Madison, Wisconsin, knows how to have fun. A thriving music city in a state that has spawned the likes of Les Paul, Al Jarreau, Jerry Harrison, Bobby Hatfield, Steve Miller, Robin Zander, Clyde Stubblefield, Ben Sidran and let’s not forget Liberace, it’s the home of the University of Wisconsin and a good place to get in trouble.
One way that people have good, clean fun in Madison is the Annual Rhythm and Booms daylong celebration held every June since 1992. Attracting more than 200,000 revelers in quiet, residential Warner Park, everyone agreed (particularly the neighbors) that the event had grown big enough that it was time to move. This year, nearly two miles of shoreline along Madison’s Lake Monona set the stage for a particularly ambitious event featuring themed music in three zones along the festival’s viewing area, a music stage with five bands, and of course, a late-night fireworks display.
A project this broad in scope and scale requires plenty of advance planning. The festival’s production team, Race Day Events LLC and Madison Festivals, Inc. reached out to Intellasound’s Tim Woodworth and David Maier in nearby Verona not long after the last Oktoberfest toast was raised at UW-Madison’s Rathskellar. While most Midwesterners were hunkering down for winter, this group was thinking about a warm day on the lake.
To say the client was setting the bar pretty high…well, here’s Tim on the deliverables:
“They planned to build an island of 20 barges strapped together in the middle of Lake Monona to create an island to shoot the fireworks off of. They needed to close off about two miles of the main artery leading into downtown Madison to create a viewing area so that anyone within 20 feet of the shoreline would have a front row seat. And oh yeah, one other thing: they wanted to run sound for most of the length of it to play music in three zones throughout the day and, of course, the fireworks soundtrack at night. We also needed to be able to make emergency announcements, if necessary. The last things was this: we were only going to have a few hours to get the system set up.”
Sometimes even the experts need to call on experts. Given the timeframe, safety issues and budget considerations, running 6,000 feet of fiber wasn’t going to work. After talking to several colleagues, Tim was directed to fellow Wisconsinite Gary Trenda of AD Systems. According to Tim, “Gary is considered to be a specialist in wireless audio systems. In addition to working on wireless for music award shows and stadium sound for the NFL and NCAA, Gary was suggested to me for his experience providing multiple long-range point-to-point wireless systems for marathons and other events.” In just a couple of phone calls, Gary assured Tim and Dave that Intellasound could comfortably use point-to-point to shoot 1,000 to 2,000 feet in one direction. Intellasound was confident. And so was Gary. “He’d had so much experience with the technology, he knew we’d be able to get the distance we needed.”
Fast-forward about five months. It’s May. Intellasound is a Shure dealer, so having the gear on hand (8 PSM®900 in-ear systems and 8 UHF-R® wireless systems) wasn’t going to present a problem. But would the set-up work? Maybe one measure of Intellasound’s confidence in Gary Trenda’s solution (and their own know-how) is the fact that they didn’t test the system until three or four weeks before the event. Here’s how they did it:
“We set up a Shure PSM 900 in PTP mode with a HA-8089 Helical Antenna [made by Professional Wireless Systems and distributed by Shure] at the location where the command center was planned and then we placed the UHF-R receiver that was connected to two Shure UA874 paddle antennas in my pickup truck. I drove up and down John Nolen Drive to see if we could get the distances that were required. I knew right then and there that I could easily have gotten a clear signal at 3,500 feet or more in one direction.
I never entertained the thought that it wouldn’t work. In the worst-case scenario, we just would have added another point-to-point to get the distance we needed.”
The Big Day Arrives
The five-person Intellasound crew started setting up at 6 AM. The system was up and running comfortably by 11 for the event’s 12 noon kickoff.
Here’s Tim again: “We used Shure’s Wireless Frequency Finder web tool to clear frequencies. We had about 45 frequencies, but when you’re using a PSM 900 in conjunction with a wireless mic receiver, not all of them are useable because the two units don’t overlap the whole spectrum of frequencies given. We ended up having 22 frequencies to choose from, so I picked three that were in one area of the bandwidth and three others that were in another part of the spectrum. We didn’t even have to utilize any of the redundant frequencies during the event.
We had a digital mixer at the command center with the three independent music sources for the three zones during the day. There was an additional source for the fireworks soundtrack and a microphone for emergency announcements that would transmit to all three zones plus to the entertainment stage. These were fed to a total of eight Shure PSM 900s that were getting their antenna distribution through a Shure PA821A. The antennas we used were HA-8089s. Each zone had a main and redundant frequency. A Shure UR4D wireless receiver and a pair of Shure UA874 active antennas were used to supply each zone with a main feed and a redundant feed. The distance from the command center to the farthest zone was about 3,500 ft, so the total distance covered was near 7,000 feet: well over a mile.”
With very large crowds in attendance and bulletproof sound reinforcement, it looks like Rhythm and Booms has found a new home and Intellasound has found a new stage on John Nolen Drive. Tim says, “We’ll definitely use this system in 2015. The original plan was for six zones, so we’ll see what happens next year.”
As for the applications for point-to-point technology, which, by the way, Intellasound hadn’t used prior to this event, Tim and Dave both see plenty of opportunities. “The amount of time and money we were able to save our client was astounding. Had we known about the distance capabilities of this really simple wireless set up, we would have been using it a long time ago. Delay stacks, marathons, parades…the possibilities are endless.”
Want more information on point-to-point technology? Check out Shure’s FAQ section.
Intellasound Productions LLC has been a fixture on the Midwest music scene since 1997. In 2012 they were voted Midwest Regional Hometown Hero by Front of House readers and a finalist on the Parnelli Awards ballot. The company provides a wide spectrum of services for concerts, festivals and tours, including live sound reinforcement, lighting, mobile staging, crowd security, backline and tour support.