NILES, Ill., June 17, 2014—The CBS broadcast of the 2014 Tony Awards, which aired June 8, was one of the most complex in the event’s history. From host Hugh Jackman’s sprawling, bouncing, opening number to the on-stage gathering of all winners for a closing rendition of “On Broadway,” viewers were treated to a fast-paced production that included a record 17 musical acts and a live orchestra in Radio City Music Hall.
Managing RF system design and frequency coordination for Firehouse Productions was Vinny Siniscal. “With so much real estate to cover, so many frequencies to manage and so many live bands, I specified Shure UHF-R systems again this year,” he states. “When I’m doing a live network broadcast, that’s my preference. Even though the product has been around ten years or so, I know there’s nothing else out there that I trust to be robust enough to survive in such a crowded RF environment.”
This year’s production used almost 250 channels of wireless, 64 of which were for microphones. In addition, all eight channels of in-ear monitors on the Tony stage were Shure PSM® 1000 systems. The production also used wireless intercom systems, effects cues, and ENG cameras – most notably the Steadicam following Jackman from the red carpet to the stage on the opening number. “Producers design these shows assuming that whatever wireless is required can be accommodated,” notes Siniscal. “If that means more channels in less available spectrum, then so be it. It’s our job to make it happen.”
All but eight of the wireless mics were Shure UHF-R—the only exceptions were a handful of costumes with other transmitters already sewn inside. Most of the 56 Shure channels were bodypacks, including 32 UR1M micro-packs. Twelve channels were UR2 handheld transmitters, with an SM58® capsule for Hugh Jackman and Beta 58 elements for most other artists, including Carole King, LL Cool J, and Sting’s choir. “Firehouse provided full combo systems, and, of course, we had all Shure capsules available,” says Siniscal. “At the Tony Awards, you have to be ready for anything.”
One of Siniscal’s biggest challenges this year was the creation of six separate wireless reception zones. “That was driven by the opening number,” he relates. “It started on the red carpet, which is literally outside and open to all the RF on the street. Then we had to cover the stage-level and basement-level elevator banks, plus the elevator shaft itself. Of course, we also had the usual zones for the main stage and front of house, plus the backstage zone.”
To handle the audio transition from zone to zone, Siniscal found the Shure UA874 active directional antenna to be a valuable tool. “What I love about these antennas is that the RF output is switchable from -6dB to +12dB, including unity gain,” he explains. “That’s a key feature, as it allows me to balance for different RF levels across the various zones. I can also turn each zone on and off remotely via the distribution amp.”
With a lot of advance work, three scanners, and a lot of Shure equipment, Firehouse Productions contributed flawless wireless to the telecast for the fourth consecutive year. “Doing the Tony Awards is always a big challenge, because every year, the production grows,” says Siniscal. “We had about 50 more wireless channels compared to last year, plus the outdoor coverage. That means competing with whatever is happening in Midtown – which is a lot of variables to deal with, especially for a live network broadcast. But we had a great team; we did our advance work, and had the right tools for the job. Fortunately, it went off without a hitch, and I look forward to doing it again next year.”