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, www.txsound.com

tod maitland jfk

Tod Maitland while in Dallas on JFK.


Nagra 3 Tape Recorder Repurposed to ipod Speaker Amplifier

Nagra tape recorders were the de-facto industry standard for motion picture film sound for almost 40 years. Made in Switzerland by the company Kudelski, there was no higher standard for battery-powered, analog audio recording. Nagras are an object lesson in quality engineering and excellence in manufacturing. Now that digital recording has largely replaced tape in motion picture production, there are thousands of Nagras in disuse, deep storage, or on the shelf of the vintage audio collector. On the bright side, audiophiles and tape recording enthusiasts have embraced Stereo Nagras as the primary record/playback device in their very-expensive listening rooms.

INdeck Of the many Nagra models, I have a particular attraction to the Nagra III. The III was the 1st culmination of Kudelski’s hard work in addressing the needs of professional audio recording for film and many other fields of sound acquisition. Even since its introduction and acceptance in the early 60’s, technical specifications for analog recording have rarely been exceeded. Using mostly germanium transistors, and all fixed-value components, the Nagra 3 can achieve recordings with 70db signal to noise ratio, just about the limit for analog, (with no noise reduction). There are no trimmer potentiometers under the deck. All alignment is done by changing/soldering fixed value components. Its meter, the modulometer, was a far more precise instrument in gauging record level than any ordinary VU meter. The III could record in either NAB or CCIR equalization curves at 3.75, 7.5 and 15 ips. The single motor is hand-assembled, and has rock-stable servo-controlled speed regulation. Upon playback, even the internal speaker is loud and robust, probably more so than any Nagra since. The tape transport allowed fluid movement of the tape for racking/cueing, loading and unloading, and has a grace that surpasses the models IV, 4.2, etc. Moreover, the III has an aesthetic that represents a labor of love. It is a study in circles. A simple form factor with few controls performing many functions. A classic Swiss Army knife! A feel and solidness that exceeds all the models that followed.INsideview

Why then would I hack up a beautiful machine like the Nagra III and force feed it lowly compressed digital files of pop music? I used these machines on a daily basis in the first 10 years of my sound career. Countless 12-hour days staring into the face of these machines. Thousands of recordings, head cleanings, reloads, battery changes, expensive service tuneups- cleaning, rebiasing, lubrication. Enduring blistering hot and icy cold condtions. Lugging over the shoulder, or perched atop a recording cart. A thousand drained D-cells.

Well, then, with the advent of digital, it was all over.

Suddenly I was working with a little clock-radio affair, a DAT recorder, at less than half the cost of my time code stereo Nagra IV-S. The DAT had superior specifications to the Nagra, but none of the tangible, hands-on, craft-feel of sound capture that the Nagra gave me daily. Every day I turned my DAT machine on, I did so with a prayer that it would not fail, because I was no longer in control. It was all inside that tiny machine with its rotating head, a mere spec of dust might shut it down. In summer, it ran so hot, I could not keep my palm flat on its lid. It would be another 5 years before digital recording disposed of tape transports entirely. Those were 5 long years of praying that clock- radio would continue to function. Back then, in the heat of battle, I didn’t think much about the retirement of my Nagra IV-STC and 4.2. It was nice not to hear tape hiss in my headphones. Thinking they would soon be more valuable as boat-anchors, I sold them to pay for my new digital machines. INpwrsup

I have restored a few cast-off Nagras. My goal with these machines is to bring them to as close to original condition as possible, both technically and cosmetically. A few years ago, I acquired three retired Nagra III’s in various states of repair, for $240 all-in. That purchase is what really got me started. Out of the three, plus one other, I created two near-perfect examples of the Kudelski Nagra III. One was sold to a audiophile in Japan for $900. The other is mine and always will be. Its fun to have. Lace a tape, plug in a microphone, and record some stuff. Play it back. Work the controls. Rack the tape. Listen to the robust, boomy, sound of analog, full-track, monophonic recording. INidlersMy restorations efforts left me with a lot of parts and two Nagra III’s that were shells of their former selves. Ipod popularity had gotten me and a lot of other re-purposers thinking about the Ipod Dock, that plastic affair on the shelf of Best Buy. There’s so much discarded technical equipment from the days of old that can be re-upped into a Gestalt of past and present. For me these Nagra III’s are at the front of the line. I like to play with my old tape recorders, but I rarely have the time. With my Ipod Nagra, I can keep it useful, every day. It now plays music, podcasts, internet streams, with room-filling volume, and a happily bouncing modulometer. It delights all who see and hear it. It lives again. by Pete Verrando www.txsound.com

One-of-a-kind Ristaucrat Automatic 45rpm Turntable Record Changer

Ristaucrat Commercial 45RPM record player changer

Ristaucrat Commercial Record Changer

About a year ago, I restored this Ristaucrat M-400 commercial record changer. A collector in Utah recently purchased it. This device plays both sides of a stack of 45 rpm records. Then, it lifts the stack back to the top of the spindle for replay. Originally designed for background music in restaurants and department stores. It behaves like a pinball machine while functioning. Lots of clacking, abrupt sequencing and high torque motors. There are spinning clutches in this device that use cork as the slip-plate when engaging. The bat-handled switches and chrome carry-handles were added by yours truly. I have only seen 1 other example of this device in the 20 years I have been building/restoring electronics. There is a video demonstration on youtube (below). -by pete verrando www.txsound.com

The photo below shows the device as found from a swap meet.

