Category Archives: Location Sound

Information of interest to location sound mixers, and those who hire production sound personnel.

Location Sound Mixer, Time Code Slate Inventor Bill Daly -RIP

Bill_Daly location sound mixer

Bill also realized the first “Time Code Slate” using video monitors and a desk clock.

Bill Daly, a veteran N.Y. sound mixer filled in for Tod Maitland on the first 2.5 weeks of JFK in Dallas, doing all the motorcade scenes. I was the 2nd mixer and sfx recordist with my Nagra 4L and one of the early portable DAT machines, 5 years into my career. Bill was pretty gruff and would occasionally tear me a new arsehole by day, but always followed up by buying me a drink after wrap and regaling me with war stories. I’ll never forget one day, while sitting in the window sills of the 6th floor Book Depository, seeing Bill’s massive cart on the street below, with his huge Sela mixer and umbrella anchored to his cart, but no immediate sign of Bill. A gust of wind hooked the umbrella and pulled the cart over on its back, his stereo Nagra flipped lid-down and skidded on the pavement. Boom op T.J. O’Mara dashes over to the pile and slaps his hands to his head, and frantically he goes about righting the whole mess. I think they were back up and running in 15 minutes. It was surreal. He was just as encouraging and kind to me as he was a ball-buster. Cheers Bill!  by Pete Verrando,

tod maitland jfk

Tod Maitland while in Dallas on JFK.


Planet Of The Sound Mixers

TV Crew people often say that sound people are the strangest  cast at the carnival. After years lurking around some sound mixer list serves, I can see how they would reach that conclusion.  Check out and read some of the threads. I’ve never seen so many like-minded people go to the mat as they do, mixed with indulgent reverence for each other. A mostly happy yet dysfunctional family, with a cage in the basement.
If you want to go deeper , check out rec.arts.movies.production.sound on the ol’ Usenet. These days, Usenet is part of the internet wasteland, like CB radio. Nobody knew much about net-etiquette back then. Check out the posts of/about “Senator Mike” or “Roberto.” Mike would wail on any sound novice or “outsider” to go back from whence they came. Mike has softened up in his later years on jwsound, but occasionally, he still manages to let his old self shine. Back then, he and others were sometimes “banned” from the group, only to show up on other groups, like the Lectrosonics group, where he tells folks that their equipment is “broken”.

location sound mixer headphones

The Zen of headphone Face-Listening

This kind of relates to my experience as a ham radio operator. I always wanted to be a ham, since I was a kid. My dad told me he would buy me the equipment if I learned Morse code, and passed the technical test. I tried, but did not have the discipline, or mentoring, to see it through. But I finally got my license about 30 years later, and I learned Morse code. Morse code is obsolete. Just don’t tell any ham operators I said so.
Which is why as a ham,  I ultimately never spent much time on the air. Those guys weren’t too friendly or fun to engage. Curmudgeonly, reclusive, often ultra-conservative, & not much in the way of social skills. They use words like “diabolical.” Instead of saying “goodbye,” they are just as apt to say “farewell.”  Farewell?  The below screen capture is Senator Mike himself, as an extra on Hawaii 5-0, sometime around the late 60’s -early 70’s:

senator mike michaels, hawaii 5-0

Senator Mike worked on Hawaii 5-0 as both sound technican and on-camera extra.

Senator Mike Micheals Location Sound Mixer

Senator Mike Micheals Today.

I guess, like athletes, electronic gear-heads tend to size one another up on a continuing basis. Back in the 80’s, I met a sound mixer named James Tannenbaum  on a film shooting in Austin. Jim’s very talented and successful. I respect him a great deal. I learned a lot from him. He’s written some great articles for Sound & Picture. He is undoubtedly one of the most unusual human beings I have ever met. I was the video assist operator, and a sound wannabe. No doubt I picked his brain to excess. When Jim didn’t appreciate my presence, he wouldn’t use normal cues to dismiss me. He would toy with my assumptions or quiz me into submission. Mr. Jean Clark, his chain-smoking boom operator, would delightfully join in. Some time soon, I will post some passages from a book Jim was writing at the time about sound mixing. Technically, much of it is obsolete. However, the advice Jim revealed about dealing with others on the set was hilarious. “Use your nearly-dead batteries script supervisor Comteks.” I paraphrase, but stuff like that.

Jim Tannenbaum Location Sound Mixer Car Shot

Jim Tannenbaum C.A.S. doing a car shot the old school way.

Anyway, among  personalities on the set, I guess the sound people rank as the most unusual bunch. Maybe we were the kids who were picked last to be on the team. Loners. There must be some pent-up aggression among us, as evidenced by the tit-for-tat that lives in infamy on the sound mixer listserves. (Senator, that Usenet stuff never goes away, at least for now.)
To be honest, I’m probably just as strange as the rest of them. We are least qualified individually to judge how we are perceived by others. Also, I think my clients are just too diabolical to tell me the truth.
-by Pete Verrando


Scanning For Dollars


The New White Space Device and Antenna.

