavalier or gooseneck microphones. In both cases, that's a really bad choice for Latin Americans, as we tend to yell frequently, move all over the place without paying any attention to a microphone's location, and wear a lot of jewelry around our necks. The latter trait is especially hard on lavalier mics, which don't really perform all that well when they're being whipped by a 24-carat gold chain." Pleading his case to make changes in the plan with FremantleMedia headquarters in London, Banchik was given some freedom to meet Latin American Idol's particular production needs. Instead of using lavalier and gooseneck microphones at the judge's stand, Countryman WCE6T headset mics were used on each of the judges. Bringing input to the main mix with Shure UHF-R® wireless systems, these headworn units successfully solved the challenge. In keeping with the Latin flair for loud, explosive, and colorful rhythmic expression, Banchik —working with direction from Fremantle Argentina — approached his task of building the house sound system for Latin American Idol in a fashion more closely resembling a live concert stage than a studio soundstage. "One of the reasons I was chosen for the job was because of my live sound concert experience," he says. "The producers came to me and said they wanted the seats in the audience section to shake with the rumble of bass, and for the house band to sound like the Rolling Stones playing in front of a huge crowd at Madison Square Garden. They didn't feel comfortable giving this job to someone used to doing sound for television who was pinning lavs on talk show guests and outfitting an announcer with a handheld mic. They were clearly looking to create an environment with serious sonic horsepower." Local production company, Buenos Aires Live Show, helped Banchik create two distinct PAs to meet the full-tilt sound system criteria placed before him: one for voice and stage dialog only and the other for musical performance. Because this would result in high SPLs throughout the studio, he tamed stage volumes by using Shure PSM® 700 in-ear personal monitor systems on all of the contestants and the band, which removed the need for wedges onstage. Beyond pure volume, Latin American Idol also demanded premium quality sound, in the studio and for the broadcast. "Once Latin American Idol leaves the studio here in Buenos Aires, it has a long way to travel, going into homes in Mexico, Central and South America, and beyond," Banchik notes. "The sound goes through so many broadcast steps, and is distributed in so many different ways, that the potential for it to get compressed and compromised in any number of ways is great anywhere along the way. That's why if we don't deliver a great sounding show from the main master, we're doomed in terms of quality once it goes out to the rest of the world." Sharing Banchik's concern for delivering superior audio, Shure's Argentinean distributor Todomusica brought 22 channels of UHF-R wireless to the set used with black handheld transmitters sporting KSM9 capsules. With a pair of diversity antenna arrays deployed to boost performance across the large soundstage, the systems were placed in the hands of the contestants and the show's hosts. Latin American Idol is taped in one of the larger studios found within facilities owned in Buenos Aires' Palermo Hollywood district by local media powerhouse, Channel 9. "Shure UHF-R wireless gave us what we demanded in terms of sonic quality," Banchik adds, “and it was instrumental in helping us with RF coordination as well. Within the Channel 9 building alone, we were working alongside nine other active studios. Frequency competition from the outside world was just as great or greater, given the proximity of many other production companies that call the Palermo Hollywood neighborhood home. Using the UHF-R systems' auto frequency selection feature, and with the help of Todomusica and Shure in the U.S., we built a wireless blueprint that has been rock solid all three seasons. We haven't ever had a dropout and the systems have been 100 percent reliable." Shure Wireless Workbench® software was used to orchestrate and monitor events, which enabled Banchik to confine all of his wireless frequencies within a band extending from 500-700 MHz. Using H4 and J5 bandwidths on handheld KSM9 microphones to cut through the neighborhood's jam-packed frequency spectrum, he also deployed helical antennas for use with his PSM 700 wireless systems. "We didn't find too many clean, open frequency channels when we started out," he says, looking back to the show's first season. "I wouldn't go so far as to say it was easy, but once we got it right, everything has worked fine right through the end of this season just past." The hosts of Latin American Idol are Venezuela's Erika de la Vega and Argentina's Monchi Balestra. Hailing from diverse ends of the Latin community across the southern hemisphere, judges include Puerto Rican Gustavo Sanchez, Cuban-born American Jon Secada, and Mexico's Irma Angelica Hernandez Ochoa, who is better known simply as "Mimi." This year, 17-year-old Margarita Henriquez from Panama emerged victorious among the contestants battling for top honors in the recently completed third season.