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In this episode of Sound Design Live I’m joined by freelance coms and RF coordinator Peter Erskine. We discuss Unity Intercom, deploying intercom antennas properly, and the must have tools for today’s RF technician.
I ask about Intercom in the Pandemic Age
- For someone who has never heard of Bolero and Unity, please talk about the opportunities these technologies open up.
- Unity Connect is $700. What makes it better than simply setting up a discord server or other consumer audio voice chat product?
- Can I use Unity for all of my comm and get rid of all of my other comm equipment?
Then some questions from FB:
- Stephen Pavlik:
- What is his process for choosing where to place com transceivers for Indoor coverage with obstructions for systems like bolero or freespeak II?
- Also, deciding packs per zone. Say you need 10 Packs in one zone (with freespeak II). You would deploy two transceivers to that zone right? What happens if an 11th pack walks into that zone?
- Nicolas Romero What are the must have tools for today’s RF operator pelican?
- Roger Gonzalez What intermediate RF literature do you recommend for audio and live events professionals?
- Jonathan WinklerHow do you respond when you program comm based on a list and the 5th pa comes up and asks for comm, is not on the list and there’s 25 headsets just sitting there, and she says, “what about those?”
- Don Wells Has he heard any news about the FCC cutting our bandwidth and selling it to more cell companies?
- Billy Tanglewood Are there any situations where technical requests were extremely difficult or even not possible, and you just had to tell people no? If so, how did you handle that diplomatically?
- Don Wells How does ‘new’ radio tech like 5g impact band planning?
- Chris Harding What was your most challenging coordination? What happened?
- russellturns How he maintains his sanity as the RF world keeps closing in around him… while the need for more coms grows.
This transcript was automatically generated. Please let me know if you discover any errors.
I’m Nathan Lively, and today I’m joined by freelance coms and RF coordinator Peter Erskine. Pete. Welcome to Sound design live.
Glad to be here. Glad to be here. Let’s do some common RF.
I definitely want to talk to you about intercom in the pandemic age, some sticky RF challenges and comms tools and RF tools. But before we do that, I’m just curious about your musical taste. So after you get a system set up, even if it’s maybe a.com system and you need to run some playback through it, what’s the piece of music you’re going to choose?
I saw that question in one of your lists and it occurred to me that I have never done that.
It’s not like.com is something you have to tune with music sort of thing. I do have a USB stick, a little playback device that has just general music on it that sometimes I will play when I’m alone on a job. Doing comms is very hard to do alone because you want to have somebody on the other end of line to say, can you hear me now? Can you hear me now? So either I get the Verizon guy to come down and work with me or I need to put something on the other end that I can listen to and if I can hear it on the comp channel, then it’s a pretty good chance the other direction is good too.
I want to get your career advice before we hit some of these technical questions. If I want to follow in your footsteps and pursue a specialization in comms and RF coordination, what advice would you have for me to get the right training and then find gigs?
I think the key is actually getting your hands on the equipment. You can read the manuals and you can read the instruction books and that sort of stuff. But certainly for me, I never started learning anything until I could put my hands on the equipment. And when I first started out in the radio in WKCR at Columbia University, they showed me this console and they explained what all the buttons did and where everything goes. And I just went in one ear and out one eye and I had no idea what it did. And I said, Go away and let me just play with it. And I did it and I ran audio through it and I did different things and finally I figured it out. And that’s really true of all equipment for me anyway, that I learned a lot more if I actually have the equipment in front of in my hand. So I think if you can go and work for a company, a company like Claire Brothers or PRG or any of the audio companies that also have intercom and actually get your hands on this stuff or assist on a show where you can watch somebody use the stuff, that’s your best bet to get involved.
IEM. Just thinking for myself, if I wanted to do that, I would probably reach out to some local production companies here in Minneapolis and say, hey, what comes equipment do you have? And then I find out and I say, hey, I really need to practice on this system, on this free speech system. Can I come in and play with that for a couple of hours on Wednesday or something like that?
If somebody well enough, no company well enough that will let you to do that, that’s a great way to go experience on real shows. It’s obviously one step better than that, because even when you’re sitting in a studio and playing with a free speech system, you can go through the manual and make all the things work. But like I said before, comms is a two person job. So unless you’re learning with a friend you can sit and talk on, it isn’t very successful.
I think I want to give a shout out to the Signal to Noise podcast because you were a guest on there about a year ago. And so I think if people want to hear more about how you got started, that would be a good place to do that. And because you guys already did a lot of that, we are free to dive into some of these technical questions. So, Peter, you were presenter at last year’s Lifestyle Summit, and if people want to hear that, they can go to Lifetime Summit 2021 dot Sound Design Live.com. But you gave this talk called Intercom in the Pandemic age, and so I just wanted to ask you a few follow up questions about that. So you started out talking about Bale and a lot about Unity. I’m excited about this. So for someone who has never heard of Belaro and Unity, can you please talk about the opportunities that these technologies open up?
