On Stage Audio and Special Event Services recently teamed up to provide sound reinforcement for a unique event in the form of “Oprah’s Surprise Spectacular,” a farewell tribute to Oprah Winfrey at Chicago’s United Center, with more than 13,000 in attendance.
The show was taped and aired just prior to the final episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which ran nationally for 25 seasons beginning in 1986, before concluding this year as the highest-rated talk show in U.S. television history.
OSA and SES worked closely with the Harpo Studios production team in devising the overall audio strategy, which combined elements of TV broadcast with full-throttle concert sound for live performances by an A-list of artists, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Beyoncé, Usher, Patti LaBelle, Alicia Keys, Josh Groban, and Rascal Flatts among them.
“Because of the scale of the event, a rapidly changing schedule and a tight timeframe for setup, we decided at the outset that our strategy would be to develop a reactive plan so that we could adjust to any and all scenarios,” explains OSA vice president Jim Risgin, who served a wide range of roles, including live audio system crew chief and system tech. “We had to be fluid, flexible and reactive, which explains in part why we went with Martin Audio MLA.”
Call To Duty
OSA recently added a 54-box Martin MLA (Multi-cellular Loudspeaker Array) system to its inventory, joining North Carolina-based SES as key North American members in the MLA worldwide network.
Perspective of the Martin line arrays for the event at the United Center.
OSA plans to station its MLA system across both its Chicago and Las Vegas facilities, but first, it was called to duty at the United Center.
After hearing demos of the MLA system, Harpo Studios representatives first contacted Jim Brammer of SES (based in Winston-Salem, NC), the North American launch customer for MLA who’d used the system successfully with the Zac Brown Band (read more here), Darius Rucker and others.
SES and OSA partnered to deliver the large system for Harpo, and both companies decided that OSA should take the lead because, as Risgin puts it, “we were local and it was easier for us to react to changes and additions.
Jim Risgin of OSA assembling one of the arrays.
“Being local also allowed the staff from Harpo to do complete pre-production and system configuration in our Chicago facility. This reduced the on-site challenges that the tight load in schedule created.”
With just a few days to load in, the production team had to make many critical choices to make in a short period of time, including decisions about audience placement, staging, sound, guest performances and walk-ons, and choreography - all intended for a TV broadcast mix while also needing to serve the huge in-house audience.
“We knew it was a TV show and an important event, but we didn’t want the audience experience to be sacrificed, so we made sure the design coverage and system intent delivered the impact of a normal show,” Risgin notes.