Article Written by Jason Allen – CX Magazine August issue 2014
Anyone familiar with Adelaide knows what a huge aesthetic change the recently completed redevelopment of Adelaide Oval has been to the heart of the city. CX’s resident ex-Croweater Jason Allen dropped in on the old town to find out it’s not just the outside that’s been radically updated…

SA’s beloved Adelaide Oval has been radically transformed from its quaint weatherboard-and-brick look into a modern stadium. It’s a striking change to the view from King William Road, and extends to the new bridge being built over the Torrens as part of the project, linking the Oval to Adelaide train station. Over more than two years and $575 million, stands have been replaced and extended, new systems put in place and entirely new function centres built. In addition to its bold new look, the Oval now boasts a big new EAW/JBL P.A. in the bowl, digital signage, three massive LED screens and a complex converged network delivering all services on fibre.

Texas-based engineering consultants WJHW won the right to design the essentially new ground. All elements, including AV services, were specified out of Dallas, with site visits through the process to make sure everything was up to spec. The installation, commissioning and operation of the AV systems were separated into different contracts. Sydney’s The P.A. People picked up the main bowl PA, Central AV won supply and operation of BOH and function spaces and multi-faceted production company Kojo integrate video services with ongoing operation of the AV in the bowl. The giant LED screens and digital signage were installed by Daktronics, and the Ethernet backbone installed and commissioned by Allied Engineering.

The Big Day

On a typically beautiful Adelaide day, I met The P.A. People’s Manager of Installed Systems, Brett Steele, to tour the new facility and get the low-down on how the system works. The consultants from WJHW were due later in the day for final signoff, and all was ship-shape. The Oval, despite having been used for The Ashes and some games in the earlier part of the year, was about to host the first game utilising all its systems, the Port/Crows local Derby on March 29. Needless to say in AFL territory, this was serious business. “The P.A. People’s long-time collaborator, Brian Chilcott was part of our commissioning team and assisted with tuning” related Brett. “Brian is very much a part of our stadium tuning team.”

Brett Steele had been involved with the project from its beginning to its handover, and talked me through what is a large and complex system in anyone’s book. The P.A. People supplied and installed all FOH PA elements in the bowl, the main elements of which are 27 clusters of EAW QX500 loudspeakers. These are hung in the East, South and West stand roofs, projecting down onto the seating. Cluster sizes vary between one and three elements, depending on location. The South stand is the most acoustically challenging, with a lot of seating far away from the roof, and a sizeable ‘dome’ type response to deal with.

Fill Me In

Supplementing the EAW clusters are over 230 JBL AWC82 100v line loudspeakers, hung under eaves, balconies and ceilings as in-fill. WJHW’s original specification called for another brand of speaker, running low impedance. As you might imagine, this was going to expensive. The P.A. People, having extensive experience in stadia around Australia, suggested another way, and negotiated with all parties to make the change. The result was a big cost and effort saving to the project, and another example of their ‘fit-for-purpose’, common-sense installation philosophy at work.

The P.A. People were also responsible for filling in the audio gaps in other nooks and crannies around the ground. JBL CBT Series column speakers are cleverly hidden in the exteriors of the South and East gates for paging and announcements. Four of EAW UB12 series loudspeakers do the same duty at the North gate. Happily, the heritage listed Morton Bay Fig trees and old wooden scoreboard have kept their place on the grassed Northern end of the ground. Filling the north end meant installing JBL AE Series loudspeakers on a light tower, under a camera deck, on the new LED screen and inside the heritage-listed scoreboard itself.

The Social Network

In what’s now mercifully becoming a common occurrence, all of the Oval’s AV and network services are running on a converged network handled by Cisco enterprise level switches, linked by extensive fibre infrastructure. All video distributed to the LED screens and digital signage are carried by the network, along with Dante and Q-Sys audio traffic, in addition to normal venue IP load. VLANS were handed out by the IT contractor, and everything has played well. It’s great to see the fear going out of this approach and to see it working in a major venue. Convergence offers major operational and cost savings for all involved, and anything that speeds its adoption is a good thing.

