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Broadcast Audio's A2s Are Key in Sports Production

01/12/2023

Broadcast Audio's A2s Are Key in Sports Production Second-tier' workers perform a wide range of rapidly changing functions By Dan Daley, Audio Editor

Friday, December 1, 2023 - 10:58 am

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The core purpose of the broadcast-sports A1 is to mix the game's audio. The mission of the broadcast-sports A2 is, well, almost everything else. Compared with the A1's highly focused primary task, the A2 is the production's sonic polymath, sometimes specializing in one or more of the category's subspecialties - field A2, RF A2, booth A2, truck A2, comms A2 - smaller cogs in a massive machine that cannot run smoothly without any one of them.

A2 is a broad term that covers more jobs than just putting out mics, says ESPN Remote Operations Specialist Kevin Cleary, succinctly summing up a deceptively compact job title. It's also one that's changing.

New Emphasis on Close-Up Sound If you had asked even a year ago how the requirements for A2s are changing, I would've given you a completely different answer than now, says Jason Knapp, who has plied that trade for nearly 14 years after leaving a job at Microsoft, where he worked for a dozen years directly under Bill Gates on coding projects and consumer-product development. He began his audio career as part of a semi-regular crew led by A1 Joe Carpenter on such productions as Fox Sports' Big Noon Kickoff college-football studio show.

What has changed, Knapp says, is the increased emphasis on personal and close-in sound.

Broadcast-sports productions increasingly demand personal, close-up sound.

A year ago, he explains, I would never have imagined we'd be doing player walk-and-talks for CBS Golf using a Bolero system and Bluetooth, which we rolled out in January last year. I've learned so much about Bluetooth [technology], Bluetooth two-way microphone systems, and the 1.9 [GHz] frequency spectrum. I think we've gone from an A2 having to carry just one piece of equipment to [carrying] a ton of stuff these days, along with much more emphasis on IP and digital. There's no more analog infrastructure; it's all Dante and Hydra and fiber.

A2s also have had to learn a lot, much of it on the fly. Much of the learning comes from the professional web that is the freelance technical community created by the system peculiar to U.S. broadcasting: front-line audio workers are largely self-employed. That has created a pragmatic camaraderie that exchanges technical tips and other information.

It's not He's an ESPN guy or he's a Fox guy,' says Knapp. We're part of the same freelance fraternity. We lean on each other for knowledge. A lot of it is trial and error, but it's also sharing information.

Their Own Knowledge Pool That fluidity allows A2s to move fairly seamlessly among sport genres and networks as well. And that, Knapp emphasizes, benefits the entire industry, with a ready pool of knowledgeable and flexible self-starters helping keep costs down.

A2 Matt Leshner: [Managers] take my [tech] suggestions because no one knows the gear better than the person using it.

They also serve as a kind of cadre of sergeants on shows: highly experienced traveling A2s leading platoons of local A2s through productions. A2 Matt Leshner, who began working sports in his native Washington, DC, right out of college and went into audio because fewer people were choosing that path, works closely with A1 Florian Brown on national ESPN shows, such as US Open tennis and Monday Night Football. He manages the other A2s on many of the shows and opines that a mix of traveling and local A2s is a practical strategy for networks.

Having a local [A2] is always critical to knowing the local facilities, explains Leshner, and having a traveling A2 is necessary to knowing the show and the productions' wants and needs. He oversees the audio setup for seven courts, five announce booths, and three studios for ESPN and Gravity Media at the US Open: There's not an effect mic or a talent mic or RF mic there that I haven't touched on the installation, so I can sign it off.

He notes that the corps of A2s that travel with network-level productions, which he estimates at between 20 and 25 nationally, have become more important in the wake of the pandemic and corporate budget cuts. That, in turn, has put more responsibility on the A2.

You could make a good living back in the day just being a field A2, just putting out the effects mics just for football, he says. Nowadays, the networks aren't looking for that. Now they want a person who can do the booth, who can do the field, who can do RF. The days of doing only one thing are gone. If someone calls out sick or if they want to combine two jobs, you just [offer] one skill set as an A2 anymore.

However, the working paradigm that compels flexibility comes without standardized training to help take on multiple disciplines. A2s are on their own for most of that, and the task is getting harder every year as the shift to IP-based signal routing and processing accelerates. A2s look to manufacturers' training to learn new products and skills, a practice that proliferated during COVID. Leshner singles out Pliant Technologies' CrewCom brand for its weekly Zoom tutorials during the pandemic, adding that he wishes more manufacturers would continue to do that.

Specialized Skills The A2's responsibilities will only become larger as the industry evolves. Like Knapp, Leshner cites the demand for athlete audio as an example, such as precisely how the NBA wants its Q5X Player Mics attached to team members' jerseys.

That's considered a high-skill set because the NBA expects it done a certain way to have the least impact to a player, he explains. Last thing you want to do is affect th
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2023/12/01/broadcast-audios-a2s-are-key-in...
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