Andy James at the Sports Personality of the Year 2014

Calrec Craft Profile – Andy James

Here in Blighty we are rather keen that our royal family are very well represented whenever there is a large royal event; jubilees, weddings, births of princesses, that kind of thing. And when that is required, UK-based sound supervisor Andy James is the man to call. He's about as near as we've got to audio royalty!

Over the last 20 years he's covered everything from sports to light entertainment, and was lead OB Sound Supervisor for the BBC at both the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002 and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012. He started his audio career with a 12 year stint at BBC Outside Broadcasts, and has been Lead OB Sound Supervisor for BBC Sport at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, the Boat Race and the Open Golf for the last 15 years, and the London Marathon for the last 10. His work at the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games has taken him to Atlanta, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London.

He's a busy chap, so we were extra delighted when he agreed to talk to us in our latest Calrec Craft interview. Sign up to our newsletter to be alerted to future craft interviews over the coming months.

Which features of today's consoles have had the biggest impact on the way you and your colleagues do your jobs?

In today's live mixing environment, speed of operation and flexibility of the surface is key. We need to be able to respond to fast moving programmes and changes in the Director's shots instantly, and move sources around on the surface as the focus of the programme moves from once area to another. A small fader pitch enables us to keep the maximum number of sources visible and to hand in a compact OB environment. The increasing demands of 5.1 mean that plenty of DSP and mix busses need to be available and configurable on the fly. Conveying as much information as possible to the operator in a clear way is key to allow us to see what is going on beneath the surface.

How well do you think audio equipment suppliers are adapting to the needs of the OB market today?

Generally audio manufacturers are good at keeping abreast of the way we use their products, and there is no substitute for actually watching the way we use and abuse a sound desk on the road. Keeping us up to date with the latest technology available means we can continue to offer our customers the best available technology to deliver their programme.

You were Lead OB Sound Supervisor on both the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee’s – in the ten years between them, what were the biggest shifts in terms of technology, and audience expectations?

The move to fibre for audio acquisition has had the biggest impact on the way we work in the last 10 years. We now take for granted the ability to deliver high quality sources from remote locations with the shortest possible rig times. 12 years ago we were limited in the number of audio channels that could be delivered from the remote sites to the master scanner in the Mall, but for the Diamond Jubilee 5.1 delivery was achievable as were multiple individual audio sources from the OBs. 5.1 is now taken for granted as a delivery format, and the audience now have much higher expectations of the surround format that we have to exceed. The move to MADI distribution both inside and between OB trucks, even to remote sites has vastly simplified the process of connecting trucks together. Networked comms systems also reduce rig times and allow us to offer more talkback facilities to the customer.

With the gigs you work on every year - the golf, tennis, rugby, distance running etc - what are the major changes you have seen in the way sports audio is captured, mixed and distributed?

There is now a huge range of different ways we can now offer content to the audience: online, social media as well as the more traditional methods. This means from the OB we need to be able to offer a variety of different formats and mixes to suit the intended audience. On many sports programmes today the viewer can choose the audio mix they want to listen to: full mix, ref's mic, clean effects, radio or TV commentary. All these different audio mixes have to be configured, mixed and distributed from the OB, and the number of mix busses available on modern consoles simplifies this. The communications requirements also increase for every different destination we need to feed, and audio distribution from site becomes more complicated. This means the role of the OB guarantee engineer is now one of the most demanding at an OB site, they are the real unsung heroes in the OB audio world.

Virtual graphics present new challenges to the way we work in sound: the video processing delays they introduce often mean a complete rethink in the audio system, presenter comms and audio monitoring.

Looking ahead, what new audio console features do you think are going to be important to OB companies?

There is a move towards de-rig operations, rather than using an OB truck for many Sport OBs. As more audio/video mixes are required to feed the new online offerings, the capabilities of the OB truck are exceeded. De-rig is the obvious solution and smaller consoles that still retain the features of a live broadcast desk are required. They need to be cost effective, but still have networking and fibre stage box capability. There isn't a one-size-fits-all console anymore, OB companies want a range a flexible solutions to fit the type of truck they are building.


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