The looming FCC deadline (February 17, 2009) for the digital television changeover that opens analog TV frequencies to other uses will spell changes for many wireless mic users. The situation isn't necessarily gloom and doom, although pro users definitely need to be aware of the situation.
Federal law dictates that wireless audio devices must vacate the former-television spectrum. Yet the movement into the space by the new tenants—known as TV Band Devices (TVBDs)—will begin gradually, so there may be a period when those frequencies will seem clear, leading some wireless audio users to continue operating within that band. However, such operation is illegal and eventually—and perhaps rather suddenly—those frequencies will fill with TVBD users and become unusable, anyway. So rather than wait until the last moment, now is the time to plan for the changeover.
With that in mind, here are 10 tips to ease the transition:
1. Know what you have. Check your system's frequency. Wireless units operating in the 698 MHz to 806 MHz band are most affected—while others are not.
2. If you are in this frequency range, contact the manufacturer. For a fee, some companies may be able to modify or change your system to a different frequency range.
3. Move receivers closer to the transmitters. Proximity is everything, so instead of placing your receivers at front of house, try finding a spot for them onstage, and snake the receiver's line-level output to the house position.
4. Look into a better antenna system. Highly directional antennas offer more gain, for improved overall RF performance.
5. Upgrade your antenna wiring and keep signal paths as short as possible. Larger conductors and beefy shielding equate to reduced signal loss.
6. Watch your battery life. As batteries wane, so does signal strength. In "can't-fail" situations, install fresh batteries between sets or before critical takes.
7. Get involved. Most wireless manufacturers have online frequency locators and frequency coordination programs to help you avoid trouble spots. Here a little web research can help you steer clear of problems. And if possible, run some RF tests at the location or venue in advance to prevent last-minute "surprises."
8. Consider whether you even need wireless. Many times, wireless is essential, but does a podium/lectern mic or non-moving bass player really need that wireless rig? Also, in any situation, reducing your overall wireless channel count means fewer problems. Onstage, does every chorus member require a radio mic for a full sound?
9. Look into alternatives. A colleague of mine recently replaced the wireless rigs in a theater show with some well-placed shotgun mics with great results. In broadcast situations, a quality splitter or press breakout box can eliminate a lot of wireless channels. On location, a pocket digital recorder and lavalier mic may provide a solution for dialog capture in RF problem areas.
10. Time to upgrade? If your current wireless has been around the block (or world) a few times, maybe it's time to step up to the improved performance of today's new systems. And with some manufacturers offering rebates on new purchases or exchanges on existing gear, the timing couldn't be better.
Author George Petersen is the Executive Editor of Mix magazine.
MORE INFO, PLEASE
For more useful information about the wireless transition, visit the following manufacturer websites: