How to rig live sport

Rigging a sporting event for live broadcast requires teamwork, a plan, and a little bit of luck, as Will Strauss finds out.

“The list of things that can go wrong on a live sport OB is almost endless,” says freelance sound guarantee engineer Mark ‘Gadget’ Reed, fresh from a stint working on coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Fortunately, as his job title suggests, there are members of the production crew employed specifically to help prevent them happening and ensure that sound travels smoothly from pitch side to truck, to broadcaster, and beyond.

On an outside broadcast Reed oversees the engineering of all of the required audio and communications. Tasks include making sure that the correct microphone, music, and replay signals appear on the sound desk and checking that any audio leaving the OB – and going back to the broadcaster – is properly aligned, timed, and in the correct order.

The sound guarantee engineer is also responsible for the talkback on site, including programming the talkback panels used in the truck, radio talkback, the talkback to the broadcaster, and all feeds to presenter and commentator earpieces and headphones.

It is a crucial role, one that dovetails neatly with the sound supervisor on one side and the unit manager on the other. Between them, and the rest of the sound team, they do their utmost to avoid the worst possible OB outcome: falling off air.

“It is routine on an OB to put in spare microphones, spare presenter or reporter earpieces, and other backup systems,” explains Reed when discussing what you might term risk management. “Often there will be a main and spare line going back to the broadcaster and these will be fed from different bits of equipment within the truck to isolate as much as possible any kind of failure. The aim is always to stay on the air with as little disruption to the programme or the production team as possible.”

While problems do occur, the main thrust of the job is to rig and then de-rig the audio systems and ensure that everything runs smoothly in the meantime.

Read the rest in our March digital edition.