Capturing audio in the field for broadcast is possibly one of the most challenging jobs in the production world, especially when the tracks are slated to be used for newscasts.
Michael Englehaupt, director of engineering at KPIX and KBCW, says that the use of analog gear in acquisition and transmission has helped to obfuscate some less than stellar audio tracks used in newscasts. “There’s an inherent level of noise and distortion that’s built into the system, and so it masks what problems might be there,” he explains.
Englehaupt is quick to point out that this issue is going to change as more and more news departments move into the world of HD. In fact, KPIX is making the move to HD this year and will be utilizing digital tools from cameras to transmitters to control rooms. “It’s basically going to be a straight wire from the field to your TV. It’s going to be a full end-to-end digital transmission,” he adds. However, until then, the channel’s camera people are using 15-year-old Panasonic DVCPRO cameras with a collection of wireless, handheld lavalier and shotgun microphones. Englehaupt says that each cameraperson primarily uses mics from Lectrosonics and Sennheiser. The trucks have no outboard gear for audio signal processing.
For any taped piece, the audio and video are edited in the field using a DVCPRO laptop editor, and then it’s transmitted via microwave back to the station where it’s recorded on DVCPRO decks. For anything going live over the air, the audio is routed through the camera and into an analog mixer in the truck that will feed into the analog microwave transmitter and send everything back to the station.
The skill of the cameraperson is crucial, especially considering that KPIX sends out a one-person crew –– and that person has to be a master of audio, video and lighting. “The photographer has to be a Jack of all trades; they have to be good at all three things,” Englehaupt says. “Clearly we value very heavily high-quality products, both visually and aurally. That is a very specific requirement from our news department.”
The emphasis on highly skilled camera people is going to become doubly important when the shift to HD happens. “Audio is going to have a greater emphasis as we transition to HD newsgathering and [the signal] is digital all the way through,” Englehaupt states. “When I’m in the field and I’m able to acquire my content on a high-quality HD camera, very high-quality audio is going to come with that, and that’s going to be transparent, so that if it’s bad to start with it’s going to be bad on air.”
While he sees the wave coming, Englehaupt believes that KPIX will be in the minority for a bit of time. “We are probably going to be one of a handful of stations –– ‘handful’ might be in the dozens, depending on how big your hand is –– that will have end-to-end digital acquisition and field microwave capability all the way back to the station into an HD nonlinear workflow by the end of the year,” he says. “We think we’re going to be in the minority of stations that are capable of doing it. I think that will grow as time marches on and stations are able to do their renovations and build-outs.”