Taking advantage of all this fibre distribution is a Dante-native Yamaha CL5 digital mixer connected to a mixture of installed and hired-in Rio IO boxes. “There are six Rios around the venue” continued Brett, “including positions in the control room, in the basement for linking to the IPTV system, and in strategic places at ground level for pick-ups.” The operator in the control room has a full overview of patching via Dante Controller running on a local PC, making sending signal to and from anywhere around the ground a matter of a mouse click.

Mix and Match

As I visited, audio operator Katherine Connelly was testing a wired and wireless mic pickup from the ground, plus sends to a wedge and some IEMs for the upcoming big game. Katherine is a freelancer who has been working for Kojo for three years, starting as an in-house post-production editor before moving to live sporting event operation. “I started working at AAMI stadium for the last two seasons of football” said Katherine. “I’ve now been bought over to The Adelaide Oval. I mixed some of The Ashes matches at the start of this year.”

Having never mixed a sporting event myself, I asked Katherine what unique challenges mixing sport serves up “Making sure the right channels are going to the right feeds is the most important thing” she explained. “There are a lot of places we’re sending audio –to the bowl mix, to the outer screens, the in-house bars, the boxes and anywhere else you hear audio around the ground. Once you’ve got your gain structure right, it’s all about switching and making sure you get your mics opened and closed quickly. We’re mixing on near-field monitors, so we rely on our technicians around the ground taking SPL readings, but as far as a balance goes, you’ve got to trust your instincts.”

It’s a Team Sport

For such a big venue, audio runs on a small staff. “There’s me operating, and I have two assistants for the game coming up” Katherine elaborated. “They’ll be running out a cabled mic and a couple of wedges for the National Anthem and Welcome to Country ceremonies. Normally, it’s just myself and one assistant. They set up comms between the coach’s boxes and benches, plus phones and headsets. Then it’s just us two communicating with the technical director making sure everyone’s got what they need.”

How does Katherine’s new gaff compare to her other AFL gig? “AAMI Stadium was very different to this; we had an old analogue Midas console” answered Katherine. “I’ve used Yamaha M7CLs and LS9s before, so now I’m learning the extra things the CL5 can do, which are pretty rad. Dante definitely gives you more opportunities to patch and route around the stadium. For example, our host commentator won’t be in the same room as us, he’ll be on a different floor, so it’s much easier to get audio to and from him.”

Taking it To The People

Taking audio from the CL5 and distributing it to the vast amount of amp and speaker locations is a Q-Sys Core 4000 open architecture DSP unit. Dante audio comes in before being transported to QSC amps via the Q-Sys protocol. Seven amps room feed the stands and ancillary areas. “There are two amp rooms in each of the main stands, and one in the North” Brett Steele pointed out. “And this is all running on the converged network along with the digital signage, video and IT.” Technical Audio Group’s Ewan McDonald assisted The P.A. People with Q-Sys design and commissioning. “Ewan helped with programming from the start” Brett praised, “and he did it very well.”

In the assorted function and event spaces back of house, in-house AV supplier AV Central take splits from the network via Q-Sys IO 22 breakout boxes “We send them an audio feed of the bowl” Brett expanded, “and a relay contact from the fire system that shuts their local PA systems down in case of emergency.” Other items integrated into the system include a Listen Technologies 150MHz hearing assistance system, four channels of Shure ULX-D radio microphones and Shure IEMs.

Start Me Up

The Oval’s official first outing was to be SA leg of the Rolling Stone’s Australian Tour, sadly cancelled after the untimely death of Mick Jagger’s long-term girlfriend L’Wren Scott. The Stones are returning in October, and Saturday March 29 saw the Oval celebrate its redevelopment with Port Power walloping the Adelaide Crows by an impressive 54 points. It may have been a sad day for Crows and Stones fans, but the AV systems performed with flying colours, ushering in a new era of converged critical systems in venues around the land.