I do lots of travelling as a sound mixer. . When I arrive in a city, often the night before a job, I turn my receivers on. I scan the radio frequency spectrum for existing signals.  Will I have enough open spectrum to use my wireless microphones? You’d think this was something I’d check for before I left home. But you see, the available data is not very complete when it comes to finding open frequencies in different cities. There are plenty of published charts & software showing were the TV stations are. Often, however, the charts don’t agree with the actual location. There are more signals out there than the charts reveal. Now there’s a new, hidden, bogey for us mixers: Agility White Space Radio. Now the RF landscape will become even less predictable. These devices, designed to bring wireless internet to the rural, yet huddled masses, choose their frequencies based on a central database system, from a monopoly company called Spectrum Bridge. The signals could appear anywhere in the bands where we use wireless microphones. If we want to ask for some open space to use our mics, we can. We are to send our plans to Spectrum Bridge, and their computers will tell the local White Space Device to leave some space for us. Read about the new device and the utopian plan here. This scheme is first being deployed in Wilmington, North Carolina as a test. I’m sure the test will go perfectly, because there’s lots of money on the line. Neither Spectrum Bridge or the FCC want any trouble from pesky wireless mic users complaining about the system. Wireless signals, computers and government bureaucracy have a lot in common. Rarely do all three behave the way one assumes they should. For the moment, I’m not too worried. I have many wireless mics, spread across many blocks of frequencies. I also know about RF and how to make it work in a congested environment. Also, I hear the White Space devices are very low power, often on par with the power of a wireless mic. However, the photo shows a very efficient, high gain antenna, not only to transmit the signal farther, but to receive the signals sent by your computer.

Here’s a story: Anybody know what BPL is? It stands for Broadband over Power Line. It was a plan for deploying broadband internet. Using boxes similar to the above, BPL crammed data onto medium and high radio frequencies, and attempted to propagate it over our old, arcing, crumbling power line infrastructure. The FCC and the broadband industry saw big dollar signs and wanted it to work very, very badly. The field tests went miserably. Interference from the signals threatened existing use of aeronautical and shortwave bands. AM broadcasters and ham radio operators cried foul. The American Radio Relay League deployed lobbyists and lawyers in an attempt to kill BPL. The FCC was surprised, they thought everything was going great! What interference? We don’t hear any interference! The FCC never concluded that BPL was a failure, even after the BPL industry pulled the plug on the tests. The BPL guys now market their system for small-scale telemetry use . The threat of nationwide broadband BPL is gone, but no thanks to the FCC. With white space devices, I expect the FCC and the broadband industry will behave the same way. -by Pete Verrando

Facebook Sound Mixer Nation

oh shit oh shit oh shit

oh shit oh shit oh shit

Theres a burgeoning Facebook group known as “Freelance Sound Mixers & Recordists for TV/Film. It is a largely un-moderated an un-categorized free-for-all. But, if One had to categorize the existing posts, these come to mind:
*I Can’t Get Any Wireless Range
*I Just Spent another $2000 and I Still Can’t Get No Wireless Range
*My (equipment) Stopped Working, How Can I Fix It Without Getting It Repaired?
*My Crisis That Is Holding Up A Production Right This Moment Is:
*I Bought This(equipment) & How To Use It
*I Bought This(equipment), Do You Want To Buy It
*What Frequencies Are Good In This (city, state, country, nation, hemisphere)
*What Do You Think Of This (microphone, recorder, wireless, etc)
*You Are Wrong About That (microphone, recorder, wireless, etc)
*Lengthy Technical Posts Of Questionable Accuracy
*Arrogance As An Expression Of Insecurity
*An “office today” photo.
*What Is The Best Microphone For (whispering, shouting, singing, sound effects, gun shots, etc)
*How Do I Record On A (plane, train, automobile, bus, boat, hallway, bathroom, mountaintop, etc)
*Has anyone ever used this(microphone) In This (situation)?
*Look At My New Package (of equipment)
*What Is A Good Pay Rate For A Mixer/Equipment
*This Job Is So Cool, Whats The Big Deal About Pay
*I’m Doing Lots Indies & Shorts Films with My New Package.
*Why Is The Pay So Low On Indies & Shorts?
*Old Mixers Bitching About New Mixers Working For Cheap
*Old Mixers Bitching
*Arguments About How Wireless Microphone Equipment Works
*Production Starts In 3 Days And I Have No Clue About Any Of This
*Ha Ha Lame Craigslist Crew Posts
*The Only Work I Land is From Craigslist Crew Posts
-by Pete Verrando
Facebook Sound Mixers and Recordists:



record now, decide later.

