The 72nd Annual Tony Awards, broadcast live on CBS from Radio City Music Hall in New York, featured vocalists Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban as co-hosts. To ensure the night’s musical performances from the biggest shows on Broadway were delivered with the clarity expected by theater fans, show lead Simon Welch and RF coordinator Vinny Siniscal of Firehouse Productions (Red Hook, NY/Las Vegas, NV) again selected Shure wireless systems for the event.
In his eighth consecutive year handling wireless for the Tony Awards, Siniscal elected to expand his use of Shure RF by adding eight channels of Axient Digital with ShowLink for the co-hosts. For their opening duet, Groban and Bareilles used ADX2 handheld transmitters with KSM9 condenser mic elements. For their lavaliers, both wore the new ADX1M micro-bodypack. The new ADX1M turned some heads backstage with its minuscule size (just 68x60x18 mm), rounded corners, recessed mic connector, and no external antenna, making it easier to hide inside a costume. Its internal adaptive antenna system has the unique ability to auto-adjust its RF output when worn against the user’s body, eliminating a major concern with bodypack placement.
For the rest of the cast, the primary wireless was Shure UHF-R, with 48 channels needed to cover the awards’ many production numbers. All of Firehouse’s 32 UR1M micro-packs were on hand, with handhelds available as needed. In-ear monitoring was exclusively Shure PSM 1000, with 10 mixes available on a total of 32 P10R diversity bodypack receivers.
Each year, Vinny Siniscal continues to refine his wireless system design. This year’s antenna system included three diversity reception zones – on stage, backstage, and audience area. In addition, the system included the Shure ShowLink system with Spectrum Manager for full remote monitoring and control of all Axient Digital functions, including interference detection and avoidance. All Shure systems were monitored by Shure’s Wireless Workbench software throughout the show.
“Anytime you saw the hosts, they were on Axient Digital, both the handhelds for the opening number and the new ADX Series micro-packs when they were on lavaliers,” adds Siniscal. “With ShowLink, any time there’s an issue, I can mute the transmitter, change its frequency, or even adjust its output power remotely in real time. That’s why I was really insistent on using it for the hosts. I’m also a huge fan of the metering, which shows link quality along with RF and audio. That third indicator shows me if the data is getting through, which is really what you need to know in a digital system.”
Of special note was the decision Siniscal made to limit UHF systems to operating below 608 MHz. “In the aftermath of the FCC auction, it’s important to adjust to having less UHF real estate available, so I’ve been coordinating for the post-600 megahertz world on all my shows this year,” he says. “Even though much of the 600 MHz band is still technically usable, it won’t be for long. We’re now using 1.9 and 2.4 GHz comm systems for that reason, which means our UHF channel count was actually down a bit this year. It also left us more space for TV crews, which is another area we have to consider in doing frequency coordination.”
Mix duties were handled by veteran engineers, with Ron Reaves at front of house and Tom Holmes handling the broadcast mix. Monitors were mixed by Michael Bove. Assisting Siniscal in wireless was Sisse Jonassen, who works with the A2s to ensure that all performers are properly miked with their assigned channels.
“It’s a real team effort. My wireless command center is stage right, with all the receivers, combiners, splitters, and computers for monitoring,” says Siniscal. “As RF assist, Sisse is my eyes and ears over at stage left, making sure the implementation works with the overall RF system design. That leaves me free to focus on previewing the audio and making sure our frequencies stay clean. It’s a key element to making sure the execution is in line with all the planning we do.”
Having the hosts on Axient Digital transmitters proved such an advantage that Siniscal sees an increased role for them in the future.
“That new ADX1M bodypack is obviously the star attraction, but Axient Digital has other features that we’ve only just begun to tap,” he notes. “As an RF system designer and coordinator, I love how efficient it is in terms of channel count, and the interference detection and avoidance make me much more confident during a show. I’ve used Axient Digital several times now, and it’s just a highly evolved piece of technology that’s perfect for our industry and makes a difficult job much easier. It’s a game-changer for sure.”