Today is a day to visit the beach, watch a patriotic parade, fire up your BBQ, load up the cooler with ice and drinks, down a few beers and enjoy a fireworks show! Happy 4th of July! I started my day with the annual Will Rogers 5K & 10K race (I do the 3.1 miler because I really don’t want to do the mile plus climb up to the Will Rogers Park), put a layer of primer on the walls of a bed room that I’ve committed to painting and am sitting here at the studio for a couple of hours catching up on things before heading home to finish the day with some of the things on the list.
As I left my neighborhood I passed the Palisades High School football stadium, home of the Palisades Dolphins! Every year on the 4th of July the locals put on a major 4th of July show including music, speeches and of course, the evening fireworks. As I turned to head down to the Pacific Coast Highway, which was packed with beach goers, I noticed the audio crew setting up for the evening on the football stadium.
And then there was the PA system that another team of audio professionals at erected at the start of the race complete with “mini” jumbotron video display (isn’t that an oxymoron?) and arrays of speakers up and down the starting corrals. There was even an official with a hand held bullhorn trying to convince the assembled runners to group according to each runner’s expected race pace. He wasn’t having any luck because you could hardly hear him… everyone thinks they’re an elite athlete.
Today should be a day to appreciate the audio engineers that are busy at venues all over the country making sure you can hear the music, understand the speeches and appreciate the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner” before the parades (our own pre-race rendition was really great!). You might want to write to the organizers of your local event with some words of thanks for the work that the audio “dogs” perform. They will appreciate it because no one ever says anything about the sound when thing are going well.
I spent many, many hours setting up sound systems for events of all sizes during my younger days. My friend Peter Otto and I were the go to audio guys (with Marc Ainger) at the annual Contemporary Music Festival at Cal Arts. We also managed the sound for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Arts Festival, which was a very intense week of non-stop concerts and rehearsals. I’m proud to say things went very well.
But they don’t always. My daughter graduated from the Palisades High School in 1982 and of course, I was there with my wife and kids as well as her siblings from Santa Barbara. It was a family affair as we sat on the home team stands as the graduation ceremony started. The setup was something like this: a small elevated stage with three speaker position (complete with mic and stands), a small area for the band to one side, two rows of speakers running down both side of the chairs for the students and a small covered sound area some distance to the back.
The students marched in and took their seats, the band played with a little amplification (coming mostly from a small guitar amplifier) and the speeches began. Just as the valedictorian was finishing her speech, the audio system went dead. Nothing. Nada. I could see the panic on the face of the audio engineering in the little tent. Instead of coming to the aid of the faculty at the podium, he was on his cell phone trying to contact his boss…the person that had actually set up the system in the first place. I can just hear the bosses parting words, “Everything’s working great. You won’t have any problems. Nothing can go wrong. Relax.”
Meanwhile the band director (obviously a person with some knowledge of audio and PA systems) took their microphone and moved it to the main podium…the other end was plugged into the little Fender amplifier beside the guitarist. They really thought that everyone in the stands was going to hear their child’s name through that little amplifier. No way.
After about 20 minutes of nothing, my sister-in-law started poking me and saying, “Mark, don’t you know about these things. Can’t you do something?” I resisted for a few minutes but with the talent that was on the field it seemed doubtful that I would hear my daughter’s name when it was her time to get called to the podium. So I got up and headed to the gate near closest to the audio tent. I assured the security officer that I wasn’t a terrorist and in fact, I might be able to help.
I walked over to the soundman and asked if he knew what was wrong. He didn’t have a clue…in fact; he had never done sound before. So I walked over to the main stage, introduced myself and proceeded to try and diagnose the problem. To cut to the chase, I had the entire system back up and running is less than 5 minutes. I improvised a little and I do know about audio signal flow. The principal thanked me and the show continued. I walked back to the stands and took my seat.
My sister-in-law and the rest of the family were very glad that I was able to help but the thing that made it a very memorable moment was when several other parents came over to me and expressed their thanks too. Even an old audio dog likes to be acknowledged. When I heard my daughter’s name over the PA, it was very special…and thankfully it was audible. So thank an audio person when you get a chance!
Enjoy your holiday! If you’re reading this outside of the US, have a good day, too!