On the occasion of its 50th anniversary, the Academy of Country Music decided to super-size its 2015 awards show by staging it at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The event was broadcast live April 19 on CBS-TV with returning co-hosts Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan. The choice of venue represented a major design challenge for everything from PA systems to wireless systems. Dave Bellamy of wireless specialist Soundtronics was hired as RF coordinator, responsible for all show-related wireless, including microphones and in-ear monitoring systems.
The primary wireless supplier for the show was California-based ATK Audiotek. The event required more than 40 channels of wireless microphones, 26 of which were for Shure equipment, including four Axient systems. In addition, all 20 channels of in-ear monitors were exclusively Shure PSM 1000 systems. The sophisticated antenna design required was based on Soundtronics’ proprietary Phoenix 8 system.
“The place is huge, and that affects a lot of things,” notes Bellamy. “The two stages were 270′ end-to-end, plus we had to provide wireless coverage in other spaces, like out in the audience and the pick-up truck stage. Fortunately, we had enough lead time to design systems that could overcome the challenges of working in that kind of space. For live TV, you have to base your wireless system design on the best equipment available. That’s why we used Shure PSM 1000 for every in-ear monitor feed. No other in-ear system comes close. We also chose Shure Axient and UHF-R Series as our default wireless microphones.”
Axient, with its exceptional selectivity and unique frequency diversity switching ability, was in evidence throughout the show. AXT200 handhelds were used by Keith Urban and Eric Church for the show’s opening number as well as for performances by Kenny Chesney (KSM9/HS element), Dierks Bentley (SM58), and show closer Brad Paisley (SM58).
“We had so little open spectrum, I specified Axient for the opening, which (production mixer) Mark King agreed with,” says Bellamy. “In fact, we used them in our RF1 and RF2 positions throughout the show. We used them in frequency diversity mode with a second frequency pre-programmed in case of interference. Of course, they never switched once. There’s two reasons for that: first, the selectivity of the Axient system, and second, disaster never happens when you’re ready for it.”
While the production enables all performers to use their preferred performance microphones, Shure-supported performances clearly dominated the evening. Along with co-host and Entertainer of the Year winner Luke Bryan, Vocal Group of the Year Little Big Town used the UR2/SM58, while Vocal Duo of the Year Florida Georgia Line performed with the UR2/Beta58.
As usual, the SM58 was the go-to vocal mic for many artist performances, including UR2 handhelds for Martina McBride, Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn, George Strait, Sam Hunt, and Rascal Flatts. Alan Jackson opted for the Beta 58A, while the KSM9 capsule was employed for the collaboration between Dan + Shay and Nick Jonas.
Bellamy was very pleased with the wireless performance throughout the live telecast. “I didn’t hear a single complaint, either about dropouts or sound quality,” he reports. “Of course, that’s par for the course with Shure products. The spectrum keeps getting tighter every year, and we had a lot of real estate to cover in the stadium, but once again, everything was flawless in wireless world.”
The audio production design for the massive show was handled by Patrick Baltzell, who drew special praise from Bellamy. “To get the intelligibility he did in such a massively reverberant space was an amazing feat of engineering in system design. Pat really hit it out of the park this time,” notes Bellamy.
The broadcast music mixers were Eric Schilling and Biff Dawes, whose output went to production mixer Mark King for the telecast. Inside the stadium, Jeff Peterson mixed music for Steve Anderson’s production mix. Monitor mixes were split between the two stages by industry veterans Tom Pesa and Mike Parker. Coordinating additional outside wireless traffic were Dallas-based Keller McCrary and Kelly Moore, who also coordinate RF for Dallas Cowboys games. “They provided a lot of key local knowledge and were really great to work with,” says Bellamy.
The 50th ACM Awards set a Guinness world record for highest attendance (70,252) at any awards show, a suitably Texas-sized result. Shure’s Nashville-based artist relations manager, Ryan Smith, was on hand for the festivities. “This show made a lot of country music history, and to see so many Shure products requested and used as part of it was very gratifying,” he said. “We’re proud to be part of the country music community, and it was an honor to be involved with this event.”