There’s no show on television quite like “America’s Test Kitchen” (ATK) – a well-known and beloved half-hour cooking episodic broadcast by public TV stations and distributed by American Public Television. To ensure the production crew has reliable multi-channel communications for both “ATK” (and their other production, “Cook’s Country”) AV/Broadcast rental production company Talamas turned to Clear-Com® with confidence.
“ATK” is a true passion project of teaching and helping viewers cook with confidence. In its 2,500-square-foot kitchen located just outside of South Boston in the beautiful Innovation and Design building, it is home to dozens of test cooks, food scientists, and cookware specialists. During the weeks that the production team shoots episodes, there is a demanding set of requirements for crew communications. Michael Duca, General Manager of rental company Talamas, supplies all the gear for their productions and has extensive experience deploying Clear-Com systems in a wide range of applications and configurations. In this case, he chose a FreeSpeak II® Digital Wireless Systems to help the on-set crew communicate clearly with ease and efficiency and to allow them to focus on the production needs rather than the hardware they’re using.
“For us, flexibility and reliability are the true advantages in our rental business, and Clear-Com’s FreeSpeak allows us to deliver our customer requirements at any time,” comments Michael. “The ‘ATK’ team has been using Clear-Com now for over four years, and it’s been a game changer. The intercom system allows the director, producers, camera operators, teleprompter operators, script supervisor, P.A.s, and runners to keep in close communication so everyone can focus on the same production goals. The set is busy and can get noisy, and FreeSpeak allows the crew to communicate more naturally and with ease throughout the shoots.”
One big advantage of FreeSpeak II is its full-duplex capabilities, meaning users can speak and listen at the same time, which in the past has only been possible by using two frequencies. The system for “ATK” operates in the 1.9 GHz frequency band, and up to 15 beltpacks are typically deployed for each recorded episode. It has been designed for these types of rigorous continuous communication environments and its feature set has long been applauded by rental houses, production companies, and end-users.
“On previous systems, we experienced infrastructure interference, but with FreeSpeak we haven’t had these issues,” Michael continues. “We never have to conduct a frequency study, as the system, signal strength, and stability are just rock solid. The audio is crystal clear – it even sounds like a hard-wired system.”
In his line of work, one of the main things that Michael appreciates about FreeSpeak II is its ease of setup. After the technical team sets up cameras, the control room, and transceivers, it’s just a matter of plug-and-play and some channel pre-programming for the rest of the comms system. Plus, with its 4-wire matrix connection capability, the team can create multiple partylines or seamlessly connect and integrate with any wired partyline systems that may already be in place. “Even if a crew member is remote and roaming around, it’s easy for them to feel like they’re close to the rest of the action,” he says. “Plus, if we need more range, all we need to do is make a cable run, drop an antenna into the system, and we’re up and running. Getting everyone onto wireless was definitely the way to go for us, and this comms system truly shines for a show like ‘America’s Test Kitchen’.”
Keith McManus, Sound Mixer and Audio Tech for “ATK” adds, “Comms is where it counts. There is nothing that can derail a production faster than not being able to communicate properly with your team. I’ve had these experiences in the past, where there are communication gaps or a pack fails, and it sends a lot of folks scrambling. But not with Clear-Com…I have complete confidence when using FreeSpeak, as it simply works!”
Since the equipment isn’t being used in a fixed studio, multi-cam set-up, it goes through regular production set build-ups and teardowns, which puts a lot of strain on the equipment. “Plus, the production value of this show is quite sophisticated, which places more responsibility on the comms system. Even in such a demanding environment, the equipment holds up well through it all,” Keith adds.
The freedom of being wireless helps collaboration and helps execute certain elements of the production that aren’t possible on a wired setup. The crew all need to be connected to the same system yet have the freedom to move around. “I also like how FreeSpeak enables members of the crew to have direct lines of communication with each other,” Keith says. “For example, the producers may need to speak with the PAs, and don’t want to interfere in the conversation the director is having with the camera operators. This type of flexibility and multi-channel intercom really supports production to run smoothly.”
Overall, Michael says they are “really satisfied” with the way FreeSpeak II has improved the production workflow for “ATK.”
“It’s truly made the crew’s jobs easier,” he concludes. “Plus, since it can be configured for just about any production environment imaginable, FreeSpeak is my go-to comms solution.”