Pete Verrando – www.txsound.com

ristaucrat m-400 verrando

Ristaucrat M-400 as found

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 www.jwsoundgroup.net 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 www.txsound.com


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 www.txsound.com

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 www.txsound.com
Facebook Sound Mixers and Recordists:  http://www.facebook.com/groups/soundmixers/



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  www.txsound.com

First Adopter, Last Responder

The Zaxcom Nomad one of the latest devices offered for production sound mixers. It offers multi track recording and mixing, in about the same footprint as a traditional 4 or 5 channel mixer. It is not a collection of afterthoughts, like the Sound Devices 788T/CL8. Nevertheless, it is new, and does not have many hours racked up in the field. Its also a complex device, and new-gear bugaboos are inevitable. 

The Zaxcom Nomad

Following a popular sound mixer discussion group, a few reactions become evident.
1. Many newer sound guys who’ve had a mixer-only package are upgrading to this device.
2. There’s still a few tweaks and quirks in the device that are being discovered while on the job.
3. Those who have problems quickly detail their production horror story on the discussion group.
4. The good or uneventful experiences go un-documented.  

I’ve never been a “first adopter.” Why would anyone bring a 1st-generation device, right out of the box, to a paying client’s job? The producer is not paying me to experiment with new gear. My gigs are not beta-test sites for new equipment.   Granted, equipment issues happen on the job, even with time-proven gear. That’s why its important to have an intimate knowlege of how your gear works, and even some ability to fix it. Which I do. Also back-up gear is important to bring along if ever things get really nasty.

Back when DAT became the standard recording device, many mixers continued to roll their analog Nagras as a backup. Two recorders on the cart. It was cumbersome, but the peace of mind of having a backup was sublime. Those DAT machines were quirky animals, so much as an errant speck of dust could shut them down. When they were finally obsolete, we sound mixers built a huge bonfire and threw all our DAT machines on it. Not really. But I still have my DAT machine, so if you ever want to have a bonfire, I will be the first to throw mine on. 

There will never be a Nagra bonfire, because they are just too beautiful a machine to trash.  As a hobby,  I restore and sell Nagras to audiophiles.  Nagras are the ultimate refinement of the analog recording medium. 

So, if your soundman comes to the job boasting of a new piece of gear, raise an eyebrow. Make sure your production won’t be featured as the next dirty-laundry story on a popular sound mixer discussion group.

Please visit my website www.txsound.com

Collins 200 Broadcast Turntable Restored

I had the chassis floating on silicone blocks to isolate from plinth, but later found the rumble excessive. Rumble reduced dramatically when chassis bolted to plinth (the manual confirms this need)
The Micro-Track is a simple tonearm. the base is oil filled as an anti-skate device. The pivots are isolated from the gimble with rubber. It will  track to 1/2 gram. The weight adjustments are made from the headshell. The tracking with the M91ED is set to just under 2 grams.
This turntable was sold under various labels. The shifter housing is a separate aluminum piece. Some versions reveal the seam between housing and chassis, but Collins filled the gap with a Bondo-like material.
Bodine Motor. New idler and motor shockmounts from russcoturntables.com
signal ground is isolated from chassis ground
3 speed shift, neon indicator and standard bat switch
MicroTrack tone arm is unusual, all aluminum. Most have wooden arms
Front Collins Emblem was a nice find.
Brass wafer weights under cartridge. Heads can be interchanged without adjusting rear weight.
signal wire internal RCA connections.
internal power connector
Original Condition
Original Condition

Collins Broadcast Turntable goes under the knife

I have quite a few vintage turntables awaiting restoration.  This is a 70’s vintage Collins model 200 with a MicroTrack tonearm. The tonearm is completely aluminum, which is unusual for MicroTrack, as their arms were typically made of wood. This has been lots of fun to restore. It brings me back to my college radio days.

For some reason, these idler-wheel broadcast turntables are very desirable among collectors. Turntable collectors/audiophiles are also very picky and temperamental about their vinyl reproducers. They love the idler concept, but the buyer also wants the specifications of a direct-drive/belt drive. On these behemoths,  the best rumble isolation you can hope for is about -40db.  Anyway,  I think perception of sound quality is biased by how much money is spent.  Maybe part of the attraction is the ability to “slip-cue” records, as radio DJs did in the 60-70’s.  The powerful motor maintains speed even if you hold the record still against the felt.

The platter rides on a single ball bearing packed in grease.    I built the massive plinth, rebuilt the fractional horsepower motor, and installed new rubber dampers and idler. The frame rests on four large silicone bumpers to isolate it from the plinth.  Currently waiting for the paint to cure before buttoning it up. I’ll sell it with the popular Shure M91ED cartridge. The felt is from JoAnne’s.  January’s been quiet for location sound, so I’ll post some pics/video soon, as I should finish this up in a few days.
Please visit my home pages at www.txsound.com