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“I-N-T-E-L-L-I-G-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y. Intelligibility.”

Chris Capaletti • September 2019Tips & Tricks • September 11, 2019

Interfacing to an Avid S6L digital console proved straightforward.

Dugan Automixing Helps Maintain Clarity at National Spelling Bee

As a freelance FOH engineer working in the Washington, DC area, I frequently handle microphone mixing for live events and I have used automixing from Dan Dugan Sound Design for a long time. In May 2019, I was contracted to handle the sound for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, held in the Maryland Ballroom at the Gaylord National Resort in Fort Washington, MD and broadcast nationally over ESPN.

The nation’s largest and longest-running educational program, the purpose of the Scripps National Spelling Bee is to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage that will help them all of their lives. Spellers compete from all 50 U.S. states, several territories and other countries including the Bahamas, Canada, Germany, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea. This event, which I have been mixing for several years, boasted a record-breaking eight winners this year, and featured the normal set of words that most adults couldn’t begin to spell but which the young participants handled with ease.

Showtime Sound LLC (showtimesoundllc.com), a full-service event production company based in Frederick, MD, was selected as the audio system rental vendor for this project. Showtime Sound provided most of the microphones, the P.A. system, speakers, mixers and amplifiers. We set up eight judge mics, two speller mics, and 12 RF mics (handhelds/lavaliers). As the event featured kids with varying heights, ESPN and I collaborated on the speller mics and selected units from Dave Mounts (Innovative Production Solutions), the creators of the pop-up mic that you see at the Grammys, Oscars, etc. These, combined with Schoeps capsules, gave me perfect microphone positions for every speller. What more can a guy ask for!

Dugan Model M Automatic Mixing Controller

‡‡         Automixing to the Rescue

Being familiar with the quality of Dugan automixing, I wanted to use a Dugan to keep the microphone system running at peak performance — and to greatly simplify the mix! We needed a unit with MADI I/O to interface to our Avid S6L digital console, which uses MADI, so we rented a Dugan Model M Automatic Mixing Controller from Showtime Sound. For those unfamiliar with the unit, the Model M helps professional audio mixers handle multiple live mics without having to continually ride their individual faders. It simply patches into the input insert points of an audio mixing console and detects which mics are being used and makes fast, transparent cross-fades, freeing the mixer to focus on balance and sound quality instead of being chained to the faders. The Model M tracks unscripted dialog, eliminating cueing mistakes and late fade-ups, while avoiding the choppy and distracting effects common to noise gates.

The Model M has both optical and copper MADI I/O and is PoE (Power over Ethernet) capable, so it’s very easy to connect to other MADI based products. All mics used during the competition were sent via MADI into the Model M via post fader direct outs, then returned on “dummy” channels that fed my mic groups, record feeds, and P.A. buses. The Avid S6L effortlessly handled live in-room sound as well as the webcast and various record feeds; we also provided a master stereo mix to ESPN, although ESPN’s primary source was a direct split of the mics themselves off a 56 channel split snake.

Chris Capaletti has looked after the annual event’s audio needs for seven years. (He’s pictured here at the 2018 event).

‡‡         The Verdict

I have to say the quality we achieved at the National Spelling Bee this year was beyond superb. The ultra-precise automixing of our 22 microphones provided by the Dugan Model M, combined with the tone and control of the Avid S6L, gave me one of the best speech-based mixing experiences of my life.

Chris “Cap” Capaletti is a freelance A1 FOH engineer working in the Washington, D.C. area. For more info about Dugan automixing, visit www.dandugan.com.

Each champion received their own trophy and a $50,000 prize. Photo by Mark Bowen / Scripps National Spelling Bee

Eight Super-Spellers Share Top Prize at 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee

In an unprecedented display of academic achievement, eight young super-spellers became co-champions of the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee. There have been ties before, with a pair of finalists both receiving top honors, but this is the first group of contestants to share the coveted title in the 92 years of the storied event.

After Bee Week began with a field of 562 top spellers from around the U.S. and beyond, the eight champions remained after a suspenseful 20 rounds of head-to-head competition on May 30, 2019, successfully spelling words like erysipelas (a skin rash), auslaut (the final sound in a syllable), palama (the webbing on the feet of aquatic birds), aiguillette (a fancy braid seen on gaudy military uniforms), odylic (pertaining to unexplainable forces), bougainvillea (a flowering bush), pendeloque (a teardrop diamond shape) and cernuous (the tendency to nod off — perhaps after too much mental exertion).

“These spellers have conquered the dictionary unequivocally with their ability, skill and command of the English language,” said Paige Kimble, executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. “It’s an incredible achievement, and we salute all the years of hard work and dedicated study that brought these intelligent young people to the world stage. We congratulate them all.”

Adam Symson, president and CEO of The E.W. Scripps Company, awarded all the winners a championship trophy moments before ESPN signed off from its national broadcast of the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee. The eight champions each will receive a cash prize of $50,000 as well as their own Scripps Cup.

The 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee co-champions are Erin Howard, 14, from Huntsville, AL; Rishik Gandhasri, 13, from San Jose, CA; Abhijay Kodali, 12, from Flower Mound, TX; Shruthika Padhy, 13, from Cherry Hill, NJ; Rohan Raja, 13, from Dallas, TX; Saketh Sundar, 13, from Clarksville, MD; Sohum Sukhatankar, 13, also from Dallas; and Christopher Serrao, 13, from Whitehouse Station, NJ.

For more info, visit www.spellingbee.com.

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