NILES, ILL., March 2, 2017—With two basketball venues, a large outdoor fan festival, and three days of live event broadcasts on TNT, ESPN, and NBA TV, the NBA All-Star Game weekend in New Orleans was a huge audio and RF challenge. For the fourth consecutive year, the league engaged Firehouse Productions to handle the wide-ranging audio, wireless, and intercom needs for its signature in-season celebration. Between events at the Smoothie King Center, the Mercedes Superdome, and outside, at Champions Square.
Audio coordinator for the event was Mark Dittmar, Firehouse Productions’ VP of Design & Sales. His solution to the audio challenge was to rely on Shure wireless microphones and in-ear monitoring systems. “There were live TV and press events almost continuously for three days, and our job was to provide audio into and out of all the major venues, including PA systems, wireless microphones and monitors, plus intercoms,” he reports. “With 603 active frequencies at Smoothie King Arena alone, wireless was obviously our biggest concern. For microphone and in-ear systems, we relied exclusively on Shure.”
In Smoothie King Arena, the Firehouse team deployed 32 channels of Shure UHF-R wireless microphones, with another 24 channels of PSM 1000 in-ear monitoring systems for live coverage of the three-point, slam dunk, and skills competitions on All-Star Saturday Night, along with Sunday prime time coverage of the All-Star Game. Handheld systems employed a mix of SM58®, KSM8, and KSM9 capsules, while bodypack systems were used for a variety of music applications, including wireless guitars and sousaphone. Musical artists for the All-Star Game included The Roots during pregame festivities and John Legend as halftime entertainment.
Firehouse also supplied and managed Shure UHF-R and PSM 1000 systems in the other All-Star venues, the Mercedes Superdome, and the outdoor Champions Square amphitheater, which served as a fan activity area. “The area we were responsible for covers about one square mile, and it was pretty much non-stop activity all week,” says Firehouse Director of Operations for wireless and communications Vinny Siniscal, who was also on site. “Between in-ears and mics, we had between 150 and 160 channels of Shure products on the air. They worked great all week – which is why we use and recommend them!”
With multiple broadcasters and hundreds of visiting media on site, frequency coordination was a crucial activity. For this task, Firehouse brought in RF specialists Frequency Coordination Group (FCG). To create a working frequency plan for the 1200-plus RF systems in use across the site, all media is required to register in advance, which enables Firehouse and FCG to do their coordination.
Frequency Coordination Group President Brooks Schroeder notes, “It’s a pretty big undertaking, but Firehouse makes everything as easy as possible with planning and attention to detail, and by supplying the right gear for the job. The Shure PSM 1000 in-ears are a great example, because they work great, even on stages full of interference from video walls and moving lights.”
One detail that Mark Dittmar appreciates is the extender kits Shure now offers for its handheld wireless transmitters. “It seems like a small thing, but it’s actually a pretty big deal for us,” he says. “When you put a mic flag on a wireless, it pushes your hand lower, possibly covering the transmit antenna at the bottom. If you hold the base directly, you lose a lot of your transmission power. When someone has huge hands that can palm a basketball, all of a sudden, the antenna disappears, and that’s a problem. Fortunately, Shure gets it and developed these extender kits to address the issue.”
The WA653 Mic Flag Extender Kit is compatible with all interchangeable Shure wireless microphone cartridges, and includes 1- and 1.5-inch spacer collars, extending handheld transmitter length by up to 2.5 inches. Multiple kits can be used to achieve even greater extension as needed.
Overall, NBA All-Star Weekend was a huge success, and Audio Coordinator Mark Dittmar credits Firehouse’s team approach and dedication to making it all happen without a problem. “This is our fourth straight year doing this event, and it was easily the best,” he says. “We have a great relationship with the NBA and their broadcast partners, and had an A-list team from top to bottom. We had a crew of 42 in New Orleans, and most of us worked 18-hour days from Friday to Sunday. As for the wireless, the Shure UHF-R and PSM 1000 systems are proven performers that never let us down. That’s why it’s our go-to wireless for events like this.”