Digital wireless intercom, particularly Bale FreeSpeak and Crew.com solved a lot of problems in the intercom business. Used to have a two wire system where you’d have a headset and a cable running out to a power supply, and nine times out of ten there was a little hummer buzz on the line and it wasn’t very versatile. You basically had either one channel from one person to another, or you wanted to switch to talk to somebody else. It really involved a lot of wiring and specialized belt packs, that sort of thing. But when digital came along, bang, you’ve got now bell packs that have four to eight buttons on them and you can program to be any kind of communication you want from point to point around and they change. You can change them during the middle of the show. Somebody can say on their ballot bell pack, pete, I really need to talk to the LD and I click a couple of buttons and bang, they’ve got a button on their bell pack. Now they can talk to the LD. So, flexibility, that’s the main thing about Balro Free and Crew comp because they’re remotely programmable.
I don’t have to go out to your belt pack to change something on your belt pack to give you something else on it. Unity Intercom is an interesting thing when you deposit checks in the bank by taking a picture of the check. That software was developed by the man who started Unity Intercom, really. And he obviously became very rich from the software in the banks and had time on his hands and always wanted to do intercom. And so he wrote the Unity Intercom system, which is basically a six channel belt pack that runs fully on the internet. So you have a little server somewhere and you have a belt pack that talks to it. CP Communications for years now has been doing the marathon in New York City. And their usual way of doing it years ago was to install at four or five locations around the city on top of some building, a repeater site, so they could have walkie talkies that could talk anywhere in the entire route and good communication everywhere. And that took a week or more of time to go out. First of all, you had to find apartment buildings to get permission or pay rent to go on top of them, et cetera, et cetera.
And it took a long time. And then Unity Intercom came along and they decided to switch to using Unity instead of walkietalkies. They had a few channels of walkie talkies at the start of the race and a few at the end of the race. But for the 100 plus walkie talkies that were throughout the whole of New York City, they switched over to use Unity Intercom. And it communicates over a data channel on a regular cell phone. If any of you have ever tried to use a cellphone at a concert and realize you can’t make a phone call, WiFi is totally useless, but you can’t get connected to anything. The reality is there is a part of telephone systems, the data channel, which is rarely ever used anywhere. And Unity Intercom uses that data channel to do all its communication. So in a packed stadium with 100,000 people, you can open up your Unity Intercom and have a perfectly good intercom on your cell phone. So they took 100 belt packs and the one they bought was one called Sonom. It’s a military grade cell phone. I want one which has a replaceable battery on the back and the battery is long enough so I can leave the screen on for the whole day and not have to replace the battery.
So they took these and they put 100 of these out there with regular intercom headsets which plug in to the jacks on the side and put them all over the city and everybody communicated. And even though Unity has only six channels per user, I’ve got two different things on here. Agent IC, it’s blown out in that video there, but Agent IC and Unity intercom. And if I start the Unity intercom, it’s already logged on here for Unity. So this is one of the channels I have. And there are six channels, six buttons across the top. And I can turn on the talks and I can talk on them like that by pressing the button. And I can select different groups of six. So here’s one that’s called lights, one that’s called Default, one that’s called Director. So I can have as many different groups of six that a single person can access. And you could have the same production channel in every one of those groups so you can duplicate them in the group so they can switch between different departments. The other thing about this is a bluetooth push button, so I can push this bluetooth push button and make the Unity go.
So you can have Unity thing in your pocket and put this bluetooth push button on the arm of your camera where you can reach it with your finger. And bingo, you’ve got to push to talk. Pretty cool and quite versatile. The other thing about it is one of the problems people have with it is when you buy the server, which is about three or $400 for the first three users, maybe it’s five or $600, I forget. But they have to install it on a Mac in a location where they can actually open some ports on the switch. You need some dedicated ports, some dedicated ports. And often if you take this on the road and go into a venue, you might not have an It department in the venue that can open those ports on the switch that is available for you in the venue. So what I have done for years is I locate my switch either at my apartment here or recently I moved my server over to Macstadium.com, which is a Mac based server farm with hundreds and hundreds of Mac minis. So I have one that is basically my server. IEM.
Going to share a little screen of it with you here.
Yes, we should explain this because I think this is actually a really exciting technology. I think in the future no one will have machines anymore that actually have all the processing on them. You’ll just have basically terminals that access your server somewhere else in the world. And that’s what you’re talking about, right?
