Sennheiser Digital 6000 Series

When British war veteran and walking hero Captain Sir Thomas Moore raised more than £32m for NHS charities by walking 100 laps of his garden ahead his 100th birthday, broadcast sound engineer Paul Cutler was there to cover the event for the BBC.

‘I have worked with BBC Breakfast on several other large-scale outside broadcasts and special features,’ says Cutler. ‘This particular project gained momentum very quickly and it also grew technically.’

Calrec Brio console for Captain Tom broadcastAn initial Zoom meeting with engineering managers on both BBC Breakfast and BBC News, Cutler was immediately out on the job: ‘I did that so that I could physically see the site for the OB and meet Captain Tom Moore in person – with safe distancing adhered to, of course. It became apparent that the kit I needed was going to be fairly large scale, due to the nature and complexity of the OB and that was when I made the call to Presteigne Broadcast Hire.’

With clients such as the BBC, ITV, ITN and Sky gathered over a 23-year career, Presteigne Broadcast Hire is well-known to Cutler. He is familiar with the company’s product inventory and standards of service. After talking what was neededed with Dan Somogyi, Senior PPU & RF Hire Manager, Cutler had a consultation with David Handley, Head of Audio at Presteigne.

‘Collectively, we decided on using Sennheiser’s Digital 6000 Series,’ says Cutler. ‘These radio mics were chosen because I needed completely reliable performance. Also, the mics needed to work on a fairly short local range as the receivers were close to where the action was taking place. In radio mic terms “less is more”.

‘What you don’t want is lots of high power when you’ve got multiple frequencies plus IEMs and Captain Tom Moore’s Bluetooth hearing aid all radiating in local proximity, so low power output was important, combined with battery consumption and crystal-clear audio quality.’

Another important requirement was for the radio mics to be intuitive. ‘This was the first time Jamie Dunn, my sound crew for the day, had used these particular mics and this was a live situation, going out to over seven million people,’ Cutler says. ‘There was absolutely no room for an error, so it was crucial to have the mics that are very user friendly, allowing him to quickly and easily change frequencies or gain settings, if needed.’

Captain Sir Tom Moore with his daughter Hannah Ingram-MooreDue to safe distancing guidelines, all contributors had to be able to mic themselves. Everything was sterilised, with Dunn laying the microphones out on the table so the contributors could clip their mic onto themselves following Dunn’s demonstration.

‘The age range of the contributors was really varied, from Captain Tom Moore’s grandchildren, to the centenarian himself,’ says Cutler. ‘This meant that the mics had to be nice and small, easy to clip on and robust – really robust.’

Another important consideration was battery life as, once the mics were on contributors, there was no way to change batteries: ‘We were on air from six in the morning until just gone nine,’ says Cutler. ‘However, even before then we did a lot of checks, so the radio mics were fired up from five. We had to know the batteries would last the distance. This was another reason why Presteigne suggested Digital 6000.’

The inventory included eight SK 6212 miniature bodypacks plus ten channels of 6000 series and 9000 series capsules on two SKM 6000 transmitters. Four Sennheiser MKH 416 mics were were used as ambient mics for an RAF flypast, and two further MKH 416 mics mounted on poles for standbys.

With the story having huge momentum behind it, both in the UK and globally, technical failures were not an option and all equipment needed to be entirely trusted.

‘D6000 was the obvious choice for us,’ says Presteigne Head of Audio, David Handley. ‘It is known for its outstanding audio quality and rock-solid RF wireless transmission, so it was perfect for a demanding live production such as this one. Additionally, the latest software update now allows even more channels to packed into an already congested environment, which was great to have in case it was needed.’

‘It had to be Sennheiser,’ confirms Cutler. ‘The microphones had to work perfectly, as any technical issues would mean losing the creative feel of the programme and the momentum to carry the story.’

Paul Cutler used Digital 6000 series to capture Captain Sir Tom Moore's Birthday celebrationComparing standard outside broadcast practice with how the team approached social distancing requirements on the day, Cutler describes the additional precautions put in place. ‘Normally, I would sit in the van with production, mixing in a fairly open gallery,’ he explains. ‘With the current situation, the risk assessment had to be watertight. I used a separate vehicle just for audio, which I set up myself, receiving feeds from the radio mics, which were then sent to the satellite truck.

‘There are always challenges for outside broadcasts, like RF interference from other broadcasters turning up. Luckily, BBC Breakfast had exclusivity that morning.’

Following his remarkable fundraising, Captain Tom Moore was made an honorary Colonel, as well as an honorary member of the England cricket team. The milestone occasion was marked with an RAF flypast and birthday greetings from The Queen and Prime Minister. The following month, he was awarded a knighthood for his fundraising efforts.

‘Working in the audio industry for over two decades has given me a unique opportunity to be part of many worthy events. This one definitely topped my list of most memorable projects,’ concludes Cutler. ‘It brings me enormous pleasure to know that such a cherished story can be preserved thanks to the top-quality audio equipment, and that we can keep our memories of Captain Sir Tom Moore alive for many years to come.’


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