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Clear-Com at the San Diego Opera, Part 1

Nov 12, 2013 11:17 AM, With Bennett Liles

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And you had a recent addition I believe, the Tempest 2400 digital wireless intercom from Clear-Com. What’s been the biggest improvement that you’ve seen with the addition of that wireless system?

Probably the biggest improvement is the lack of interference. You know, not having the communication stepped on by other wireless entities that are outside of our company that we can’t control. That was always a problem. Range was another problem with the UHF systems, people getting out of range. It’s kind of hard to imagine if you haven’t worked in the environment, but opera is so vast in terms of the personnel that it takes to put on a show that communications are just needed virtually every place in the theater and they all need to be in touch with management, whether it’s stage management or production management, whoever. It all has to be tied together. The Tempest 2400 has just given us all the versatility we need to do that because with the UHF system, you were tied to at most two channels. Well with the 2400 you have four channels. You don’t have people talking over one another. You have people on discreet channels that are just listening for what they need to listen to. Opera production is very complicated and it takes a complicated system to make it, I guess, less complicated for lack of a better word. [Timestamp: 6:59]

That’s a lot of RF floating around there what with mics and intercom and other things.

It’s a tremendously heavy RF environment. Like any major city in a downtown area, you have just countless potential for RF interference with everything from the way you expect with the police and fire and all that, but then like in San Diego, we have the Navy, which is an incredible entity using RF in our environment. And of course being a large city we have the full complement of digital television transmissions and yes, it’s a very, very heavy RF environment. [Timestamp: 7:38]

That would be a big factor in setting the system up, but then you’ve got the frequency-hopping scheme that the Tempest 2400 works on so that probably makes things a little easier.

Right. I mean as a user you’re not really aware of the frequency hopping, it just does its job. And so you don’t have that type of interference that we used to have; the squelch in your ear and so forth that everybody always would think that something was wrong with the system as soon as they heard it. There was always that type of situation, but that has gone to zero with the Tempest system. [Timestamp: 8:13]

And with its seamless roaming I think you can walk through something like 16 different coverage areas with no drop-outs.

I don’t know if that’s the maximum, but we certainly have established the zones that we need. If you’re in proximity to a base station, you have no problem connecting to it and transmitting and receiving from it. But if you go to an area that’s not in the influence of that particular base station, you would be out of range. But if you remote the antennas off of that base station into the area, then when you walk into that area you are still connected. The way that’s done is just by literally taking the antennas and placing them in whatever area you need to access. In our case it’s the rehearsal hall, the trap room, or the basement, the dressing rooms, the stage management offices, which are on the second floor of the theater. We need consistent communication in all of those areas. [Timestamp: 9:16]

Do you run coax to those?

You run Cat cable. You either run Cat-5 or Cat-6 cable to that antenna off the back of the base station and that’s all it takes. It couldn’t be simpler.

Sounds like it and once you get it set up and all the wiring dressed away it’s just dealing with all the different users. How do you have the channels assigned between lighting people and sound, set people and all of those?

With the Tempest system, you have either a 4-channel beltpack or you have a 2-channel beltpack. The 2-channel beltpacks can be assigned to any of the same channels that the four channels are assigned to. In other words, the four channels A, B, C and D, your two channel can be assigned to B and C or even C and D or A and D—whatever you choose. It’s really so simple to do that. The way we have it broken out is what you expect. Stage management is on channel A. They’re the most important factor in the production and everybody needs to know where to find them and so they basically are on channel A. And then B might be the prop department and they need to talk amongst themselves so they may just be on B. Our electrics crew is on C and channel D would be our carpenter crew. So somebody like myself, I just generally stay on A because people that are going to directly communicate with me most often will be stage management. So it just depends on who you need to listen to, but it’s just simplified the whole process. [Timestamp: 10:50]

Did you already have an existing Clear-Com system that you integrated the Tempest into?

In the theater and the opera company we have always had Clear-Com. It’s bulletproof equipment permanently installed in the theater. I have the same amplifier that I’ve been using for 30 years. It’s been on virtually every day. It does not quit. I’ve never had a service call on that equipment. [Timestamp: 11:12]

That’s pretty much what I hear from everybody.

Why would you use anything else? This stuff is amazing. And so we expect the same results out of the Tempest. I had used a Clear-Com wireless product that I purchased over 20 years ago and it was a VHF wireless system and it was a six-beltpack system, and it was a fabulous system. That one is still working. If I need to I’ll pull that out of storage at this point and integrate it right into the system without thinking a thing about it because it’s VHF, so it’s still available frequencies and it still works. And I may need it because believe it or not, I can put 25-plus people on wireless for a production. All of a sudden they want six carpenters doing this particular thing, moving this particular unit, and so they’ve got to be on wireless. They can’t be dragging cables across the stage. And yes, the whole system is integrated into a wired system. I happen to have a 4-channel wired system and it connects to it just beautifully. [Timestamp: 12:21]

When you brought the new system in and set it up, how did everybody take to it? Was the learning curve manageable?

The quick overview I gave them was, “Here’s your volume; here’s your talk button and here’s how you change channels.” And then I went to each person and took time to ask them what they needed and it’s all available right there on the beltpack. With the push of a couple of buttons I set the thing to do exactly what they want it to do. Not only that is you have the software, so I can literally see every beltpack and every base station and what it’s doing in realtime. [Timestamp: 13:01]

Makes all the difference when you can concentrate on communication and not on how to handle the communication. Appreciate your telling us about it, Bill. Bill Scott with the San Diego Opera and their new Clear-Com Tempest 2400 digital wireless intercom system. We’ll talk later about how you get set up for a show. Thanks for being with us.

Thank you.

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