TERLING & LANCASTER, MA.–Mixing sound for a town meeting broadcast may seem simple and even dry compared to, say, a rock concert, but it carries very real challenges: some attendees speak very softly while others hardly need a microphone. People stand up and speak from different locations in the room. Distributing enough mics to capture every situation can mean lots of cables or lots of wireless channels — either of which would require on-site management in a roomful of audio non-professionals.
Sterling-Lancaster Community Television, which provides public, educational, and government-access programming to the eponymous Massachusetts towns, found the perfect solution in a system based around the Yamaha TF-RACK digital mixer with the NY64-D Dante I/O option. It receives all needed audio channels via a single Cat 6 Ethernet connection, matches their levels automatically, and is remotely controlled from the nearby offices of SLC TV in a separate building.
“I first became aware of the TF-RACK when our Yamaha rep left one with us for a couple of weeks,” says Mike Berardinangelo of Access A/V, the systems integrator who worked with SLC TV on the installation. “I also knew the town of Lancaster had recently converted an old school into a town hall and was ready to start using it. Sterling-Lancaster TV wanted to broadcast all the meetings but run everything in real time from their control room about a block and a half away.
“We went with a Shure ceiling array that has eight aimable mics in one. That has a Cat 6 output, which plugs into a PoE [power over Ethernet] gigabit switch,” he explains. “The TF-RACK plugs into the switch as well. Its output is also configured via the Dante standard for audio-over-network, then run over fiber optics between the two buildings.”
“In the control room, we have the TF Editor software running on a Mac desktop computer,” says Chris Detsikas, executive director of SLC TV. “The eight channels show up there, and we can mix everything remotely. All anyone in the town hall meeting room has to do is turn on the power for the rack that the TF lives in. There are no other cables in the room besides that one Cat 6, and it’s out of sight.”
To handle the matter of different voices, Detsikas relies on the Dan Dugan Speech System automated mixing capability of the TF-RACK.
“That’s really just an awesome feature to have when some people in a meeting are very soft-spoken and others are just booming. You can set up different scenes for different applications, of course, but I have simple scene that basically says, ‘Make everyone the same volume.’ It just keeps the gain structure for every channel perfect, where usually you’d need someone riding faders on a console for this. The TF-RACK has incredible EQ of its own, but I find I can run everything pretty flat and only reach for the EQ if someone’s voice is very unusual.”
One would think that leaving the on-site system unattended might be a recipe for disaster, but Detsikas finds that the automation and ease of use of the TF-RACK not only saves him the worry, but even helps balance his budget. “In the past, we always had to hire extra people to go into the meetings and manage the sound and video,” he says. “Now we can do it all remotely, and I only need a couple of people to do a meeting, not three or four. The TF-RACK is very ‘set it and forget it,’ and once we set it, it doesn’t matter who stands up, what they sound like, and where they’re speaking from in the room — we gotcha!”
Despite the TF-RACK being very feature-rich, Detsikas considers its best feature to be that he can essentially forget it’s there: “I have broadcast levels I have to think about on the outgoing end. I don’t want to babysit my production mix, and with the TF-RACK I don’t have to. It just gets out of my way.”
In the near future, Detsikas plans to construct a similar setup for the town of Sterling, as well as bring another Lancaster meeting room through the same mixer. “We have two other rooms that feed into this control room. I’m hoping to patch one into that TF-RACK — say, channels 9 through 16 — so I can keep mixing this room on 1 through 8. With all the busing the TF can do, I could be mixing both at the same time and send separate stereo feeds to separate video switchers for broadcast.”
Whatever else Detsikas’ plans may be for the TF-RACK, he knows he has plenty of time to make them: “If Yamaha comes out with a board, people are going to use it for 10 or 15 years or more. You know it’s a rock.”
Top picture: (L to R): Sterling-Lancaster’s Community Television Crew: Matt Downing, Production & Outreach Manager; Emmanuel Ortiz, Studio Coordinator; Chris Detsikas, Executive Director & Melissa Jellie, Access Coordinator