Having been involved in University of Nebraska sports broadcasts since 1974, Mike Elliott has seen the ongoing growth of technology firsthand. As Director of Broadcast Operations for the Husker IMG Sports Network in Lincoln, Elliott oversees a radio team dedicated to bringing Nebraska sports action – especially football games – to fans throughout the region and around the world.
“One of the biggest changes in broadcasting over the past 20 years has been the widespread use of wireless, which is something that we have very much embraced,” he says. “We’ve gone from having just one RF mic on the sideline to our whole crew being wireless, both for microphones and our IFB system. As our needs have expanded, the one thing that has remained constant is that all of those systems are made by Shure.”
Nebraska football is practically a religion, leading the Husker IMG team to produce the longest game day sports coverage in the nation. “We’re literally on the air for 12 and a half hours on football Saturdays,” says Elliott, “and our Shure wireless has proven totally reliable in every way. We typically use ten microphone channels, which are Shure UHF-R®. Most are bodypacks feeding headsets, except the sideline reporters, who use handhelds with SM58® capsules. In addition, everyone monitors on PSM® 900 in-ear systems. That requires five more channels, one for each mix of feeds that the announcers and crew use.”
According to Elliott, reliability and selectivity are the two biggest factors required of his wireless systems. “When the FCC changed wireless allocations because of DTV a few years back, we stayed with Shure because it has been extremely reliable,” he relates. “In fact, that’s when we expanded to make every member of the crew wireless. Everything we do at the stadium – pregame, the game itself, the post-game show, locker room interviews with coaches and players – is all done on Shure wireless.”
While most productions use intercom systems for interruptible foldback (IFB) communications among the crew, the Husker broadcast team opted for the full-range fidelity of Shure’s PSM 900 in-ear monitor system, with five channels offering different feeds required by the various announcer and crew functions. “We use traditional full-muff sports headsets, with the mic output feeding the UR1 bodypack,” says Elliott. “The PSM 900 bodypack receiver then feeds the headphones, tuned to whatever IFB feed that announcer or crew member needs. Its primary purpose is crew communications, though the broadcast feed is also part of the mix, especially for the announcers.”
This set-up enables talk among the crew to flow freely, including critical game information that Elliott relays to the game announcers. “For instance, my own main producer channel is a mix of crew chatter, the game feed, and everything else,” he explains. “But the play-by-play announcer and analyst don’t need all that, so all they hear is themselves, the crowd sounds, and the ref’s mic, interspersed with quick little production comments or cues from me, like calling for legal ID, making sure they see penalty flags and substitutions, that sort of thing.”
To do that while maintaining contact with the rest of the crew, Elliott uses the PSM 900’s patent-pending CueMode feature, which enables the user to store up to 20 active channels for quick recall. Elliott uses the PSM 900’s infrared linking to set names of the live channels for easy reference. “CueMode is very useful, and not just for me,” he says. “For instance, our sideline reporter uses one channel when he’s on the field, then switches to another when he walks into the locker room to do interviews, since that requires a separate feed to get a good signal in there. CueMode makes it easy for him to find the right feed.”
Another PSM 900 feature that Elliott finds useful is MixMode®, which lets the user blend two independent signals as desired, using the pan pot on the P9R bodypack receiver. “Basically, it lets you treat your stereo signal as two separate mono channels,” he says. “We use it for the parabolic field mic operator on the sideline. He needs to hear what he’s picking up, so he gets that signal soloed along with the crew chatter, then uses MixMode to blend them as needed.” Using MixMode, announcers can adjust the headphone balance between their own voice and other production elements.
Being so reliant on wireless, a big part of Elliott’s responsibilities revolve around frequency coordination. “Between the TV broadcaster, opponents radio broadcasts, referee mics, plus 80 channels for the coaches’ headset systems, there’s typically well over 100 active channels at a game. At the Rose Bowl, the total was about 250,” he notes. “With our Shure systems, we’ve never had a problem finding enough clear channels for our needs.” To manage that, the university has its own frequency coordinator, who works closely with us and everyone else involved ensuring that they have the clear frequencies they need on game day. When on the road with no local frequency coordinator, Elliott works with coaches' headset crews and the national TV broadcast RF techs to fully coordinate RF at the game site.
In addition to its flagship coverage of University of Nebraska football, the Husker IMG Sports Network relies on Shure wireless for its broadcasts of men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, baseball, and softball, all while producing a three-hour sports talk show that airs five nights a week year-round. To handle the inevitable conflicts when various events overlap, the network operates its own uplink, with three satellite channels to handle distribution. Live Internet streaming provides even more global reach in real time.
“One thing we’ve learned over the years is that you need quality equipment to do a quality job,” concludes Mike Elliott. “We’ve been using Shure wireless for almost 20 years now, and they keep improving their products, but never lose focus on the basics, like great sound and reliability. So when we have new needs, we’ll always look at Shure first.”
Pictured is Mike Elliott, Director of Broadcast Operations for the Husker IMG Sports Network