Essentially, though, I’ve got three things on my server. I’ve got the Unity server, which is this one right here. I’ve got another piece of Unity software called Unity Connect, which is a very unique piece of software. It basically can connect 64 bi directional channels of audio to another Unity Connect, the same software on two different computers. And it’s useful if you want to extend your Dante system to somewhere else in the world because it’ll take the 64 channels of Dante in and send them totally in sync to the other Dante. So if you’re sending 64 channels of music, you’re not going to lose any, you’re not going to get any of the channels out of face because what it does, it sends all 64 channels in the same packet at the time. So what I use it for is to remotely connect my intercom system to the Unity intercom. So here I have 16 channels of audio coming in and then there’s 16 channels of audio going out. And those 16 channels are on a laptop at my show. And plugged into that laptop is a Moto 16 channel D to a converter. And then analog, I come out of that and plug into whatever intercom system I have and route the audio.
It comes back here to the server Unity Connect. And since both pieces of software, server software, this one down here and the Unity connector on the same server, you can’t easily point one output to one input. So I use another little piece of software called Loop Back which allows you to connect inputs to outputs or outputs to inputs on the same computer. So here I have two different setups here connect to Server and it has 16 channels going to 16 channels. And here I have another one called Server to connect 16 channels to 16 channels. And when the audio comes in, I can see it on here. There are little meters on all of these. And when it comes into the Unity Connect, there’s also little meters to watch. So I can locate this server anywhere in the world. Right now my server is in Las Vegas and if I plug in an intercom into it anywhere in the United States, there’s less than about probably 80 milliseconds of latency built into the conversation, which is basically the same as a cell phone conversation. So you don’t feel as if there’s an echo or if I could loop them back, I would hear a little bit of an echo at 80 milliseconds.
But normally they don’t loop back like that.
And if you’re standing right next to the person, you would be able to tell. But if you’re standing right next to the person, you wouldn’t need come.
Little bit, not much. 80 milliseconds is pretty small, less than a 10th of a second. So you’re not going to hear much. But the important thing is it’s at a location that has not only really good power and they will have power even if the whole world loses power for at least a few days. And they also have very good quality Internet connection. So my little Mac mini here, which is this green thing on the screen, it has 200 plus megabit in and out to feed it. And so I have no problem with data. So I have this located there and I just log on to it wherever I want to on my website. By the way, bestaudio.com. There is a whole section on Unity Intercom, on free speech intercom, et cetera, all on the website. And I speak more about exactly what it does and how it works. So here’s my unity intercom tab. Actually, I have to click on the right thing. I can’t click on there’s my Unity Intercom and it talks about what Unity Intercom there is a website here, TV, where you can buy Unity for the slight discount, 5% or so.
And this is a picture of the Unity Intercom client on a PC. And here’s the picture of the selector of the Unity Intercom. And then down here in the middle of it is a section called Unity Demo. And it explains how you can set up your iPhone or your Android or your PC or your WiFi enabled device of any flavor to get a log on it to it. And my server has, I think, maybe four generic users, user 1234 with password 1234. So you can set this up on your computer and then you can play with it. Also Unity Intercom has a demo mode. You can download it and use it for whatever, 30 days and has full functionality. There’s nothing that isn’t in there, I think, although the demo unit may not have audio in and out to interface to your local intercom system. But I was on a show two years ago, an esports show that had some threats made against it. The police came and said we have some bomb threats possible and nothing we knew about. But we wanted to have a microphone that if we had to, somebody in your company could talk on through the entire event and ask everybody to calmly run for your life.
And we were in a convention center and the show occupied a couple of different rooms with non connected intercom systems, non connected PA systems. But what we did is at that point I didn’t have my server set up in my apartment, but I downloaded the demo version of the server and I put it on my computer right there at the venue. And the show I was working on was a computer based show. So we had our own It department and they gave me the public IP and opened up the ports I needed. And I took the audio out from my laptop and ran it into the PA system. And on a phone system like this, I just had one button that said PA. And you could press that button from anywhere. You had cellular connection, so it could be anywhere in the venue, outside in the street. You could be 20 miles away, you could be in a different country and talk to the PA of this venue. And the quality of the audio is really excellent. It’s really pretty good. I wouldn’t say it’s recording level quality, but it’s certainly better than telephone quality.
We demonstrated it to the police department. They said, very impressive, good, hang on to that, we might need it. We never used it, but it was easy to do. It only took a few minutes to set up. And even without an actual license to do it, we used a demo version of Unity Intercom for the one day we needed it. I think in general, the intercom world is going towards networking. Everything’s going to be IP. Quite a lot of it is available in clear.com and Readl and Crew.com, that is networked and particular questions about networking and Crew.com. I think you can go to some of the videos we did this summer at Practical Showtech.com where we had network experts talk about how you do intercom and networking.
I can’t wait to play with it and just the voice if I’m thinking of this, and other people are probably thinking of this as well. But this gives me a business opportunity that what if I could set up my own server just like you did, and solve intercom problems for a few of my local clients here in Minneapolis and just say, hey, anytime you have shows, I can set this up for you. And I don’t even necessarily need to be one of your technicians on site, but always have intercom solved.
