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Can You Hear Me Now?

Unsung yet vital element of TV production

Christopher Murray (foreground), senior graphics specialist/video editor for the Federal Judicial Center, adjusts the facilities RTS intercom during a voiceover session with Craig Bowden, a senior television director/video editor.

Even learned judges need continuing education to keep up with ever-changing laws, legal precedents, and advances in the administration of justice. This is why Congress established the Federal Judicial Center (FJC) to serve as the U.S. Federal Court’s research and education agency of the federal judicial system back in 1967.

Video is a big part of the FJC’s education process, as produced in the agency’s basement video production facilities in the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building in Washington.

“Since I came here in 1993, our operations have grown tremendously to keep up with demand,” said Edward J. Liberatore, the FJC’s media operations chief engineer. “Back then, we had a single control room, one studio and two edit suites. Now we have two studios, two master control rooms, four edit suites, an equipment room and a headend room for sending out FJC’s content.”

To manage the various shoots that take place in in FJC’s video studios, the production crew relies on intercoms made by RTS/Telex (now owned by Bosch). Currently, the FJC uses a legacy RTS wired intercom that was recently augmented by a wired RTS ADAM digital matrix intercom.

“Our RTS intercoms provide full connectivity throughout our complex, ensuring that key production members are always in direct contact with each other,” said Liberatore. “Using RTS KP32 CLD keypads, which are installed at various production desk locations, we can access direct person-to-person communications at the push of a button. We can also get everyone together for group messages via our party line feature.”

To enhance flexibility in-studio, FJC recently added a Telex BTR-80N base station and eight RTS wireless beltpacks (four per studio) to its suite of intercoms.

“Being wireless allows our floor directors to roam around while staying connected to everyone else,” Liberatore said. “This extra capability has improved our ability to stay on top of things when we are shooting either live or live-to-server—which we do on a regular basis.”

Having sufficient intercom connections is a must for a facility as busy as FJC’s production unit.

“We have a lot to stay on top of, what with the professional quality of our multi-camera productions and the number of shows we create,” said Liberatore. “This is why we upgraded our RTS intercom system a few years ago. The resulting hydrid is reliable and up to the job!”


Most government producers start small; often with a few cameras, an editing suite, and an ad-hoc studio in an room mainly used for other purposes. As a result, the production crew works together in the same space. There is no reason to use headset intercoms, because crew members are all within speaking range of each other.

Once a government video producer gets busy enough to justify building an actual production facility, things change. Suddenly the staff is divided up between the studio and a control room, necessitating some form of intercom system to keep everyone connected.

When this point approaches, it is vitally important to buy an intercom system that can keep up—and grow. At the FJC, for instance, “I never expected to see our production facility grow as it has over the years, but it did,” said Liberatore. “Fortunately, our RTS system was capable of being expanded by adding the ADAM digital matrix to the installation. This is a key consideration for anyone buying an intercom system: It must have room to grow easily without compromising quality or flexibility.”

A second consideration is coverage. A TV production intercom system must be networked to all locations that matter; not just the studio and master control, but the equipment room, the headend/distribution room and offices of key administrators/producers. Basically, any location that may matter needs to be covered.

This is where modern wireless intercom systems can help. They allow producers to extend their reach into areas that don’t justify the cost of running cable, especially if doing so would require major costly renovations to the building. Wireless intercoms can also free up production people to move around the studio as needed, and to turn non-production locations such as boardrooms and auditoriums into properly-connected studios without stringing wires.

Clear-Com Agent-IC mobile app

An example of an advanced wireless intercom system is Clear-Com’s new FreeSpeak II. This is a DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) distributed digital wireless intercom system. Because it uses DECT, FreeSpeak II delivers crystal-clear digital audio without any of the audio issues associated with analog intercoms. FreeSpeak II is available in versions that operate in the 1.9 GHz and 2.4 GHz bands, with the two versions being able to interconnect with each other through a base station or matrix intercom systems.

