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Mixing The Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest

Mixing the biggest competitive eating contest in the world doesn't mean shoving audio down the crowd's throat. Instead, the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest serves up sound piping hot, whetting the audience's appetite for digestion.

In the distance, competitors dig in at this year’s Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, which was mixed on an Cadac CDC eight digital console.
Coney Island, NY (July 21, 2014)—In July, the eyes of the international sporting community were focused on one event, watching as athletes traveled from far and wide to compete before thousands of fans in person and millions more watching the live broadcast at home on ESPN, lifetimes of training having led the competitors through the preliminary rounds to this final, defining moment. It was, of course, the 98th Annual Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Held every year on New York City’s Coney Island at the original Nathan’s hot dog stand, the contest isn’t to everyone’s taste. Nonetheless, when emcee George Shea kicked off this year’s opening ceremonies at 11AM, the surrounding streets—much like the competitors’ stomachs—filled up fast. An estimated 30,000 people turned out for the event and they ate it up, braving the rain to see defending champion Joey “Jaws” Chestnut take home the Mustard Belt in the men’s division for the eighth year in a row, downing 61 hot dogs in 10 minutes but falling far short of the record-setting 69 franks he swallowed last year. Meanwhile, in the women’s division, Miki Sudo devoured the competition—and 34 hot dogs—to beat defending champion Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas.

While it all seems a bit silly, the contest is actually serious business. Major League Eating, the officiating organization that runs the event, just extended its contract with ESPN for annual contest coverage through 2024. While that ensures gluttons for gluttony at home will get their fill, it’s up to Audio Production Services (Amawalk, NY) to make sure the on-site audience experiences a feast for the ears as they watch the real-life Hunger Games.

While most eating contests might just require a few loudspeakers on sticks, when you get more people than a typical ballgame at nearby CitiField (The Mets’ 2013 average attendance: 26,366), you have to dig in or get eaten alive. “Front-of-house is on a platform across the street from the contest, so you’re pretty high up—you can see all around and it’s just a sea of faces,” said FOH engineer Mark Fiore. “You can’t see the end of the people, just that they keep coming in from the subway.”

The two 10-minute gastronomic games are the highpoint of three hours of entertainment that starts at 10AM, emcee George Shea whetting the crowd’s appetite for the big show via a Shure UHF/R wireless mic outfitted with a KSM-9 capsule. Keeping an eye on all audio needs onstage is a veteran of previous contests, systems engineer Bryan McPartlan. Fiore explained, “Bryan is usually running around on stage putting out fires; in fact, he’s under the stage”—which is a potentially dangerous place to be if a competitor has what the referees call “a reversal of fortune.”

Fiore mixed the contest on a Cadac CDC eight digital console. “The Cadac is probably a little bit of overkill for it,” he admitted. “In years past, we’ve done it on a Yamaha LS9-32, but since the Cadac was available, I couldn’t resist—and it sounds like an analog Cadac J-Type. Paul Marini, the general manager of Cadac USA, loaned it to us, so we used it for the contest and then the next day at Caramoor [Center for Music and the Arts] for a Patti Lupone concert.” Summing up the desk, he deadpanned, “It met all my needs for a hot dog contest—and then some.”

And there were more needs than you might expect. Chuckling when asked if they miked up the athletes’ gurgling stomachs, Fiore noted that his input list included music playback, the host’s microphone, a mic for a guest guitarist, and channels for DJs and a four-piece rock band with guitar, bass, keys and drums. “There’s also a 10-minute compilation bed that the production gives us, so George will announce the actual contest and have it playing underneath,” he noted.

When Fiore first prepped for the cue-heavy event in 2005, it looked like he’d bitten off more than he could chew. “George gave me a stack of CDs, saying ‘Track 3 on this, track 4 on this one, and then go to 2 on this one,’” he recalled. “That was ridiculous, juggling all that on CD players, so I ripped all the discs, put it into SFX and ran the show that way. For the last six years, I’ve been using QLab for it and these days, I’ve brought in a playback guy to fire cues while I chase the show.”

The crowd relishes every moment of the hot dog contest, but that doesn’t mean people want audio shoved down their throats. Everyone hears the chow-down throwdown via numerous RCF line array hangs, comprised of TTL31A arrays with dB Technologies DVA-T12 and DVA-T4 boxes. “The house right side is where we have the most area to cover, so we have three arrays—infill, outfill and wide—and then we set a delay stack on the other side of the street,” said Fiore, “On house left, we have two arrays—one is an infill and one points all the way up towards the beach.” For stage coverage, a combination of dB Technologies K70 compact active speakers and DVX DM12 monitors help everyone on stage eat to the beat.

While this year’s event had its share of dramatic moments on stage—such as when Chestnut proposed to his girlfriend, fellow competitive eater Neslie Ricasa, before the men’s contest—the festivities were over by 1PM, and the audio team and their gear were loaded out by 5PM. Much like its competitors’ appetites, the niche sport is continually growing, so it’s a safe bet Audio Production Services will be back next year to capture the cramming of every carnivorous craw on the contest’s stage.

Audio Production Services