Well, as long as you’re involved in the product. Unity Intercom has some exclusive rental houses, which means they can rent the Unity Intercom without any technicians and they protect those houses. But if you’re using it, you have your own system and you set it all up and want to provide to your clients and your clients are paying you for this service, then that’s fine. I do on my shows. Typically, I rent my Unity Intercom for $100 per user per week, plus $100 per port interface. Intercom port interface per week. That includes Unity Connect and all of the everything needed to get it from their intercom system into the Unity system. Unity itself has a rentable system, but it’s only Unity Intercom. To Unity Intercom, they don’t offer any Unity Connect, which is the method of feeding your system into theirs. However, what you can do is you can rent take one of these intercom things and in the settings there’s a thing called constant talk mode. Now, it’s always communicating. It’s always communicating all the time. And this becomes port in and out to the server. So I then connected the headset cable on this to my local intercom system, the four wire out of it into here and this into the four wire in, and it becomes then a connection to the intercom in the cloud.
At Unity income, their rental rates are much, much cheaper than I am. A few pennies on the dollar. So take a look at their website and you can see if you want to rent it for a show and you’re all using your own iPhones or your own Androids, it’s quite affordable.
And I guess that was going to be my last question about this. Can I use Unity for all of my.com and get rid of all of my other?
Depends on how complicated your show is. Obviously the one thing that Unity doesn’t have is a panel with 20 buttons on it where somebody can talk to everything they want to. Now you could set up a bunch of different groups so they would all have production and audio and lighting. And then the last three varied depending on what group you select on your unit so you can switch back and forth. I don’t think for most simple uses, yes, they can do everything you needed to do. It’s a big step up from hardwired to wire intercom system in a theater. It all depends on whether or not you have a good network connection. I find that it doesn’t work great in a WiFi situation because WiFi is not strong enough everywhere in the venue to keep the connection going. You have a really good WiFi system with access points in the hallways and the dressing rooms and the theater and the lobby, et cetera, all on the same SSID. It might work fine if you work at it, but I find just doing using on cellular works the best.
Okay, so let’s get to some of these questions that people sent in. Stephen Pavlik says what is his process for choosing where to place calm transceivers for indoor coverage with obstructions? For systems like Bolero or free speech.
Two wireless intercom system, bolero, FreeSpeak and to a lesser extent Crew.com all operate in bands that are near cellular bands. In addition, even though they’re not right on it, a 2.4 cellular access point placed next to a Bolero antenna will overload its receivers and make it not work. Even though the Bolero is running at 1.9 gig and the WiFi is at 2.4 gig, it will stop it from working. I went to do a show early on at a brand new theater in Los Angeles, and their free speech, they said, oh, it works fine everywhere except on the stage. Every time the stage manager walks into the middle of the stage, it cuts out and they get disconnected. And strangely enough, they’ve been using this thing for weeks now and they complained about this and nobody really did anything, but I don’t know what the deal was, but so I said, let’s look at it. And so I went around and I sure enough it worked everywhere. But when you walked on this page, it said, let’s look where the antennas are. And in all of these systems, each antenna only does a limited number of bell packs.
So one free speed antenna in the original version does six, no, it’s eight, and in the Crew.com it’s six, and in Bolero it’s ten. The newer version of Clearcom does ten. If you had 20 belt packs, you’d put two of those antennas out to use. In this particular theater, I went up on the catwalk and sure enough, there’s a catwalk running straight across the middle of the stage. And mounted on one side of the catwalk were two free speech antennas and 3ft away on the other side of the catwalk were two access points for their WiFi, 3ft away from them. Okay, let’s do that. So we just clapped it, plugged in an RJ 45 cable, moved it 30ft away, 30ft away to the sides of the sage, and bingo, everything started working fine. And so when we go into venues to put in any of these systems, often venues have built in cellular repeater systems.
Yeah, it’s like an upside down pyramid.
Exactly. So we just are careful that when we put them out, we keep them 30, 40ft away from any of those connections.
And Steven also says, deciding packs per zone. Say you need ten packs in one zone with free speed, two, you would deploy the transceivers to that zone. What happens if an 11th pack walks into that zone?
It won’t log on. It will just be disconnected at that point. So deciding how many antennas you put in an area, not a problem. You have to just be careful about it. So obviously, in your main theater, you want to have enough antennas so all your packs connect, maybe even a little more particularly, let’s say your stage is a giant Led screen. You might want to, if you have 20 belt packs and you want to make sure they work everywhere, you want to have, let’s say, 210 belt pack antennas backstage and out of front of house, 210 belt pack antennas as well, because the Led screen is dividing and rumbling too. The other issue with that is, so you’re doing a big show, lots of bell packs, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 bell packs. And in the dressing rooms, you want to have to put out a million antennas. So every bell pack works in the dressing room. That would be too expensive. So typically you might just have the stage managers and the A two s have access to intercom in the dressing room in bolero and free speech. There’s no easy way to do that.
