Location Sound Mixer Jay Verkamp Captures High Speed Action on TV’s “Top Gear” with Lectrosonics Digital Hybrid Wireless
Los Angeles, CA (November 12, 2015) — Like many sound mixers working in L.A., Jay Verkamp initially moved to California to pursue a career in music only to find his true calling--sound mixing for TV and film. A professional sound mixer and boom operator for more than a decade, Verkamp reports that he reached a defining moment in his career five years ago when he first encountered Lectrosonics Digital Hybrid Wireless technology.
Verkamp first became a fan of Lectrosonics when he arrived in LA in 2002, because he says that they are the industry standard and the first choice of professionals. Later, in 2010 he encountered the power of the SMVQ transmitters on the set of Top Gear.
“In 2010 I started working on History’s Top Gear,” Verkamp recalls. “I met with experts, researched and tested transmitters and antennas, and that’s when I discovered the one-two punch of the SMVQ transmitters coupled with an array of SNA antennas. I wrote emails to the producers to convince them to invest in this high-powered equipment. That was the game changer which transformed our audio department into a “car show audio” department. We needed high-powered transmitters and the correct antennas to keep up with the high speed action and long distance transmissions involved in shooting a high impact show like this, and Lectrosonics made this transformation possible.”
History’s Top Gear is the U.S. version of the original BBC show in the U.K. and features a trio of hosts—Adam Ferrara, Tanner Foust and Rutledge Wood—who face a series of challenges in each episode driving anything from a cheap clunker to the most expensive supercar. When Verkamp arrived on the show the production was already using Lectrosonics wireless equipment, and he quickly added more.
The Lectrosonics SMQV UHF belt pack transmitter is a dual-battery model that offers user-adjustable output power: 50, 100 or 250 milliwatts, depending on the application and desired battery life. “I convinced the Top Gear producers that we needed more high-powered transmitters on the car show. Since then my job has become so much easier,” adds Jay.
There are at least six SMQVs on the show, typically paired with a Sanken COS11 Microphone, Verkamp continues. “It’s generally one per host, and I also try and get something on each car, especially if it’s a supercar or something that sounds really distinctive. It’s usually positioned by the exhaust, but I have put a mic under the hood when you can really hear an intake. That makes the level of reality even cooler.”
There may also occasionally be guests, he says, adding to the channel count. “One time I had an entire mariachi band crammed into a Volkswagen Bus.”
A typical Top Gear production involves a caravan of vehicles, Verkamp continues. “The producers’ vehicle with a Lectrosonics Venue receiver and SNA antennas is out in front, because they’re obviously keeping out of frame. The camera car falls behind that, with me and the camera guy, strapped in, shooting out the back. Then, the hosts or other talent are lined up behind.”
With such a spread of vehicles all travelling at high speeds, a high-powered transmitter is essential. “You need the throw, especially when you’re driving through areas where you have no idea what the frequencies are doing. They’re always changing, so you need something that pounds through all of the madness out there,” he says, referring to the dense RF spectrum in some parts of the country.
Offering an example where high power and a long throw proved essential, Verkamp singles out an episode from season three, when Tanner, driving a Bentley, raced professional snowboarder Benji Farrow down a slope in Breckenridge, Colorado (and won). “We had a Venue system that I set up in one of the ski shacks halfway up the hill and the producers were able to hear the entire drive all the way down the mountain. I chalk that up to the Lectrosonics SMQV transmitters.”
Verkamp generally spreads the production across four Lectrosonics frequency blocks, “Everything going to the camera is on a certain block. My IFBs—they’re the regular Lectrosonics IFBR1a receivers—are on a totally different block. I use two blocks for the talent and split them.”
Being able to switch out frequency blocks in the Venue receiver on the fly in order to cope with a changing RF environment can save the day, but Verkamp says he always does his homework upfront. “I send zip codes off to Max Francis at Lectrosonics,” he says. Francis joined the company earlier this year after a decade in professional audio and the film industry. “Max sends me back charts and tells me which blocks to use. Frequency coordination is a huge part of the job, and being able to spread everything out over multiple blocks definitely helps.”
“I don’t think there’s another company like Lectrosonics that can comprehensively take your whole shoot—high-power transmitters, antennas, Venue systems, everything—and coordinate it with PDFs so that you have a reference before you go
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