record now, decide later.

sankenlavEver wonder why sound mixers record and interview with both a lavalier mic and a boom microphone?  The standard producer request, whenever an interview is recorded for television: Boom channel 1, lav channel 2, or visa-versa. Why 2 microphones for one sound source? The answer runs a little deeper than you may think. 20 or 30 years ago, 2 mics for a single interview was not done. The sound recordist chose his weapon, a lav or a boom, and recorded with that. The producer asked no questions. There was only one, recordable mono track anyway! Back in the news-film, documentary days, or anything that preceded video, the audio went to the mono Nagra track, or the single audio channel on whatever sound amplifier (Auricon, Cinema Products, etc) was driving a sound-on-film system. Not only were two mics unnecessary, there weren’t two audio tracks for two mics.  Eventually,  Two tracks of audio  became available when 3/4” u-matic, stereo Nagra, or 1” field recording came into being. Yet two mics for a single-person interview was still hardly contemplated. Enter the days of Tabloid and Reality television. And, the need for low-cost programming to fill 80 channels of cable/satellite TV. The small army of production mixers across the US, in their lofty, revered, hard-earned union positions, were no longer enough in number to meet the demand for the forthcoming tidal wave of cheap television. However, there were plenty of young, inexperienced crew people flooding into the production work force, many never having picked up a boom pole or lavalier mic. They worked for cheap, learned by trial and error, clipping lavs on collars, happily chasing around cameras with their little mixers. Recording interviews with whatever audio gear the cameraman owned, or was thrown in the back of the truck. You can imagine what came next. Horrible audio came flooding into the edit bays. Poorly cued booms, lavs placed too low or too high, or no mic at all- when the new guy forgot to switch from the camera mic! If a mic battery died, or a location was noisy, the editor got what he got- 1 channel of crappy audio from one mic, recorded by a beginner. It didn’t take long for word to come down on high. Make those jobs idiot-proof, because we’ve got an army of idiots recording our field audio! Thus came the new protocol- record lavalier on 1 channel, and boom on the other. In Post, now we can choose the less horrible of the two! The senior sound guys balked- they knew how to get good interview audio with one mic, and no memo from above was going to tell them how to do the job. Regardless, the protocol stuck, and is still with us today. I don’t begrudge the method at all. Today, having both mics going makes sense in a fail-safe kind of way- most of the time. Also, for fun, we get to A/B our boom and lavs during the interview. The on-set mentality is: Get it right, get it in spades, and if you can, postpone making a decision about anything. Works for me! All I ask is: Please, Mr Editor, pick one or the other, and don’t mix the two down to mono! – by Pete Verrando

Car-to-Car with Lectro’s SMV

   Recently, I was on a shoot following bounty hunters around a city every night for about 10 days. Both cars worked together, with two hunters in each. Each car had a camera operator inside,  and both “hunters” were mic’d with Lectro SMV’s , transmitting directly to an SRb 2-channel receiver on the camera. 

    Camera mic was on channel 3/4.  Now the fun part–   a plant mic was placed in the car’s headliner dead center, and fed to an external SMv transmitter on each car. Both SMv’s at 250mw full power, and taking 12 volts  from each car’s cigar lighter. Our follow vehicle had two Lectro SNA-600 dipoles mounted about 12″ above the roof on fiberglass poles, feeding a Venue Field inside the van. The Field received the 4 officer’s wireless, & the two plant mic wireless.  

Rubber band pulls transmit antenna away from car to maximze range. Fixed to glass with heavy-duty Velcro.
Transmitter  then covered in gaff tape 
Follow vehicle SNA-600 antennas fed a Lectrosonics Venue Field inside. 

On the road, the follow vehicle could reliably  hear those plant mics  up to 1/2 mile away from the hunter cars-  sometimes more in the countryside!  In the city, we would routinely loose the cars in traffic, but could usually still hear them.   This made for great follow vehicle IFB, & two clear recorded tracks of car interior when bad guys were loaded in the car. 

-by Pete Verrando

Good Old Days of Nagra 4.2 and 16mm Film

This was an industrial film for The Associates, basically loan-sharks in hi-rise offices. Cameraman Bob Tullier is in the bag, loading 16mm magazines for his Cinema Products CP-16 motion picture camera. We called it “Sherm”, short for Sherman Tank, which is what the noise sounded like from the camera body. I have a Nagra 4.2 full track mono recorder there. The mic was a Sennheiser 816. I am wearing shorts, but this was 1986 (I’m 26 here). Bob and I went to college together, graduating about 1983. So this is us making real money. Thanks, Bob, for hiring me.