In the newer clear.com, they do have some ways to do that, but all along, another manufacturer Crew.com from Client Technologies has had that capability. And what they do is when you look at the setup screen for each bell pack in that screen, you define what antennas it’s allowed to work with. So you can make an antenna work only the A twos and the stage managers in the dressing room. Everybody else who’s not supposed to be on it can go into the dressing rooms and have their 40, 50, 60, 70 beltbacks in there. But the A two s and the stage managers can still talk because they’re allowed to use that antenna. So it’s a matter of just deciding what you need. And in reality, most everybody stays in the venue when they’re doing a show. You’re not all going backstage except at lunchtime when they go to catering, and then nothing works. So it’s just a matter of deciding how much you want to have it work to put out enough antennas.
So Nicholas Romero says, what are the musthave tools for today’s? RF operator pelican.
Well, RF operator pelican. The tools are tools. So I would say that if we’re going RF, you want to have a spectrum analyzer. That’s the first thing you want to have because you can’t really tell the players in the game without being able to look at them on a monitor. Now, a toy I have found, which is I say a toy, is a thing called Thing.
Tiny Sam we’ve been playing from a.
Company called Tinysay.org under $100.
Yeah, isn’t like $50 originally came out.
For $50 and then I bought ten and all of a sudden the price went up to $80. So I don’t know what the deal is, but here it’s got a touch screen and a little menu. You can do stuff with it. It’s got two different ranges, up to 300 meg on one range and up to 900 mega on the other range. And when I’m on the 900 meg range, this one is now a generator and vice versa. So I can use it tune, I can generate RF at a certain frequency and I can measure it here. This is cute. I would say it’s not a professional device because the company that makes it, if you go to their website, Tiny Sa.org, you’ll find that it looks like it’s an open source kind of device, which besides being a spectrum analyzer, it can be all different kinds of display devices depending on what software you put in it. But it’s very interesting to have. And because it’s the size of hack of cards, literally, I can carry it in my pocket. And this is good enough for me to go to a venue and it has four presets in it, so I can punch up a preset and see the spectrum for that preset.
And it may allow me to see what TV stations are actually in the band without having to pull out my larger spectrum analyzer. Another one is one made from TTI, which is a little more expensive. It’s around a couple of $3,000 and is a little bit larger, but that is useful for most of your spectrum analyst sort of stuff. So that’s the key thing in your toolbox. Other things you’d want to have might be an inexpensive RF over fiverr system. RF venue makes a couple that were for about $6,000. You can get a two channel RF over fiverr, which means you can put receive channels of your wireless microphones on a fiber and send them thousands and thousands of. Feet to your receivers without any loss. I have a pair that I carry with me in case all of a sudden I’m doing a show and I got the whole regular system set up. But I want to also have the ability to receive the wireless mics as they’re being put on the talent backstage in the dressing rooms so I can put one of these backstage run on a fiber and get a good enough reception to hear if the mic is working well.
Now I say good enough because the inexpensive RF over fiber do have a fairly high noise floor and I don’t know if I’d want to use them for these inexpensive ones as my main antennas but certainly for backstage monitoring and that sort of stuff, they’re perfect some shows. I’ve used the RF over fiber to extend the antenna on my spectrum analyzer to the stage or to an area that I wanted to monitor doing a show. A few years ago in Times Square during New Year’s Eve I was doing sound on three different stages which are at three different ends of the Times Square area. And I put an RF over fiber box at each one of these stages. So in my trailer I could pop switch between them and measure the Rs spectrum at that stage and see if there was any inefficient other things that I would include besides regular bunch of tools and other things would be headset adapters, four pin to five pin male and female. Here’s a little headset adapter made by Crew.com. It’s a five pin to four pin female adapter. Very tiny, very cute. They make it so that their intercom, which is a male connector intercom, can be converted into four and five pin female.
Okay, so these are really cute. They’re expensive, they’re $35, $40 a piece, but they’re really useful. Much better than carrying around something like this which you can make for yourself for $15 or so. This is a male and female male. So headset adapter is another thing. Another thing in today’s age is a laser light but everything is fiber. And here we’ve got a laser light that I’m going to blind you all there. It burned out my entire video camera right there. This laser light is strong enough so that I can put it into a fiber and see it kilometers away. This is a 30 milliwatt fiber and it comes with a little adapter to change it from St to LC so I can test either. Those are terrific thing to have. And then along with that would be little clicker tool which allows me to stick it into fiber inputs and clean out the fiber. Which is the worst thing about fiber is if it dirty, doesn’t work, definitely then another device to carry in your toolkit used to be Whirlwind cue box, which is great, allows you to talk in here and test an audio thing.
