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Craft Interview: John Hunter

29/07/2020

A freelance audio engineer (A1) for Dome Productions in Canada, John Hunter first discovered his passion for audio with live music.

Eventually, his path led him to mix live sports and he (in normal times) mixes every Toronto Raptors home game on TSN and Sportsnet and has travelled with the production team to work every playoff game, including the 2019 NBA Finals.

He worked as an A1 for the famous 2018 NBA Raptors/Pelicans game in 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos surround sound, which was the first to be produced in those formats and distributed live to North American households

We know you've been mixing audio for the NBA Toronto Raptors for quite some time now, but that music was your first passion. How did you get into professional audio and to where you are now?

My path to professional audio evolved from a passion for performing live music. After completing audio training at O.I.A.R.T. (1999), I furthered my education at the University of Toronto (Hon. B.A. 2006), while playing guitar in a band and signed to a record label in New York City. Recording an album and doing select tours in support of the album opened my eyes to different opportunities available in music and the live production industry.

During this period, I was mixing live music at the Distillery Historic District in Toronto and I believe this really gave me the chops to make amplified signals sound good. I was also working as a freelance audio-visual technician in hotels and conference centres and this taught me a great deal about building temporary AV systems from the ground up.

In fall 2006, I was hired as a freelance audio technician by Courtney Ross, Senior Audio Engineer at Toronto's busiest sports venue (now known as Scotiabank Arena) where the Maple Leafs and Raptors play. From 2010 to 2019 I worked as a full-time A1 for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE). I currently work as a freelance A1 for Dome Productions, continuing my work with the Raptors, along with other live sporting events and projects.

My love of performing translates directly to mixing because ultimately, I see my job as one that connects people through technology. If I can translate the excitement of a live sporting event to fans watching the broadcast - if they can feel that excitement through the audio - then I have done my job successfully. I believe that mixing is similar to playing an instrument; there is a rhythm and creativity involved that requires critical listening, intense focus and great attention to detail.

In more detail, what does your current role as the Home Show A1 for the Raptors entail?

In November of 2013, I began mixing the Toronto Raptors broadcasts on TSN and Sportsnet and haven't missed a home game since. I believe mixing is a subjective process that makes every A1's style unique. My aim is to bring continuity and cohesion to the audio brand of the Raptors home broadcasts. With viewership and resources expanded during playoffs, I have been fortunate to mix every Raptors playoff game, home and away, since 2014.

My role is to ensure all external audio sources, commentator mics, field of play (FX) mics, crowd/ambience mics, as well as internal sources (EVS, Spotbox, Chyron, etc.), are tested and working properly prior to the broadcast. Our broadcasts are somewhat unique compared to most regional NBA shows because of the number of commentators; during the playoffs, our shows can have up to 12 different commentators in various positions, inside and outside the venue. (The watch party outside Scotiabank Arena is often referred to as Jurassic Park .)

I am responsible for all communications for talent and crew. We employ a point-to-point RTS intercom system that I have programmed in AZEdit. Over the years I have refined and improved comms files for each mobile facility that we have used. Our broadcast produces news hits as well as a pre-game show for the networks we air on. Once the game begins, I am following the game action visually and listening intently to the director and producer's cues so that I can deliver an audio experience that matches the compelling images on the screen.

Can you describe a typical broadcast audio workflow that you use?

To me, a successful audio workflow starts with great paperwork, which is a road map for the A2s and the A1. I try to include all of the venue patching as well as internal truck patching (i.e. console I/O, IFB and comms ports). It's crucial that the EIC (Engineer-in-Charge) and the A1 are on the same page; I always provide an audio routing list with offline recordings for EVS operators, main transmission paths (M1 & M2) and various clean feeds as required by the NBA.

The vast majority of Raptors home games on TSN and Sportsnet are broadcast in 4K video which requires a secondary pair of main audio paths (M3 & M4) which are delayed (by approx. 50 ms) so that any packaged items recorded by EVS through the switcher have audio and video in sync. Select games require NBA clean feeds where I employ a third transmission path (M5 & M6).

We currently use analog audio (DT12s) to connect to the venue's I/O patch room and I typically feed the visiting broadcast A1 individual FX mics over MADI (using a Calrec JM series device). Again, I make sure to provide paperwork for the visiting A1 so they know exactly what mics I will be sending them.

In terms of microphone placement, I use Sennheiser MKH 416 shotgun mics placed strategically around the court, with each mic picking up a different but important area of action on the court. My goal is to highlight the bounce of the ball whenever possible since the eyes naturally follow the ball handler. The squeak of the sneakers on the court is another key sound that gets picked up by the shotgun mics. I use Sennheiser MKE 2 lav microphones taped under the basket rims to pick up the swish sound of a 3-point shot or an
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