The Clear-Com FreeSpeak II can be used as a standalone wireless intercom system or integrated with a Clear-Com wired Eclipse HX matrix digital intercom. Either way, the FreeSpeak II’s active antenna system provides staff using its wireless beltpacks with cellular-like roaming. This is because FreeSpeak II relies on antennas being distributed throughout the production area to provide optimum coverage, rather than staking everything on a single centralized antenna.

“FreeSpeak is a proven duplex wireless solution for large-scale, multi-zone production areas,” said Simon Browne, Clear-Com’s director of product management. “The FreeSpeak II beltpack and antenna provides rugged and ergonomic operation, together with greatly improved radio and audio clarity that will delight our wireless users.”


For North American video producers, there are three major intercom equipment manufacturers to consider. They are Bosch (RTS/Telex), Clear-Com and Riedel.

Part of the Bosch Security Systems Group, RTS/Telex’s intercom products cover the complete range of analog/digital and wired/wireless options; incorporating both partyline and point-to-point selectable connections. Now in its 40th year, RTS introduced what the company bills as “the first keypanel series with Omneo networking technology on board at NAB 2015.”

RTS’s KP-Series keypanels combine HD color displays, improved single-key operation and compatibility with all existing RTS matrices. Omneo is based on open public standards that allow the use of standard IT components in intercom systems, saving users money without sacrificing quality or security.

Clear-Com manufactures a full range of intercom products, ranging from wired analog partylines to wired and wireless digital partyline and point-to-point intercoms. At NAB 2015, Clear-Com unveiled its Agent-IC mobile app. Agent-IC allows remote production staff using iPhones/iPads over 3G, 4G or WiFi/IP networks to connect directly to a producer’s Eclipse-HX matrix intercom system. This “virtual intercom” app can connect studio staff to teams in remote locations using their portable handheld devices.

Riedel RSP-2318 Smartpanel intercom station

Riedel Communications makes a range of intercom solutions including digital matrix products that leverage IP connectivity for quick set-up and long-distance communications. The company recently announced that its new RSP-2318 Smartpanel—a universal keypanel interface that includes three high-resolution, sunlight-readable, multitouch color displays, high-quality stereo audio, a multilingual character set, and 18 keys in just 1 RU—is now available with a choice of three intercom apps.

With the “Basic” app, users have 12 intercom keys and connectivity to Ravenna/AES67 audio-over-IP or audio-video bridging (AVB). The “Plus” app also has 12 intercom keys and adds an analog audio port for four-wire integration and three general purpose inputs/outputs. The “Pro” app has 18 intercom keys and two analog audio ports for four-wire integration, three GPI/Os, and the ability to connect an independent second headset.


Kroma ConeXia intercom matrix system

Two additional European companies are now selling intercom hardware in North America. The first of these is Kroma (a part of AEQ International), which makes a comprehensive portfolio of party-line and digital matrix intercom systems for video producers. The company’s ConeXia platform integrates a Kroma intercom master and an AEQ audio matrix to deliver up to 1,024 x 1,024 cross-points. It also allows users to integrate intercom and program audio sources into the same matrix, with 48 kHz 24-bit sampling and a 100-percent redundant system.

The second company is Delec, which has a system called oratis that can be used to create compact intercom networks featuring as few as eight ports to larger installations with more than 4,000 ports accessible simultaneously. Employing the principle of distributed intelligence, the company says oratis provides fast response times even on large systems, while ensuring confidence and security. Oratis acts as a fully summing digital audio matrix.

MORE INFO Clear-Com:







All professional intercom manufacturers have the means to interconnect with other companies’ products, although many advanced features will not be supported. Thus if you have a functioning system from one manufacturer, it probably makes sense to use that company for growth and upgrades. However, don’t be thrown if you end up in a situation where you have to connect your Brand X to someone else’s Brand Y—it can be done and it works well.

If you have never used a modern professional intercom system, prepare to be surprised at how pleasant it can make the experience of complex studio production. The ability to punch through with clear, highly intelligible voice commands, even in noisy environments, separates productive video systems from the amateurs.

A TV production intercom system that provides full coverage and reliable service with headroom to grow is worth the price. Anything less will cause grief today, and into the future.