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Zaxcom Goes on the Road with ‘American Idol’

Kamal Humphrey, ENG Audio Supervisor, American Idol and American Idol Extra

As ENG audio supervisor for American Idol and its companion show, American Idol Extra, my job is to take the latest technology and make everybody sound their best any time we’re using ENG technology, which is usually when we’re working outside the studio. We sometimes are doing multiple shoots in multiple parts of the country for auditions, and I have to make sure all the bases are covered with six Zaxcom audio packages.

For the last couple of years, I’ve had all our ENG audio mixers using stereo Zaxcom wireless systems to send audio to camera and also to record a timecode backup. The system consists of the TRX900 stereo transceiver coupled with the RX900S stereo receiver.

Dual-Channel Operation
The TRX900 is so small and light that it’s easily portable. And I appreciate being able to power it from a battery distribution system bag, which gives me one less thing to worry about. Another big advantage is the system’s ability to send two channels via one frequency. Having double the frequency availability as compared to a conventional wireless transmitter makes coordinating crews a whole lot easier, especially if there are many crews working nearby.

(L-R) Kamal Humphrey; Bennie Mcrae, fishboom operator/ENG audio mixer;
and Chris Tront, ENG audio mixer

All of the Idol crews record timecode backup on the TRX900 2GB Mini SD card. Up to 12 hours of stereo audio can be recorded on a single 2GB card. In our case, we get timecode from the Panasonic VariCam cameras. The master timecode is generated from the studio control room. At the end of each day, we download the cards and archive them. This backup has saved me a couple of times. And with the Zaxconvert software, you just enter the start and stop timecode from the particular segment, and it spits out a 48 kHz 24-bit WAV file that the postproduction team syncs with the picture.

Deva Fusion Infusion
This year I implemented the Zaxcom Deva Fusion for the auditions. I’m at a desk for these, and it makes more sense to use a free-standing recorder than the TRX900. As it’s hardwired to two cameras and recording timecode backup of all the sound, I have the flexibility to record my mix, isolate tracks separately and change routing on the fly while I record. The Fusion has six outputs, allowing me to send the mix or the isolated track, or anything I want, wherever I want.

I’m also using a Deva Mix-8, which is a Midi-operated control surface with eight faders. I use it for the mentor shoots and also for recording backups of all the different celebrities and others who have mics on.

When we arrive in a new city, there may be as many as 15,000 people hoping to be the next American Idol. There’s so much talent waiting to be heard, and it’s up to my team to give it a voice. Happily, we have both the skills and the equipment to give everyone their best shot at being the next American Idol.

Kamal Humphrey is ENG audio supervisor for American Idol and American Idol Extra. He has also served as sound supervisor for a feature-length documentary, Running the Sahara, and has worked on many other productions. He may be contacted at kamalsound@gmail.com.

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