New North Church, located on the San Francisco Peninsula, received a much-needed upgrade that has yielded overwhelming results. Faced with the dilemma of a modern praise and worship service in an intimate venue, Zak Stamps, Technical Director, had nearly given up hope that he would find an intercom solution that allowed his production team to easily communicate regardless of the ambient SPL. Thankfully a call to Clear-Com delivered the solution that Stamps and his team needed in time for Christmas services, with the added (and unexpected) bonus of a boost in volunteer participation.
The church has around 1,200 congregants who gather together in a 400-seat auditorium during three popular Sunday services that feature live bands and loud music. The congregation is immersed in energetic worship – but until recently, communication between production team members was hindered by a lack of clarity.
“We had two-way radios but we had to talk so loudly that our congregants would overhear us shouting directions,” says Stamps, “We had to run outside to talk so that others (non-team members) wouldn’t hear us. Stage managers were frustrated at having to wait for transitions between songs before being able to speak up. We run on a volunteer-based team and people were becoming reluctant to help because it was so difficult to communicate over the music.”
Earlier in 2019, Zak began conducting research to find a better way to communicate with everyone on the team. His key requirements were straightforward: clear communications at all times, especially during times of worship; integration with existing systems; elimination of RF interference; and wireless capability to enable roaming, as well as the ability to expand the system in the future.
Zak tested a few systems that were unable to deal sufficiently with RF interference – the building is steel construction with significant trussing for lighting and electrical, so RF strength is an important factor. Other solutions he looked at didn’t provide clear and intelligible audio in the venue, which is relatively small with an intimate FOH position.
“Then we had the chance to try FreeSpeak II, and it was incredible,” says Zak. “Installation and implementation were super easy, the entire system was installed and ready to go in a few hours with no additional support. When we tested it, the team was blown away by the difference - even over loud music we could hear each other clearly!”
FreeSpeak II’s high dynamic range provides striking intelligibility, whether the user is whispering into the system or shouting into it. That versatility and intelligibility is a hallmark of Clear-Com’s award-winning industry-leading wireless intercom.
The Clear-Com name and reputation was also a draw. “Clear-Com is so well known! People say ‘Clear-Com’ instead of ‘intercom’ - the name goes a long way,” says Zak. “We needed something that was widely used, so that if someone new were to come in, they would be able to use it without significant training, as opposed to competitive systems that were proprietary. The ease of use is also important because we do have some non-technical volunteers on the team, and they can pick up the system very quickly.”
New North Church installed a FreeSpeak II digital wireless system consisting of a base station, 4 wired sets, and two wireless beltpacks. “A big concern was wanting to be sure that we could upgrade the system when we needed to,” says Zak. “With FreeSpeak II there is loads of room for future expansion - we can have up to 25 wireless beltpacks on a single base station, which is very important to us as we have plans to expand to a larger venue. The Clear-Com system is a sound investment for the church, and our congregation.”
Additionally, the church has imminent digital expansion plans. “We’re starting a live stream in February, and being able to communicate with the team makes this possible,” says Zak. “We’ll be pushing a live broadcast feed online to enable those who can’t make it to the service to join us online. The wireless nature of FreeSpeak II means we can have a roaming camera with the operator being directed via a headset, which is especially helpful during baptisms and other special events.”
Another key criterion was the ability of the system to integrate with the existing radio equipment. “We have a two-way radio system with 25 radios that our parking and security teams still need to use. Pairing the radios with the FreeSpeak II system was quick and easy thanks to Clear-Com’s technical support team, and they also helped us with a PTT (push to talk) function that was giving us a little trouble at first,” Zak explains. “It’s great to have everything integrated into the intercom - now I can easily talk to the band, the production team and the parking and security teams across one system, without interference and with crystal clear audio.”
An unexpected bonus that the FreeSpeak II system has provided is additional staffing. “The volunteer team has grown since we installed the new system,” Zak notes. “People want to help out now because it’s so much easier - they are really impressed with how clear the system is and how well it works. Before, we found ourselves running around because it was easier to find and speak directly to someone – now we can stay seated, behind the scenes where we should be, and chat easily. We can even joke around during downtime and not distract anyone around us. It has really changed everything.”