The Fourth of July Independence Day holiday in the United States has traditionally been marked as the biggest summertime event, filled with parades, fireworks, grilling and spending time with family and friends. The flurry of activity in every town across the nation is that of excitement as a full day of events captivates people of all ages. In the heartland, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, you will find what has been dubbed as “America’s Biggest Birthday Party,” which takes place in the shadow of the Gateway Arch in Downtown St. Louis.
This multi-day event kicks off with a fair that brings in renowned artists including Elton John, the Black-Eyed Peas and Dolly Parton, to name a few. But it isn’t the artists that get national attention, it’s the Fourth of July parade that really draws people in, and because it is broadcast nationally, people from all over the country can tune in! This past Fourth of July in St. Louis was of special importance to Clear-Com as we had the privilege of showcasing the new Arcadia Central Station during the national broadcast of the parade. When you consider the complexities of the workflow for this event, there are some hurdles to overcome to ensure proper communications between the many entities involved.
First, you have the Fair St. Louis crew who manages the route and positioning of the parade floats. This massive team of volunteers manages their communication with two-way radios due to the sheer scale of the parade route, which can go as far as 20 to 30 blocks away from the broadcast booth.
You then have the OB truck and crew which are producing the nationwide broadcast feed. The OB truck comes equipped with an intercom matrix frame and panels, all pre-programmed and ready to go on the morning of the broadcast.
Communications are most difficult to manage outside the OB truck where the broadcast box is located. This area is the primary spot for stationary and mobile cameras, and it is where the live entertainment portion of the production takes place.
The above images capture the closing act of the parade which was shown on the broadcast as well as to a live audience. This “stage,” or broadcast box, requires all production staff to be on the same page and communicate without delay, which is where the Arcadia Central Station really shines. Not only do you have the opening and closing acts cycling through this area, but Fair St. Louis also has several other floats with musical acts. Much like you see on other nationally syndicated parades, the music bed (and quite often the singers) are played out on a stationary sound system for the live audience and the broadcast. This is done to ensure that the audio feed is clean and reduces the chances of something going wrong on-air.
Behind the scenes, it can be chaotic! You have the audio engineers who queue the music and feed it to the performers, the live audience and the broadcast. You also have the roaming cameras, including a drone showing live aerial views. You have those who manage the performers and dancers of the parade. You also have the broadcast producers who are roaming around snagging live interviews and ensuring that the parade is moving along as needed. Every role mentioned, and many more requires un-fettered communication back to the broadcast truck to ensure proper timing. Without the roaming capabilities of FreeSpeak II, integrated into the Arcadia Central Station, this wouldn’t be able to happen, and several elements of the show would fall apart.
Now for a little background into why this live field trial of the Arcadia Central Station was so important for myself, Fair St. Louis and Clear-Com…
In my previous life before Clear-Com, I was a broadcast engineer at KMOV-TV in St. Louis and had the privilege of working alongside some of the best broadcast engineers in the business. For the better part of a decade, KMOV-TV has broadcasted the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving Day Parades every year. The awesome crew at KMOV who taught me so much of what I know today has always put on an amazing production, but the one thing we seemed to always be lacking in a bit was the wireless communications along the parade route. For that reason, I was extremely excited to introduce the Arcadia Central Station, with FreeSpeak II wireless beltpacks deployed all around the broadcast box and OB trucks, onto the scene.
After the event was finished, I spoke to local IATSE audio engineers Brian Marten and Casey Hunter to get their thoughts on the system and here’s what they had to say:
Setting this up was easy, has great flexibility, and the integration into other systems like Dante is amazing! The fact that you can add transceivers, Dante, 2-wire, 4-wire, and any other audio endpoint, is awesome for a live production.
The user interface is way more user-friendly than previous iterations. It was easy to find what you needed, not only from the front menu but also in the new CCM. I also love how you can connect so many other devices. This is what we’ve been wanting!
What a fun day that was for me personally, and I want to thank my old colleagues at KMOV, The Switch and Fair St. Louis for letting me come out and do this live field trial. I look forward to bringing Arcadia back next year equipped with even more bells and whistles!
Justin Emge is the Applications Engineering Manager at Clear-Com. Previously, Justin was a Broadcast Engineer, Technical Director, News Photographer and Operations Manager for the CBS Affiliate in St. Louis, MO. He also worked laterally with Kaufman Broadcast as a Broadcast Engineer during large sporting and news events. Justin oversees the Application Engineers for North and South America.