But now there’s this great device called the Sound Bullet, which is a fully functional queue box in one little tiny device, which is rechargeable really cute. And so you can inject audio, you can listen to audio, you can test your cables. It’s really a terrific device. And this costs basically the same as the cue box, about $250. And this fits in your pocket.
We had David Barker on the podcast a couple of years ago. He’s a great guy, creator of the Soundbite.
Yes, very nice, very ingenious person. And it’s nice to buy. The only other thing I would say that you want to because computers are so important to RF coordination and intercom nowadays. I always carry a spare computer. I have two MacBooks that I carry identically set up, so if one dies, I can go to that one. Also I keep all my files on Dropbox. I don’t keep anything in the computer. So I can go to my iPhone and get all my files. I can go to another computer. Everything I go on my files and I operate directly out of Dropbox on the computer. And once you change things on your computer and Dropbox, within a few minutes it’s been uploaded to Dropbox and it’s available to everything. So it’s a terrific way. Now, for network connections, I use a USB based cellular connection. This is a Verizon cellular connection, and I would say USB because if I get like a little WiFi access point and I go into a venue with 20,000 people with their phones all banging away at the WiFi system, trying to find a network, it’s never going to work. So this doesn’t have WiFi.
It plugs directly into my computer and gives me a verizon connection, unlimited data up and down, and it’s extremely valuable. And often even when there’s WiFi in a venue, I get a better connection with this, faster connection than with the local WiFi. So that’s another good thing to carry tools. It’s up to you. A zillion different tools you can carry. But as far as RF, the key one is the spectrum analyzer.
Roger Gonzalez says, what intermediate RF literature do you recommend for audio and live events professionals?
Bestaudio.com. Okay, there’s a zillion different books out there both from RF Venue and from Shore Brothers and from Clearcom. There’s also some great general books that have been written by RTS. One, which is on my website. I’ll show you a picture of it here. And this is a book that was written by Telx RTS and it really covers everything from two tin cans all the way up to digital. Intercom explains exactly how it all works, pretty much without mentioning the word RTS or Clearcom or anything. It’s all generally how intercom works.
Jonathan Winkler how do you respond when you program.com based on a list? The fifth PA comes up and asks for.com it’s not on the list, and there’s 25 headsets sitting there and she says, what about those? So is that clear for you? Yeah, go ahead.
I try to remove myself from that equation, but what I do in that situation is try to plan in advance, before I get to the actual show, who exactly is getting what intercom, not only by their function, where they’re located, but by their name as well. If you have big money items in the rental, intercoms are obviously the wireless ball bell packs and the free speech bell packs. So the client is not going to say, just bring as many as you want. We want everybody to be on Bolero. If you have the names all assigned to them and somebody comes up and said, I’m supposed to have an intercom, and I say, what’s your name? And they tell Jane Doe, and I don’t have a Jane Doe, I say, Why don’t you go back to the tech manager? I don’t have you on the list of being able to get it, so go back to the tech manager or the stage manager or whatever and see what they can do for you. Because as long as I say I have a list of who’s supposed to get it and you’re not on the list, it’s like being the bouncer at the front of a clock.
Same deal. Okay. But a little bit of money, we might help you get one.
Scratch my back, I scratch you.
Don says, has he heard any news about the FCC cutting our bandwidth and selling it to more sell companies?
There are a few different bands not related to UHF that are being possibly sold off. It’s a changing landscape, and ultimately I believe all of the UHF band will be sold off in major markets in cities. There’s really no need and very little use of over the air transmission within a city. I’m sure it’s going to happen. That’s my news.
Okay. Billy says, Are there any situations where technical requests were extremely difficult or even impossible and you just had to tell people no? And if so, how did you handle that?
Diplomatically intercom, particularly digital intercom, and unity intercom and intercom systems.com and all these things that are available nowadays are so flexible, it’s very hard to say no, because there’s always a way to do it. One of the nice things about digital intercom, particularly, everybody’s got a panel out there and you’re running Bolero headsets all over the place and free speech and everything, and they want to have something on their panel. It’s very easy. Okay. Clickbait, you’re done it’s very flexible. So given enough planning time, every intercom solution can be solved. There was an Olympics I was working on where the rehearsal venue for the Olympic opening ceremony was located literally across the street, across a major highway, and they wanted to do rehearsals for the Paralympics. Ritual installed an RF connection between the two sides of the highway, and we put a network on there, and the network went through the Intercom system on both sides. Actually, the audio people stayed in the venue and played their music back through the network into the rehearsal area. And the lighting people were over in the rehearsal area, and all the comms were over there. So that was something where they obviously needed advanced planning, because you don’t bring RF connections and do that kind of stuff with you normally.
