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Vicente Fox at the Lectern

Press Boxes (and why they matter)

The Backstory

Back in the dark ages of 2006, about the time I started NW Stage, I had an opportunity to partner with Bob Barnes at Rise Up! Productions on a high profile press event. Then president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, was going to be coming to Seattle to appear at an event that was going to have local and national press coverage. The event was designed to publicize the services that the non profit provided and raise awareness of their work. They wanted a lot of attention and hopefully a few seconds of President Fox speaking at the lectern to make the broadcast news.

In time NW Stage became known for putting on high profile press events but back then we had zero experience in that arena. This event was fairly simple, It was in a parking lot of a health care organization that provided services to the Hispanic community. We set up a two tiered stage with a tent over the top, provided a PA system for the audience (about 300 invited guests seated) and a press riser for the press.

The load-in went well, we had everything working and the press came and started setting up. Local tv and a few national stations were in attendance. A local reporter that I was acquainted with approached and asked me where the "press bridge" was located. I had no idea what he was asking about, he shrugged and a few minutes later his camera operator asked me if he could tape a microphone over one of the speakers. I got a ladder and helped him tape it up.

The event went well, aside from my first up close experience with the secret service, I was almost shot because of an errant Walkie-talkie (more on that in a later post). That night I turned on the local news, and looked for coverage. Each channel had a story on President Fox's visit, but none had any footage of the stage in action, or his speech.

The client was pleased that the event was covered, but I was still disappointed that there was no footage of El' Presidente on TV. I called the reporter and asked him with all of the cameras, why didn't anybody use live footage? He told me that the audio was completely useless. I asked him what we could have done to get the event on the news, and he told me “You could have had a mult box...”

Typical Press Event

Ok, what is a mult box?

Press mult (also known as a mult box, press feed and occasionally a press bridge) is basically an audio distribution amplifier, that takes a single audio source in, and makes it available to multiple outputs without having to run a bunch of individual feeds from the mixing board to a the cameras or radio recorders. Also, press boxes allow the press to plug in to the feed without having to bother the sound operators.

Most mult boxes have isolated outputs, which means that if someone plugs into it with a bad cable or has faulty equipment, all of the other outputs do not have buzz, hums or noise. Since the objective is to get the audio onto as many news feed or recordings as possible, we want to keep problems from impacting everyone else's recording. Many mult boxes have ground lifts on each output, so if one person does end up having an issue, they can try changing that on their plug and see if they resolve the issue, again, everyone else is unaffected.

Finally, many mult boxes have a pad on each output, which allow the individual users to select the appropriate input level for their needs. This is a great feature when you have 20 or 30 reporters and they all have different equipment.

Different Press Mults, Whirlwind and RapcoHorizon

Types of mult boxes

There are two types of mult boxes, “active” and “passive”.

• Active press boxes require power to operate. Usually have a headphone jack for monitoring and a master volume control for the entire incoming audio feed.

• Passive press boxes don't require power to operate. That said, they often lack the input pad and headphone monitoring available on active boxes.

Mixing for press

The most important thing to remember when using mult boxes is that you are mixing for the press. Many press events have only a few attendees in the "live" audience. The “true” audience are the people that the press is reaching, not the people in the room. So even though there is a PA in the room the operator needs to constantly monitor what the press is receiving.

One important “pro tip”, is to play music before the conference starts. This allows the press to set their recording levels before the actual conference program starts. That way ever bit of the message is able to be recorded. I have been present at plenty of press events that don't want music, and then the reporters spend the first few minutes getting their levels sorted out and miss something important that is said. We travel with a corporate jazz mix in case the client wants to present a neutral playlist.

Finally, the last thing to keep in mind, is the importance of having mult boxes that work with different types of recorders, and to have an adapter kit handy. Recorders may have 1/8” trs inputs, RCA, or 1/4” inputs, while most mult boxes have xlr outputs. Some of our newer mult boxes have 1/8” trs that accommodate iPhones and small recorders, this is a great feature and has reduced my stress level on political events that have bloggers in attendance.

A note on what else you need

I've found it important that our kits always have a few extra things on hand, in addition to adapters, we travel with extra headphones (on occasion reporters have issues with theirs so it is customer service friendly to have a solution available), spare batteries (our active press boxes all run on wall a/c and batteries- sometimes you do a press conference in the middle of a field and power is limited), a sharpie and white tape to mark/label anything that needs to be noted on the press box. I also have some XLR style iso transformers on hand just in case the audio between the mixing board and the press box is noisy.

A few years ago, we had a regular client that had to go with an “in house” provider for their press event. The client came in with a small consumer sony handycam, and wanted to make an archive video of the event. The mult box provided only had XLR outputs, so they asked the sound operator for adapters. The sound operator told them to head down to the local Radio Shack and buy what they needed there. Of course, the client called me in a panic (the reason they always hired us was so they didn't have any reason to know what they need- maybe I'll do a blog post on the importance of good customer service). After walking them through the technical info they needed to ask for, they managed to get their recording without an issue beyond the stress. Of course, they never used the in-house provider again. I have often wondered how much business they lost by not having $100 worth of adapters on hand.

So, in conclusion, any event that needs to be recorded should have a press box, and you should always be prepared to make the press feed the most important part of your mix, so the client can get their message out.