NBC’s Today Show explored climactic changes on our planet with a special news report titled the “Ends of the Earth”.
The report, which was presented late last year, featured the show’s four anchors stationed in different parts of the world, with the NBC Network News Field Operations team charged with the responsibility of handling all the technical logistics that enabled hosts Matt Lauer, Ann Curry, Meredith Vierra, and Al Roker to simultaneously contribute to the program. For the crew tasked with keeping Matt Lauer on the air, a sizeable wireless setup from the Lectrosonics catalog was placed into service.
With offices in Long Island City, NY and London, England, the NBC Network News Field Operations group serves as the hub for the operation and support of NBC field news crews worldwide. Kevin Parrish, Sr. RF Engineer for NBC Network News Field Operations, described the Ends of the Earth assignment as being far more challenging than your typical location sound project.
According to Parrish, “All of our resources were deployed on a small flotilla of boats at the Blue Hole (an underwater sinkhole, or cave) about 60 miles off the coast of Belize. My job with wireless communications was to get audio, video, and operational communications from the Blue Hole to an island-based satellite fly-away uplink station that was over ten miles away from where the actual remote broadcast took place.”
“Not being on land,” continued Parrish, “we were very limited power-wise with theatrical lighting and other equipment, so everything had to be kept to a minimum. In terms of resources—generators, lighting and other equipment, plus staffing—this was a barebones remote broadcast compared to what we would normally have access to.
“There were no land lines available. All of that came from the fly-away uplink on the remote island, which served as our main communications site where we obtained a telephone dial-tone for IFB via the satellite. Everything was uplinked and downlinked, and then transmitted on various bi-directional links out to the boats that were operating at the Blue Hole.”
In addition to Today host Matt Lauer, guests included Fabian Cousteau, grandson of the famous French explorer Jacques Cousteau, plus marine biologists, tourism officials, and others. With full redundancy for all of their wireless equipment an absolute necessity, Parrish deployed a very effective Lectrosonics setup.
The equipment roster included approximately fourteen channels of wireless microphones, utilizing a combination of Lectrosonics UM400 Frequency Agile UHF beltpack transmitters and SMQa Super-Miniature Digital Hybrid Wireless UHF beltpack transmitters. Two Lectrosonics Venue receiver systems—each fully stocked with VRT modules—along with UCR411 UHF receivers supported the wireless mics on the back end.
For communication among the crew and with the on-air talent, Parrish used five channels of Lectrosonics IFB equipment. This equipment included R1a Synthesized UHF beltpack IFB receivers and IFBT4 Frequency-Agile Compact IFB transmitters.
Being physically located on the un-inhabited island that served as the primary communications site, Parrish had to obtain special permission from the local equivalent of the FCC to extend his wireless capabilities.
“I actually received authorization from the local telecommunications authorities to operate my IFB transmitters at RF power output levels exceeding 25 watts,” notes Parrish. “I took an IFBT4 on Block 944 and ran that into a special military amp with a hi-gain antenna. This arrangement gave me a range of about 17 miles. While you couldn’t do that here in the States, it was essential for this project.”
Parrish reports that Lectrosonics serves as the primary wireless offering for the NBC Network News Field Operations group—and with good reason. “Everyone on our staff knows how to operate the products,” says Parrish. “Our Lectrosonics gear is very solidly built, sound quality is excellent, and it’s as trouble free as you’re going to encounter. Lectrosonics and NBC enjoyed tremendous success together as we both traveled to the Ends of the Earth.”