How do you say you can’t do it? When somebody asks something, oh, can we do this? Can we do this? And I think and I usually have a way to have it done, and I explain how it can be done. And if it’s expensive, if they want to pay for it, it can be done. I cannot think of the last time somebody asked me to do something with Intercom I wasn’t able to do.
Yeah, that’s real world. Sure.
Let’s see. Donna says, how does the new radio tech like 5G impact band planning?
5G is not a frequency. It is a method of transmitting the information. It’s like WiFi. Five gig WiFi and regular WiFi. It’s a different method of transmission. What affects the frequency planning is where the cellular companies are using their systems to get to their equipment. And that’s why they sold off the 600 meg van. If you look in a spectrum planning tool like IAS, a workbench, they show you the spectrum of the cellular. And there are places around that spectrum that you can use to insert when you’re planning your RF. When you’re doing a venue, typically you’ll go out and do a scan of the spectrum. And here is a scan of the spectrum of this particular show. And I did a scan. Basically, this is the VHF section, which I didn’t use, and this is the UHF section up to channel 37. And if I zoom in a little tiny bit like this. Okay, so we’re zooming in here. Now on the right hand side, abcdfg. Abcdfg. These are the cellular connections that have been sold off in the 600 meg band. So you see here, number E is a cellular transmitter tower that’s transmitting that signal.
The corresponding receive side of that from the actual cell phones is E over here. And there’s nobody transmitting in that particular band at that point, so you don’t see it. So in this UHF spectrum here, which I will zoom in on again, this is channel 37, which is a reserved channel for radio astronomy, so we can send our messages to the world outside the galaxy that we’re here. This little white space next to it is a 2 MHz spectrum space that is still available to use for wireless mics. And this little gap right here is called the duplex gap. These A through G are transmitted and received that’s called duplex transmitting. So they have a gap in between them so that the transmit doesn’t interfere with the received. That ten mega hertz hole there is available for wireless mics. As long as you have a Part 74 license, which is an FCC license which anybody can get, you just have to fill out the forms and typically you have to be an RF user that regularly uses 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 wireless microphones at a time you’re a heavy user, so you have to get a license to handle this.
So Part 74 users can use this and that. They also, if I expand out here again here’s some of the cellular connections in the 700 MHz band. And way up on the top here’s, some 900 MHz usage that’s also available for wireless microphones. There are lots of different places you could stick wireless mics other than the Uhfn. Now in this particular display here, all these green ones are the DTV stations which can’t realistically use any wireless mics on, but these smaller sections in the middle here, which are white here’s one, there’s a DTV on the left and a DTV on the right. And these are some channels. Each of these little lines here are channels that were selected in this list up above here. So this is one of the tools it’s used to plan your wireless mic frequencies. And I don’t want to go into the technology of why you need to do this, but it makes it work a whole lot better if you use one of these tools. There are a couple of web based tools out there that are really pretty cool and I’m about to add them to my website, but I’m not going to talk about them right now, which will do the same exact thing other than this piece of software here, which costs a few hundred dollars.
So Chris wants to hear a story. What’s the most challenging coordination you’ve ever had to do and what happened with.
The IAS and the workbench software? It helps you tremendously do that kind of coordination. It gets challenging when you have a lot of wireless mics. It all depends on where you use it. E to using wireless mics is finding the spectrum to put them in and on the website under RF coordination. There’s lots of books about and videos. Now there’s a book I wrote here, Peterkins RF Coordination for Rhodey’s, and it’s a book I wrote on what the process I went through when I was on tour with Tim Mcgrawn, Faith Hill, on how to do my coordination every single day. And it basically meant I fell out of the bus at 08:00 a.m. And went into the venue and took my little ETI and did a quick span, a scan outside the venue, what TV stations there were, and then I’d go inside the venue and do a scan inside the venue to see what the spectrum was there. And then I would plug the TV stations into IAS, mark the little green marks on the bottom, and then do a recalculation of the standard frequencies of the standard equipment that already had entered in the software.
This book here talks you through the whole thing and showed you pictures and arrows and circles and everything on the back. So then down at the bottom here, there’s some sure workbench videos. Another one from our venue, and then I did a few videos as well. This is all videos from different companies here about RF and how to do RF. So on the coordination section, on the scan side, when I go into all these different places, here’s a whole bunch of frequency coordinators I’ve been working with, and they all sent me scans of their venues. And here’s the list. Now, the list is all red because red means that the scan is over a year old. So I haven’t done any, added any since COVID came along. So they’re all pretty old. But these are all the places in the world where the scans came from. So if I wanted to go in a particular city here and check here in the middle of Ohio, I can click on this. And here at the nationwide arena, here’s a scan file, and here’s a map of where google doesn’t want me to do that at Google.