Mailbag- Lectrosonics SRb versus SRa+ Huh?

From the mailbag!  Keep those cards and letters coming!Dave, from Sydney Austrailia, writes:

 I’m considering buying an upgrade SRa (serial # is above 105…)
Are yours upgraded? How have they performed? Do you know if they have the 6 layer board?
“The 80% improvement RF board is 17378-K. The full SRb board is 17378-L”
Hi Dave!
I never owned 1st generation SRa’s so I don’t have anything to compare, but I’ve heard that range on those early SRa’s was pretty bad. That’s why everybody started buying RF amplifiers and sharkfin antennas to hang off their bags.
Now that the SRb’s are available, those RF amps and Sharkfins will probably overload the front-ends of the SRb’s. Ha ha.
Update: I just took delivery on a used SRa- that is pre serial# 105…  Before I get it upgraded, I want to do some comparisons between it and my post-105 SRa’s,.. Range tests are pretty simple, but selectivity comparisons are difficult to simulate and measure. I’ll probably just take their word on it, and continue to do good freq. coordination.
All the best!
Pete Verrando
Dallas TX
Hi Pete
Good to hear about your experience. I’ll test a ‘post-105’ or ‘SRa+’ (as Larry F named it) around town if the dealer will let it out for a day or two. Keen to hear how your comparisons go as well pre and post upgrade.
Hi Dave!
Today I did a walk test comparison of my  SRa to an “SRa+”. (same block) I used one SMV transmitter and tuned channel 1 on both receivers to the transmit frequency. I first noticed the open SRa 2nd channel (coordinated) was much more susceptible to swamping when the  transmitter for channel 1 comes too close. The SRa+ showed no evidence of swamping on the 2nd, open channel.  
In a walk test, the two receivers were pretty close in range in open air, but when I placed the transmitter inside a vehicle, the SRa lost it entirely, while the SRa+ was showing about 50% signal level. 
Cheers! (Except I have a vodka martini in my hand)


The saga continues….

-by Pete Verrando

Lectrosonics New SRb Receiver Antenna Distro WTF

When Lectrosonics released their SR, a dual channel wireless receiver, sound mixers seized the opportunity to load unprecedented piles of these receivers in their sound bags.  The SR’s original design, however, and a host of RF interference issues from neighboring gear in their “bags”, left sound guys scratching their heads.
These receivers were supposed to be equivalent in performance to Lectro’s 401 receivers. Except they weren’t. And they were even farther away in RF performance from Lectro’s top line 411a.
The SR receivers were less sensitive than the 401’s, meaning reduced working distance from the transmitters. And in UHF, working distance is not a linear thing. One could have excellent reception at 40 feet, then the signal disappears at 42 feet !
Those guys who invested heavily in the first SRa’s (version with removable antennas) were forced to load their packages down with RF amplifiers and gain-based antennas, to overcome the range issue. Basically, they force-fed amplified signals into the SRa’s antenna jacks. Which creates another bunch of problems, but what the hell.
Gavage for the SRa Receiver
Months later, Lectro re-designs the RF board of the SR, bringing the RF performance much closer to the original claims. The SRb was introduced, and Lectro has a very generous upgrade policy for all those hapless mixers who invested heavily in the SRa.
However, now you have guys with piles of antennas, amplifiers, and combiners in their package. And they are chomping at the bit to plug that mess into their SRb’s.
Now, that the SRb is a more sensitive receiver, and I bet it is not going to like all that amplified RF being force-fed into the antenna jacks.  The SRb is a much-improved design, but physics is physics, and receivers will squawk like a goose destined for Foie Gras when fed too much RF.  Wait and see.
-by Pete Verrando

Vox Populi Facebook, Sound Mixers, and VER

An interesting thread has emerged on Facebook’s “Freelance Sound Mixers & Recordists for TV/Film” regarding VER.  It is a interesting dialogue that speaks to the constant flux of our industry.  It harks back to the days when the major studios provided equipment for sound mixers, until mixers had the audacity to purchase equipment and charge rentals to those productions.
I see the existence of Jeff’s forum, and the Facebook forum, as roughly separated by the old guard/new guard. Yet thankfully, both exist in each. However, the mass-production methods of reality TV has drawn a youthful, albeit impressive voice, high in number, as evidenced in the Facebook forum. They face many of the same challenges as the old guard faced 30-40 years ago.
If any of our senior members can speak to the days when mixers broke away from the standard of studio gear provision, it may shed some light on today’s marketplace, and the distinctions of value and service that we are all obliged to honor.
Indeed, please speak to any aspect of this interesting discussion.
The mixer forum on Facebook is open to anyone. Look for the recent thread started by Joshua Baggett.
-Pete Verrando