Sennheiser’s Mentorship Program Helps Groom the Next Generation of Broadcast Audio Professionals, with Help from HBO and Fox Sports
Students Brad Bacon and Eric Heikkila Take Classroom Knowledge into the Real World, As Sennheiser Helps Build a Bridge into Careers in Broadcast Audio
Sennheiser originally launched its Mentorship Program back in 2009 to help encourage the next generation of audio engineers to enter the exciting field of televised sports. The company has since built collaborations among a variety of higher education institutions and top professional broadcast networks, such as HBO and Fox Sports. For its most recent mentorship program, Sennheiser selected students Eric Heikkila from Emerson College, and Brad Bacon from the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences near Phoenix. Each student was able to shadow A1 and A2 professionals during HBO Sports’ broadcast of a Light Heavyweight Title Bout between Chad Dawson and Adonis Stevenson, and the NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 race by FOX Sports, respectively.Audio specialist
In the Ring with Randy Flick and HBO Sports
Randy Flick, senior audio mixer, HBO Boxing, took Eric under his wing during the nationally televised boxing match, which took place at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX on June 15th, where the student was able to experience the inner workings of an exciting live broadcast productions: “Eric had a chance to go out into the field and work with different members of the audio staff,” says Flick. “He helped change out RF microphones on the trainers, and tailed the stage manager to see how she handles the event itself.” As for his performance ‘on the job,’ Flick likens Eric’s knowledge retention to that of a “heavy duty electronics sponge.”
Eric, who had already been working on local sporting events in his hometown prior to applying for the Sennheiser Mentorship program, made a good impression on Flick from the outset: “He wanted to know what was in our TV truck so he could be familiar with it before he arrived,” says Flick. “Since we had recently done a fiber audio installation, there was a lot of new audio gear that he wouldn’t have known about unless he asked — this impressed me and he was very well prepared.” The experience was equally rewarding for the student, who gained unparalled insight into a world-class broadcast audio operation: “Until now, everything I had learned about audio was in a textbook,” Eric says. “Sennheiser’s Mentorship program put it all right in front of me in the real world. It is such an honor being selected to participate in this.”
“We have been honored and extremely fortunate to continue our involvement in the Sennheiser Mentorship program,” commented Jason Cohen, director, sports production at HBO. “We have already had tremendous success stories since the inception of the program such as students becoming regulars on our technical crew. The immediate payoff of helping grow the industry and young mentors is just one of many reasons why we would like to remain part of this tremendous initiative.”
On the Fast Track with Fred Aldous and Fox Sports
Meanwhile, half way across the country at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, NC, Fred Aldous, audio consultant and senior mixer for Fox Sports, was mentor to Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences student Brad Bacon during Memorial Day weekend. Aldous, who has been working with Sennheiser on the Mentorship Program for several years, chooses the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race because it provides students with the opportunity to experience the entire broadcast infrastructure.
Bacon spent time in the audio room and the submix room before venturing out to the racetrack, where Aldous’ field A2s explained the processes of microphone selection, positioning and the art of capturing the sounds of the track. Finally, Bacon learned about how the audio comes back to the truck for premixing and/or submixing before being sent to the network center for dispersion to affliate broadcast networks.
“The Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race of the year that Fox Sports does,” explains Aldous. “It therefore gives me more time to take the student around to see the different audio positions: from the announce booth, to the field set up to where the production mix happens. There are just so many things that go on here, that it is difficult to grasp unless it is actually experienced — especially on the magnitude of NASCAR.”
Aldous says that Bacon was an exemplary student: “He had a basic knowledge of audio in advance. He knew signal flow and all about microphones. Having him arrive with such a solid basic knowledge really allowed me to get more technical with him, making the experience much more valuable for all concerned.” Bacon was astounded by the overall complexity of the operation and the overall professionalism of the staff. “Fred has so many inputs that he is managing and has such a grasp on all the little problems that come up,” Bacon observes. “The whole experience was overwhelming, and it was a real pleasure to see him stay so cool under pressure.”
Building a Bridge into the World of Broadcast Audio
The Sennheiser Mentorship program is a win-win for students, sports broadcast networks and higher learning institutions looking to place students in lasting, highly rewarding careers. “I love to be part of this program because it gives us a chance to build a bridge for students into the world of broadcast audio,” says Flick. “We are really giving them a chance to move ahead and see if this is what they like so they can make a great career choice.” Aldous says he is proud to show off broadcast audio as a possible career avenue: “We are very proud of what we do here,” he says. “We’ve won several Emmy Awards for Best Live Sound for NASCAR because of the size and scale of our infrastructure, and the quality of our mixes.”
Higher learning institutions such as Emerson College and the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences value the Sennheiser Mentorship program as a way to expose students to a potential career path they might have not otherwise not considered: “Most students come into audio program thinking about engineering or producing a certain kind of music they are interested in, but there are great opportunities in television sports broadcast,” says John Krivit, who teaches audio courses at Emerson College. Robert Brock, digital department director of the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, concurs. “Broadcast television is one of the most exciting sides of audio production. How much more intense does it get than doing a live television broadcast? This is why we’re doing what we’re doing.”