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Groundhog Day, Revisited

Feb 11, 2010 12:00 PM, By George Petersen


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February is just plain nasty. The weather's bad, even for folks like me who live in (chilly) Northern California. We're coming off four days of nonstop rainstorms, and that same frontal system will continue across the states, bringing heavy snows to our neighbors to the east. That may be great news for ski resorts, but for most of us, the words "winter wonderland" don't quite describe it, 'cause baby, it's cold outside.

Whether the famed rodent prognosticator Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on Feb. 2 is largely irrelevant. This month, chances are pretty good that most rental companies aren't doing many opera in the park shows, riverwalk festivals, county fairs, school graduations, or other similar bread-and-butter audio gigs that only materialize when the climate is more temperate. While the weather outside may be frightful, February marks a great midwinter point for some (indoor) contemplation. It's a time to assess your business needs for 2010 and get your inventory in shape for better times in the months ahead, when the bread-and-butter—and hopefully, some choice steak—gigs do arrive. Diamonds may last forever, but the same adage doesn't apply to AV gear. If components are solid, parts of your "A" system can migrate down to your "B" system, "C" system, and so on.

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Culling some of the "time to move along" items from your inventory is a good idea, and these can be liquidated via a weekend shop sale, promoted through www.craigslist.org or an ad in your local advertiser. Another alternative is eBay, but dealing with shipping can be a hassle, particularly with bass bins and other bulky items.

February marks an excellent opportunity to plan for some upgrades, particularly in the digital realm. For example, digital consoles and fiber-optic/Cat-5 snake systems are becoming more affordable and offer significant advantages, both in terms of production features and size/weight savings. And by now, if you haven't upgraded your wireless systems—essentially vacating the so-called 700MHz band by the extended FCC mandated deadline of June 12, 2010—now's the time. Beyond that date, operation can cause interference to public safety communications or other licensed services.

While you have a little downtime, go through everything in your inventory, from consoles to cables. It's amazing how small problems can add up to big problems, which would have been avoidable with a little easy maintenance. Nothing quite compares to the fun of dealing with system problems on a job that are caused by something as small as a bad cable or connector.

Check all your cables. Start with a visual inspection noting any cuts in the outer insulation, bent/missing pins, etc. Then check for shorts and open connections. You could do this with a VOM or multimeter, but I like the convenience of a dedicated tester. This not only makes the process simple, but it also allows you to manipulate the cable during the test, which can reveal intermittent connections. I travel with two units in my toolbox. One is a Whirlwind multitester—the company has several models available to test various combinations of XLR, NL4, NL8, DIN, BNC, RJ-45, 3.5mm, RCA, and 1/4in. cords. The other is a Rat Sniffer from Rat Sound Systems. Designed only for XLRs, the latter is a two-piece (send/receive) unit that's ideal for checking opposite ends of snakes, stageboxes, etc. —even when you're alone.

Have fun, stay warm, go though your gear, and with a little planning, you'll be ready for the busier times later in 2010.

The Foul Weather Mic Tip

Even with the toughest dynamic models, microphones and inclement weather don't mix. Years ago, I used to do live stadium sound for UC Berkeley football games, which—rain or shine—also invariably involved placing a stand mic at midfield for a halftime announcement. A wise old contractor (Don Nielsen) would put a clear plastic bag over the mic, which only slightly changed the mic's sound when played through stadium horns. Try it and be amazed.



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