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AC-ET open days explain Channel 38 switchover

By popular demand AC-Entertainment Technologies' audio chain A.C. Audio has hosted two more open days in the UK in conjunction with Shure and Sennheiser to educate people on the looming 2012 Channel 38 switchover. Paul Watson reports from the AC-ET/Shure event...

AC-Entertainment Technologies’ audio division A.C. Audio is continuing to spread the word about the 2012 Channel 38 digital switchover through a second series of open days in collaboration with Shure and Sennheiser. Paul Watson was in attendance at the southern event which was held at AC-ET’s southern sales office in conjunction with Shure.
 The southern event was chaired by Tuomo Tolonen (pictured second on the left), Shure’s applications and product planning manager, and a BEIRG representative; in a bid to clear up the confusion that continues to shroud the topic across the UK. “This has been going on for the past seven years or so,” says Tolonen. “But for the last eighteen months, Channel 38 has been the industry’s buzz word.” BEIRG has been instrumental in convincing Ofcom how vital a role radio mics play in the UK. A good example is last season’s X Factor, where 98 channels of RF were in use – and that’s before you include the TV cameras; and 19.8 million people watched the final, which is approximately 1/3 of the UK’s population. Radio mics are prominent across the entire audio spectrum, of course, and perhaps another surprising statistic – one that could easily be overlooked – is the theatre market. During each west end show, anywhere between 30 and 80 radio mics are utilised. One of the messages put across strongly by Tolonen during the open day was that, contrary to much public opinion, Channel 69 is in fact not license free. “Often manufacturers confuse the issue, claiming that Channel 69 is license free; that’s absolute rubbish,” he insists. “Since 2004, only a handful of manufacturers tried to explain that this was a big deal – a tiny portion of the industry – until money was mentioned. The fact is that you need a license for everything else except 863-865 MHz, which is the beginning of the TV channel spectrum.” This causes some unrest in the audience, and questions are immediately asked of Tolonen’s statement: ‘well who’s going to know we’re using them?’; ‘who’s enforcing this law?’; ‘what about DJs?’; ‘what will they do if they find us– arrest us?’, the latter of which prompts mild laughter, and a quick response from Tolonen: “In the US, people have been arrested, yes; and that’s resulted in two-year prison sentences and £75,000 fines– just for having no license. Big shows in Germany have also been closed due to a lack of license,” he insists. “The problem is, 95% of radio mic users don’t know about this, and have been illegally using them all this time.” Tolonen suggests that in five years from now, it’s very possible that no manufacturer will make an analogue wireless mic because of the surge in digital technology; but currently, audio quality and latency are the most important factors, and he believes all people should be binning their old gear, getting themselves a license, and only purchasing Channel 38-ready equipment. “Ignorance will lead to many complaints flooding in to manufacturers from clients saying ‘my radio mic sounds horrible’ come the switchover,” Tolonen claims. “I fully expect this to happen, which is why we’re all trying to raise awareness. We have to educate people on this; surrender your old systems to funding where possible and migrate to the new allocated brands.” Peter Butler, sales manager of A.C. Audio, says it’s gratifying to know that the company is assisting the industry in a positive way. “With technical representatives on hand from the manufacturers, members of the BEIRG committee and JFMG,” says Butler, “what you couldn’t learn through participating really isn’t worth knowing.” Jezz Hellens, head of technical entertainment at Stage Management Company, attended the AC-ET/Sennheiser [northern] event held in Leeds; and seems to agree: “Open days such as this help immensely to see the wood for the trees,” says Hellens. “Not only did the event help me to understand a lot about practises and methods that can improve sound issues across the board, but it will inevitably help me to pass this information to our own customer base.” The cost of a license is £75 per year, which works out at 20p a day – and will hardly break the bank; so although there is seemingly no official enforcement in the UK at the moment, Tolonen’s presentation certainly suggests that it might only be a matter of time before there is.

(Pictured L-R: A.C.Audio’s Stuart Moots; Shure’s Tuomo Tolonen; JFMG’s principal engineer Simon Eley; and A.C.Audio’s Glen Thompson)