February 21, 2008
As candidates continue to debate the issues,Shure is one of the few things everyone can agree upon NILES, IL, February 21, 2008—Is Republican presidential candidate John McCain leaning too far to the left? Can his counterparts on the Democratic side, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, project integrity and passion? On one level, these are some of the tougher questions revolving around the issues of Presidential Campaign '08. From the perspectives of Stan Dickerson of OSA International and Steve Shepard of massAV, however, they aren't matters of debate at all. They're just some of the audio challenges faced every day as sound reinforcement providers on the campaign trail in places as far-flung as Nashua, New Hampshire, and Simi Valley, California. Based just outside of Boston in Billerica, Massachusetts, massAV managed event staging for John McCain during the heated campaigning leading up to the New Hampshire primary. Shepard, the firm's chief audio engineer, hit the trail to oversee audio at larger gatherings, while fellow massAV staffers Sarith Nhem and John Inza mustered forces to meet an unpredictable schedule of whistle-stops and smaller rallies. "What's the real challenge of bringing audio to this year's campaign?" Shepard fires back rhetorically when asked what the hardest aspect of doing these events is. "Everything. The potential for wireless RF interference is always hanging over our heads; we have people in the crowd asking the candidate questions using handheld transmitters held at waist level, you name it. If anything can happen, it probably will. At one event, my colleagues Sarith and John were told they'd need a system to cover a crowd of 300. 2,500 showed up instead." To help massAV cope with the rigors of Campaign '08, Shepard used Shure's UHF-R Wireless Microphone System to bring an aura of stability and reliability to RF operations. "With UHF-R, users can totally misbehave with our handheld mics and everything remains just fine," Shepard says. "John McCain can be fairly soft-spoken, and he doesn't have the best mic technique, but with UHF-R you can still get what you need out of him and his voice comes across clearly, even if he occasionally wraps his hand around the transmitter's antenna." An admitted fan of Shure's hardwired Beta 87C, Shepard uses the cardioid condenser on a tripod stand for many podium applications. Noting that this mic is rock-solid and that "no one can get a bad sound out of it," he finds that the Beta 87C is tolerant and always fairly flat sounding, regardless of whether the speaker is standing three feet away or talking forcefully right into it.Working on the other side of the political spectrum at times as well as in campaign locations on the opposite coast, including L.A., Stan Dickerson of OSA International developed a wireless blueprint using 20 channels of Shure UHF-R that saw duty in multiple locations. With offices in Chicago, Orlando, Detroit, Las Vegas, and Branson, MO, OSA is an event staging/production services company that has latched onto UHF-R to help tame the country's most hostile RF environments. "Coordinating wireless frequencies can be tough enough in places like L.A. without all the chaos generated by a campaign stop," Dickerson says for the record. "When the candidates come to town, it gets significantly worse as the press corps follows, bringing their own wireless gear with them and compounding the problem. Fortunately, the agility and automatic frequency selection capabilities of our UHF-R systems allow us to stay a step ahead in the game. Whether we're on the campaign trail or doing a corporate event, we've also found that no one will turn down an opportunity to use UHF-R. The performance is great." For L.A. campaign stops featuring appearances by Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, OSA used a good portion of its 20 channels of UHF-R with Shure's subminiature WL51 lavalier microphones. Citing the excellent rejection of the microphones as perfect for broadcast use where the goal is to eliminate as much of the extraneous room noise as possible, Dickerson adds that the WL51 is great sounding as well, and with its cardioid pattern, simply couldn't have met the requirements of the task any better. "The candidates need to hear themselves, and both the live audience and those watching the broadcast need to hear the candidates," he says, distilling the process of campaign audio down to its essentials. "Any deviation from that plan would be disastrous. Being able to rely on your microphones and wireless systems without worry frees you up to concentrate on other pressing matters at hand, which there always seem to be plenty of." As Campaign '08 continues, the field of candidates on both sides may be narrowing, but the job of bringing sound to the myriad events associated with it only continues to grow. "OK, this is politics," Steve Shepard says, trying to bring better definition to his world. "The candidates are not rock stars, and they are not hearing themselves coming back through a set of wedges. But in many ways, they could learn a thing or two from some of the better rock musicians when it comes to being onstage. Use the mic, keep it close to your mouth, and work the room. That's rule one. The medium is the message after all, right?"