Shure Wireless Part of the Platform at Democratic and Republican National Conventions
DENVER, CO, and ST. PAUL, MN, September 17, 2008 — Shure UHF-R® wireless made its mark on the national political convention scene this year, serving as the wireless microphone system of choice for handheld and lavalier microphones as well as in-ear personal monitors at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Used by performing artists, including Trace Adkins, Stevie Wonder, will.i.am, and John Legend, UHF-R® wireless also gained prime-time exposure in the hands of Cindy McCain, who delivered a speech introducing her husband John McCain with the aid of a Shure UHF-R/KSM9 microphone.
Separated by slightly more than 72 hours in their scheduling, the Republican National Convention kicked off at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on September 1, following the close of the Democratic National Convention in Denver on August 28. This presented a formidable logistical challenge for ATK Audiotek, the Valencia, California-based sound company chosen to supply the audio components for both events. Three dedicated systems, requiring nine semi-trucks to move them, were constructed independently at the Xcel Energy Center, Denver's Pepsi Center (the site of Democratic convention proceedings), and Invesco Field, where candidate Barack Obama delivered his acceptance speech.
"It is indeed a sizable undertaking with its own unique share of challenges," notes Paul Wittman of ATK Audiotek, commenting on the outsized proportions of the company's tasks at the DNC and RNC. "But broken down into its individual components, there's not a lot here different from the other things we do."
When one considers the other things ATK does — like the GRAMMY® Awards, Academy Awards, and the Super Bowl — Wittman's familiar attitude toward this undertaking seems reasonable. Working from a comprehensive sonic blueprint penned by Pat Baltzell of Baltzell Audio Design in Sherman Oaks, California, ATK rolled into Denver with UHF-R® wireless systems for implementation at the Pepsi Center and Invesco Field.
In total at both locations, Shure supplied 20 handheld UHF-R transmitters and 16 channels of PSM® 700 personal in-ear monitors also operating within the UHF spectrum. Among the handheld transmitters, most sported KSM9 capsules.
"Nowadays, with the clarity and intelligibility found in the PA systems we use, you really don't need an accentuated bump at 4 or 5K in your microphones anymore," Baltzell related, giving just one of his reasons for choosing the KSM9s. "You want something linear like the sound system itself. The KSM9 is the smoothest vocal mic I've used, and very natural sounding, too."
Shure UHF-R® wireless mics and PSM® 700 in-ear monitors were seen and heard during live music segments at the DNC, including those on the last night at Invesco Field, when Jennifer Hudson sang the national anthem. Appearances that followed included Sheryl Crow, will.i.am, John Legend, and Stevie Wonder, who performed "Fear Can't Put Dreams to Sleep" and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" with Take 6 and the Drums of Unity, using a UHF-R handheld transmitter topped with an SM58® capsule.
"Some people's voices are naturally suited for one mic or another," Pat Baltzell adds. "But at the DNC, even artists that were associated with mics in terms of an endorsement deal outside of Shure had no problem with the KSM9 or UHF-R® wireless. We were only cleared to use the equipment we had, so no one could bring anything else. There seems to be an acceptance of this mic growing industry wide."
Baltzell, who also penned the audio blueprint for the Republican National Convention, took a hands-on approach at both events as well, serving as chief engineer and the guiding force behind the house mixing consoles.
Working with audio technician Skip Kent, Baltzell faced a challenging moment in St. Paul the night Cindy McCain introduced her husband to the crowd to deliver his acceptance speech. For undisclosed reasons probably related to security, Mrs. McCain was told she would be giving her speech without the use of the main podium and its custom, dual-capsule mic. Scrambling to make sure the show went on, Kent outfitted the candidate's wife with a UR1 wireless bodypack and gave her a wireless handheld KSM9, plus a quick tutorial on how to use it most effectively. As backup, and for moments when the handheld mic may be out of the range of her voice (such as when she'd be standing with her arms around family members following the speech but still talking to the crowd), a Shure WL184 lavalier mic was also pinned to her lapel.
"Anything live and important as this is, you really don't want to use just one mic," Kent says, imparting advice based upon years of hard-earned experience. "With the amount of RF in the air at the Xcel Energy Center, even with the strict frequency coordination we had on-site you can never be too safe. All it takes is one hit from an errant harmonic frequency and troubles arise. With the addition of the WL184, we were ready for anything, plus Pat had a better range of mic options available to him if the situation demanded it."
Ultimately, Cindy McCain carried her speech off without incident, even though Pat Baltzell reports she spoke into the side of the KSM9 at times, and naturally has a very soft, quiet voice.
Working in an environment void for the most part of sound checks and familiarity with those behind the podium or on wireless mics, Pat Baltzell also subscribes to the notion that safeguards such as windscreens and forgiving microphone patterns are necessities, not luxuries.
"Cindy McCain didn't want to use a windscreen at first, but I was able to persuade her it was a good idea," he notes. "Since I didn't know her speaking style or how she'd handle the mic, I felt it was a precaution that would protect us all. If we hadn't used it, I'm fairly certain we may have heard a pop or two when she was speaking into the side of the mic otherwise. Selecting the cardioid pattern on the KSM9 in these situations is another safe bet. It's more accommodating to everything from a whisper to a scream."
The Republican and Democratic Conventions both ended on upbeat, balloon-tossing, confetti-raining notes, with the candidates smiling brightly with their families. Mission accomplished and well done, Baltzell returned to California to prep for the next mega-event on his schedule, Skip Kent went on to his next gig, and the staff at ATK began inspecting the contents of its returning trucks as Super Bowl 2009 looms closer on their to-do list. There's still the matter of the rest of the campaign to consider in terms of audio events, but for now Shure remains satisfied with its role in two of the year's most historic political moments.