But anyway, I collected these scans, and it’s a great help, particularly for those people who are about to travel over to Europe and want to see what’s happening in Bulgaria or Serbia or Romania or Ukraine. This is a very popular one right here in Ukraine right now for all the great Olympic Army shows that are going on right there, doing a scan, collecting them. I should start redoing this again. Ryan Socks is a great person, a friend of mine who does RF and often shares intercom shows with me. He has a method here for converting ESV files from his Road and Schwartz spectrum analyzer. Here’s a little talks about how to participate in the collection of the scans and help me with my list. There also on my scans, if you look on my scans list here, scans that I worked on, I have pictures of the venue when I want to remember what a venue is all about. I have all these pictures of the venue from the loading dock to the loading to the neighborhood, whatever, which helps me remember where I am. But it also helped me remember where the loading dock is and where the dressing rooms are, because I never remember that.
Not many of the people who contributed to the pictures, to the scans actually gave me pictures. There’s a few in here. Kings Theater. Great little theater here in Brooklyn, a renovated Kings Theater, which I did a bunch of RF in. And this is pictured backstage, etc. For so refreshes my mind, I’m sure. No disrespect to people who have Alzheimer’s, but I feel like I’ve been practicing for Alzheimer’s entire life because I can’t remember a thing I did last week.
Because Chris is asking about your most challenging coordination. But it sounds like Chris, if you want to hear all the stories about all the stuff that Pete has done, you can go to the site and browse through them. You can see all the work he’s done and there looks like many stories.
Definitely are a challenge. And what I was trying to get at without all that talk about scanning is when you scan outside the venue and then you scan inside the venue, often you find that there is a huge portion of the scan is not receivable inside the venue. So after you put your wireless mics in the truly open channels, you can probably squeeze a few into these sections, which are just low level, so you can squeeze in. I’ve done coordination at Kennedy Center with 80 wireless microphones on the Chinese National Orchestra, and it’s just two giant six foot tall racks full of receivers. And it worked perfectly because I was able to use part because it was an indoor show.
So this one’s good. Russell says how he maintains his sanity as the RF world keeps closing in around him while the need for more calm grows.
I think you’re looking at it the wrong way. As the RF world closes in and FCC pushing it into a tighter and tighter space, they’re making more work for us, which means we get hired more often. So as an RF coordinator, it’s not usual for show to hire an RF coordinator, but it’s becoming more and more normal to have an RF coordinator on a show intercom. I have to say it’s becoming easier and easier to do for very complicated shows. And I’m seeing now people taking Clear calm and breed and crewcom equipment who aren’t well versed in doing intercom and putting them in the shows and being very successful at it because the equipment is very well designed and very intuitive in setting it up. So you can get away doing intercom complicated income nowadays much more than you used to, whereas RF is getting harder and harder and becoming really impossible.
And Douglas says what are the most common comp systems I should be familiar with?
There are three main ones. Reedal, TLX RTS and Clearcom. In terms of full featured intercom systems, wireless intercom also include client, crew comp as well. Now, it’s not all of them. There are lots of different systems out there. These are the three that I am familiar with and I deal with on a regular basis. Reedal, RTS and Clearcom all have programming software available on their website that you can get to, program offline and do experiments with. And several times during the first year of COVID, Kelly, Eperson, Mac, Care and I did shows about programming these systems and they’re on our Practical Show dot website. So it’s a good way to look. You look and see how it’s programmed and then get the software yourself, put it on your own computer and follow.
Along pete, where is the best place for people to follow your work?
IEM. On Facebook. And 99% of the time, Facebook. I like to share a job. I’m on a venue, IEM. At my view of the day, showing all my computers lined up on the table. Typically do not share information about the show I’m on. That’s just not politically correct until after the show is over. It’s been a couple of weeks until it’s gone, and then I might say I had this really challenging thing on Joe Blow’s show that I like to talk about, and then I talk about it. When I started my website, it was with Larry Esthern, who was the person who had best audio in the beginning. And Larry and I wanted a website to talk about what we did and how we did it. And I started putting stuff on it so I could remember how I did something. I came up with some clever way of doing something and I drew a diagram out of how to do it and I put them on the website and eventually it became a resource for other people to look on how to do things. So there’s lots of comms and RF resources there and anything that you can find on there, you can always email me and I’ll respond that way.
Which is my email is Peter@bestaudio.com.
Peter, Erskin, thank you so much for joining me on Sound Design Live today.
Glad to be here.
Sound Design Live.
Dave C says
Thanks for the interesting interview but can I point out that what Peter says about Unity intercom using a “special data connection” in a mobile phone is not correct. Unity uses the normal mobile data connection of the phone and is just as susceptible to mobile data congestion as any other app running in the phone.
Nathan Lively says