Is it just us, or have the Super Bowl concerts become one of the best places to see live performances on TV? This year's lineup — which featured Santana and friends pre-game, the Dixie Chicks singing the national anthem and Celine Dion singing “America,” No Doubt, Sting, and Shania Twain doing the annual over-the-top halftime extravaganza thing, and the Goo Goo Dolls in a tailgate party, and Bon Jovi post-game — was certainly better than all those bad beer ads and often better than the game itself (unless you were a Tampa Bay fan, in which case the game won hands down).
Good thing, too, considering the event draws close to 90 million US viewers and an estimated worldwide audience of 800 million in 220 countries. The sound was good, too (even Shania's recorded bit). This was the sixth consecutive Super Bowl for which ATK Audiotek provided the artist sound reinforcement systems; Professional Wireless Systems (PWS) supplied all of the performance RF microphones and wireless in-ear monitoring systems. Super Bowl XXXVII, which this year was held at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, was the first time that all of the microphones used during the pre-game and halftime entertainment segments were all Sennheiser products.
PWS needed an accurate, reliable, and powerful wireless system to cut through the 1,200 television electronic news-gathering crews at the stadium, plus the RF systems for network TV presenters ABC, CBS Radio, NFL Films, coaches' communications, and referee microphones. “There was a ton of RF on the field that day,” says PWS president James Stoffo.
He points to the post-game show as evidence of some of the event's challenges. “Bon Jovi was live mic and live in-ear at the end of the game when all 1,200 ENG guys were lit off. He was across the field no less than 100m from my position, about 350' diagonally across the field. We had to cut through all of the ENG crews, the players, and the Lombardi Award trophy stand with the microphone.”
Stoffo continues, “I use all SKM 5000 transmitters, which is their high-end handheld transmitter. And I have a variety of microphone elements. This year we used all Sennheiser condenser and dynamic elements, and the Neumann elements. I used an EM 1046 rack, which is the high-end, high-dollar ‘Gucci’ Sennheiser receiver rack.”
Elaborating on the RF setup, Stoffo says, “I had a total of 14 EM 1046 receivers and eight in-ear transmitters. These needed to work with over 34 RF intercom frequencies used for production, audio, and lighting for the show. In addition, there were several high-power VHF links to feed audio to various areas where cabling would not have worked. In all, I ran over 70 frequencies through my intermod computer.”
Pre-game entertainment and the national anthem utilized wired ear monitors, he reveals. “The first time we used wireless in-ears was at halftime. Except for Sting, who used a wedge, the rest of the halftime performers were all on Sennheiser 3000s. Those transmitters went into a combiner that we make that kicks up the power of the transmitter, combines it all onto one PWS helical antenna, and the result is that each transmitter is kicking out 250mW, which is the legal limit in that band.”
Inside the Westwood One truck, ATK Audiotek senior engineer Andrew Waterman once again mixed the event's performance elements for broadcast. Waterman's A2, freelance audio technician George Mashonas, reports that they returned to using Sennheiser 416 shotgun microphones this year to capture the ambient crowd noise. “I put one on each of the four corners of the field and splayed them across the field, toward the end zone. In the center I used pairs in an X-Y pattern. Because we had so many obstacles to deal with at halftime we had to put them on the NFC's 40-yard line, and on the AFC's 40-yard line, to keep them safe.”
Mashonas is a huge admirer of Stoffo's work. “ATK president Mike Stahl asked James to take one of his Sennheiser wireless mics to be a backup for the hard-wired mic at the Lombardi stand. Have you ever heard such a thing? Take this RF mic to be the backup for a hard-wire! That tells you all you need to know: James is THAT good with that equipment.”