Since 2009, when Sennheiser launched its Mentorship Program to help encourage the next generation of audio engineers to enter the field of televised sports, the company has initiated collaborations among a variety of higher education institutions and professional broadcast networks.
For its most recent mentorship program, Sennheiser selected students Zachary Templin, from the New England Institute of Art in Boston, and Shawn Brewer, from the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences near Phoenix, to participate in covering the Mayweather versus Cotto boxing match by HBO Boxing and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 race by FOX Sports, respectively.
According to Randy Flick, senior audio mixer, HBO Boxing, immersing a student for several days in the setup and broadcast of a major sports event provides an experience that simply cannot be provided by the majority of audio schools.
“You’ve got to have a grasp of all the technology in your head before you can even think about getting into a show,” says Flick. “Zach proved to be a great asset, and my senior RF guy, Lloyd Jacobsen, was very impressed with him.”
Templin got hands-on experience with two set-ups for the broadcast, one for the weigh-in and another for the fight, and was also introduced to the importance of the communications systems.
“Randy placed an emphasis on covering the intercom system, which was the biggest mystery to me and is the backbone of any broadcast,” recalls Templin. “The A2s—Lloyd, Shep and Paul—covered RF, PLs, and IFBs with me, and taught me how to make sure they are set correctly for each different position.”
For Jason Cohen, director of live events, HBO Sports, Sennheiser’s Mentorship Program serves to increase the talent pool in the industry.
“But, altruistically,” observes Cohen, “it allows us to use the power and the tools that we have and give these young, aspiring, career-minded audio technicians the experience and learning that many of us were not fortunate enough to have when we were younger.”
“This is an initiative that is really on the shoulders of Sennheiser,” Cohen adds. “Sennheiser has to research and interview and weed through the potential candidates; they have to put their name behind the person; and they pay for their expenses and their time. We do the easy part—we just let them in our door!”
Fred Aldous, audio consultant and senior mixer for FOX Sports, notes that there is a big difference between the typical training a student receives at an audio school and an event such as the Coca-Cola 600. The long-distance race, one of the most-watched on the NASCAR calendar, was broadcast from Charlotte, NC last May.
“It’s a bit overwhelming when students emerge from the nice, protected environment of a recording studio into this hostile live environment on the road,” says Aldous. “I don’t think even people in the industry know or understand what it takes to put together a show of this magnitude.”
Aldous says he became involved with the Mentorship Program because he believes in giving back. “When I was younger, I would have liked to have had somebody to spend a weekend with, and get an idea of what happens behind the scenes. That’s why I do it; I want to give somebody the opportunity to get a head start on a possible career.”
The race broadcast was done in conjunction with NASCAR, conducted onsite from Game Creek Video’s FX truck. During his three days on-site at the racetrack, Brewer was introduced to the main audio production room as well as the track effects and competitor communications submix positions, head-end patchbays, announce booth, track effect microphone setups and communications systems. “It was really valuable to be able to get into an actual broadcast event and see what kind of equipment they’re using, how fast everything moved and what actually goes into running a race of that caliber,” says Brewer.
What particularly struck him, Brewer says, was the change in tempo of the calls Aldous had to listen to from the producer, a director and associate director from the practice sessions and qualifying, on SPEED, to the race, which was broadcast on FOX. “During qualifying it was kind of laid back; there weren’t as many calls coming through. But when the actual race started it was a mile-a-minute. They were moving just as fast as the cars were.”