Money, Media & Microphones

by George Petersen
in Editor's Note
George Petersen, editor of FRONT of HOUSE Magazine.
George Petersen, editor of FRONT of HOUSE Magazine.

Doing any live event can be a high-stakes affair. You get one take, one shot and one chance to get it right. In a Christmas pageant at a local church or a coffeehouse performance at a neighborhood bistro, such situations provide for a certain amount of production concerns, perhaps with a 0.5 rating on a 1 to 10 scale. These should hardly lead to anxiety on the part of any seasoned audio production pro. Now let’s bump up the ante a bit — in this case, the first nationally televised debate on Sept. 26 at Hofstra University with Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

    Heard by 84 Million
Hosted live from the school’s David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex, there was a live audience, which numbered close to 1,000, and a record-setting world broadcast viewership of close to 84 million. Technically, it wasn’t an overly complex arrangement — a house console providing both broadcast and P.A. feeds and a second system making archival recordings of the proceeds for posterity. Such events always require backup systems, and each candidate was miked with three mics — two on each podium, and a wireless lavalier as a backup, which was never used.
The rehearsal walkthroughs went smoothly, with both candidates praising the clarity of the audio. After the debate, however, Trump complained about the audio and having a defective microphone, where his mic was going “on and off.”
The Commission on Presidential Debates also issued a followup statement noting that there were “issues regarding Donald Trump’s audio that affected the sound level in the debate hall,” but was unspecific as to what these “issues” were. In either case, the concept of a defective microphone is nonsense, as the audio feed to the house system came from the same mics that did the broadcast feed. I listened to the entire broadcast and the audio was clean and clear throughout. If the microphone was indeed defective, it would have been heard by some 84 million listeners worldwide.
There were some instances where Trump was yelling close into the mic. On these occasions, a limiter reduced the mic feed by a few decibels to prevent the sound from going into unintelligible distortion — no different than similar circuits used on every radio and television audio feed worldwide. In the real world, audio only goes up to “10” — not “11” — no matter how loudly you scream.
Here, much of the “problem” could be traced to poor mic technique, something any public speaker or performer should take a few seconds to learn, rather than simply blaming the gear or crew. And evidently part of this did rub off, as the candidate’s mic use (at least with a handheld wireless) was much improved on the most recent Town Hall Meeting face-off on Oct.9. We’ll see if this trend continues for upcoming final debate in Las Vegas.

    Viva Las Vegas!
Speaking of that, the City of Lights will be hosting a lot of production activity that week, with the last live presidential debate Oct. 19 at the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus; the Rolling Stones playing at the town’s new T-Mobile Arena (Oct. 19 and 22); the 2016 PLSN/FOH Parnelli Golf Classic at Las Vegas’ luxurious Siena Club, Oct. 20; the LDI Show from Oct. 17 to 23 (with the show floor open from Oct. 21-23); and the much-anticipated Parnelli Awards on Oct. 22. There’s a lot going on here this month in the Entertainment Capital of the World, and if you’d like to be part of it, visit parnelliawards.com.
Hope to see you there!