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The Future of TV Workflow: Dante Networking for ‘The Arsenio Hall Show’

“From Stage 6, Sunset Bronson Studios, on the world-famous Sunset Boulevard, it’s The Arsenio Hall Show!” With that announcement, Hall, who in 1989 was the first late-night talk-show host to successfully challenge Johnny Carson’s dominance, returned to the spotlight recently with a new one-hour syndicated show.

The core audio team of music mixer Peter Baird, production mixer Ish Garcia, monitor engineer Greg Keslake and FOH mixer James Young.

“From Stage 6, Sunset Bronson Studios, on the world-famous Sunset Boulevard, it’s The Arsenio Hall Show!” With that announcement, Hall, who in 1989 was the first late-night talk-show host to successfully challenge Johnny Carson’s dominance, returned to the spotlight recently with a new one-hour syndicated show.

The fresh start provided an opportunity for the music-heavy show’s audio team to design a flexible, reliable networked system with none of the signal-quality issues associated with copper wiring and splitters, and, of course, one that offered pristine sound. Music mixer Peter Baird of The Remote West Company, a veteran of numerous TV shows and owner of the Little Red Truck, sketched out the ideal workflow. “We called it Peter’s Cost-Is-No-Object Arsenio Music Chart,” he said, deadpan.

Production mixer Ish Garcia, another TV veteran, had brought Baird onto Arsenio. Both are alumni of Lopez Tonight, a talk show that ran from 2009-11, as are three members of Hall’s house band, known as Posse 2.0. “Basically it’s the same show,” said Garcia. “We’ve been there, done that.”

Having had to make do with hand-me-down equipment and fewer inputs than they needed on Lopez, Baird and Garcia were determined that this time would be different. As things turned out, they got everything they wished for. The system uses five Yamaha CL Series desks. FOH mixer James Young manages a CL5 for the guest band and a CL3 for the house band, each feeding six stems—left, right, sub, lead vocal, background vocals, and a “guests” stem—to a second CL5, where they are mixed with the production elements. The mix is delivered to the 200-strong audience via three hangs of d&b audiotechnik speakers supplemented by JBL Control 25s under every third or fourth seat. Monitor engineer Greg Keslake mixes the house and guest bands on separate CL5s. Keslake, who also looks after the eight Shure and six Sennheiser G3 wireless microphone systems, feeds as many sends as possible by cleverly using direct and matrix outputs, to the Posse’s Aviom 360 personal monitor mixers.

“We wanted anyone on the system to be able to pull off whatever inputs they needed to land on whatever desk they wanted,” Baird says, adding that having a networked system with a single set of head amps offered economies of scale.

Music mixer Peter Baird at the 32-fader Avid Icon D-Control console in his Little Red Truck, with four Focusrite RedNet 5 32-channel HD Bridges at his back.

“At the same time, we wanted both FOH and monitors to have a little bit of immunity,” he continues. The guest console at both positions is available to the artist’s engineers, if necessary. “If somebody really screws something up on one desk, the production desk is immune.”

The Yamaha desks are integrated with six Yamaha Rio I/O boxes on a single Dante network connecting monitors, FOH and the truck. “I wanted to have 64 inputs for the guest band. House bands have always engaged in mission creep, and I knew I wanted eight or 10 inputs open for guest artists, so again, 64 inputs,” says Baird. The math worked perfectly: two Rios are dedicated to the house band, two Rios to the guest band, another Rio to the production microphones, and a Rio at FOH accepts production feeds from Garcia. The vendor for the Yamaha consoles and other equipment was Video Equipment Rentals of Anaheim, Calif., which bent over backward to meet the show’s needs, Garcia reports. “A big shout-out to Steve Cormier at VER,” Baird says. “He really was a huge help in getting us going.”

But with Baird’s truck parked almost 300 feet away, Cat-6 cable, which works optimally to about 330 feet, was unable to deliver data error-free over the network and was replaced with fiber.

“It turns out that the switches were not reclocking the timing signal from the master Dante clock,” explained Tim Kubit, who was hired by the producers and CBS to apply his considerable engineering and administrative expertise to the entire workflow necessary to bring the show to air. Based on this experience, he adds, on similar future projects, “I’m going to go with fiber distribution between switches.”

Baird originally planned to mix the music in a room near the set. “I brought [studio designer/acoustician] George Augspurger to look at the stage. He said, ‘If you can put it outside the building, it’s 99 percent better.’ I said, ‘I don’t mind parking my truck here for a year.’”

With the bottom having fallen out of the truck market for all but a select few, says Baird, he was happy to take the gig, which gave him the financial wherewithal to install four Focusrite RedNet 5 32-channel HD Bridges to interface between the network and his Pro Tools rig, newly upgraded to Version 11 and HDX3.

“The four RedNet boxes are hooked into two of the HDX cards, 64 channels each. That’s how I separate the house and guest bands,” he explains.

Designated the “network nanny” by the team, Baird manages the system’s latencies. “I’m running the RedNet Dante network at 5 ms. Between the RedNet 5s and Pro Tools is half a millisecond, so it’s blazing fast.” Baird has settled on 1 ms for everybody in the house. “We’re very happy with the way this is working right now.”

Production mixer Ish Garcia at the Yamaha CL5 in the master control room.

Garcia took the opportunity to extend the capabilities of his sound effects and announcement playback system with the addition of a Novation LaunchPad and Scarlett 6i6 computer interface. Where previously he would have had an assistant firing off cues from a laptop, Garcia now records and edits in a 360 Systems Instant Replay, then transfers the files into a computer running Ableton. He maps the sound and voice cues to the buttons on LaunchPad, which he has next to his hand on the Euphonix, for easy triggering. “I had [Novation product specialist] Raul Resendiz come out and give me a little hands-on training. This definitely makes my life easier.”

Summing up his job, Garcia laughs, “Peter is desperately trying to make the music sound like a CD. Then he hands it over to me and I desperately try to make it sound like a TV show.”

Steve Harvey is a veteran writer for Mix’s sister publication Pro Sound News.