Cumulus/Dickey Broadcasting Help the Atlanta Hawks Hit the Airwaves
See how Cumulus Media and Dickey Broadcasting overcame challenges like that the Hawks play-by-play equipment would need an update, but a permanent play-by-play position could not be created due to the arena's multi-use functionality.
Philips Arena was built in 1999, with the ability to seat more than 18,000 for sporting events and 21,000 for concerts. The project required key components that would need to overcome the challenges of building inside one of the busiest multi-use facilities in the country. The Hawks play-by-play equipment would need an update, but a permanent play-by-play position could not be created due to the arena's multi-use functionality. Upgrades planned for the Thrashers play-by-play were not imperative, although with their position being a secure and permanent one in the arena, a rewire and clean up made its utilization as a central hub of communications back to the broadcast studios an obvious choice.
A new addition
Construction of a pre- and post-game studio inside the arena was vital. Several things to take into consideration during this part of the project were the multi-use aspects of the arena, though game day coverage would be integral with programming. Like the "Buck and Kincade show" in the afternoons, our other music format stations would benefit with live broadcasts from this studio during concerts and other relevant events at the arena. Dickey Broadcasting partnered with WellStar Health Systems to give WellStar the naming rights to the showcase studio. WellStar's brand is now constantly associated with Dickey Broadcasting's team-based broadcasts via digital signage that clearly displays their name and logo from inside the broadcast booth before, during and after every game.
Clearly, an abundance of audio connections between the multiple locations inside the arena would be required to facilitate the communications between the play-by-play positions, the pregame studio, and the broadcast studios off-site. Philips Arena has existing multi-pair audio lines from numerous locations that all terminate in the broadcast truck bay; this did not give us our required flexibility, enough paths, and would have created extremely long analog runs. These factors in conjunction with the risk of the occasional accidental cable pull, made it clear that running fiber would be the best solution to facilitate our needs for broadcast and distribution.
The most flexible solution was an IP-audio network over fiber-optic cable. Three pairs of single-mode fiber were installed between the Thrashers play-by-play booth, the Hawks play-by-play position, and the new pre/postgame studio. A pair of HP ProCurve 2510G switches equipped with fiber GBICs were added to facilitate the IP connectivity.
Upon completion of a robust IP network at the arena, the next decision was how to transport the audio. A significant amount of Wheatstone IP blades for audio-over-IP networking had just been utilized during a recently completed studio build at Dickey Broadcasting's WCNN AM 680 The Fan. The engineering team was well versed in the setup, operation and maintenance of these units, thus we continued with this equipment. Three Wheatstone IP88a blades were used to create connections between the various broadcast locations within Philips Arena. A WorldCast Oslo system was used to terminate both ends of the T1 point-to-point that was installed between the broadcast facility at WCNN and the rack in the Thrashers play-by-play booth, thus finalizing the configuration of three pairs of bidirectional channels for connectivity.
Now that the connectivity and wiring issues were addressed, the next challenge was properly equipping the Hawks play-by-play position. The advantage of Philips Arena being a multi-use facility should not be a disadvantage to the operation; therefore, a portable solution for this position was required despite the fact that it would be in the same location each time. The high expectation of technical standards would remain, starting with the fiber that was run to the location in the arena. The Hawks portable rig consisted of a Wheatstone IP88a blade, AirTools 2X Dual Voice Processor, and a Presonus HP60 headphone amplifier all packaged neatly in a SKB Studio Flyer rolling rack. The talent was fitted with Sennheiser HMD26 headsets and a Lectrosonics HM transmitter fitted to an Electro-Voice RE50B, used for walk-off interviews of players and coaches, all being mixed using a Mackie 140VLZ3PRO at the Hawks play-by-play location.
Due to the space constraints and the non-permanence of this position, wireless microphone receivers were placed in the Thrashers' permanent play-by-play booth. The elevation of the booth in the arena made this an ideal location for the antennas. Sennheiser ME66 shotgun microphones were also placed in the Thrashers' booth for F/X miking. The audio from the wireless receiver and the shotgun mics is then delivered to the mixer using the fiber network. The final mix goes back over the network to be processed by a carefully tuned Arianne Sequel before it is sent to the Oslo system for transport to the broadcast studio. Early on, there was concern about the performance of the Wheatstone blade with the repetitive connection/disconnection activity due to the uniqueness of the portable position of the Hawks within the arena. Pleasingly, this has not been an issue, with the blades syncing up and transporting audio in less than two seconds.
The approach to the pre- and post-game studio construction at Philips Arena was to draw on what had been learned from the construction of similar projects in the past, including the build at Turner Field for the Atlanta Braves. Keeping similar elements in both projects would be the key to efficiency with engineering and design. Early in the design phase, management at Phillips Arena offered the use of the extra hockey glass that was hanging around the facility, showing off a stack of 4' × 8' sheets of tempered glass stamped with the NHL certification and the Crystaplex manufacturer's logo. The glass had been previously used in the arena, with some of hockey's greats being slammed against it. A few minor dings and scratches would simply add character, but for the most part, the glass was crystal clear. With the use of this glass, a studio could be created enabling a view of the talent from any angle, enhanced by a 20' span of glass on the front façade. The general contractor, O'Brien & Associates in Buford, GA, operating as a division of WeatherTite Windows was excited to be a part of the project. The structural steel beams and framework of the roof were designed to mimic the curved roofline of Philips.
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