From the responses to a recent tweet asking for photos of OBs you have been doing at your stations, it’s clear many of you are not new to OBs. Hopefully, this guide can help those of you already doing them to improve your OB game even more.
— Ned Flaherty (@nedf25) August 21, 2019
What is an OB?
Hopefully, you know this part already, but let’s start here so we are in agreement from the start. An OB (Outside Broadcast) is the contribution of remote audio into the live programming output. This could be the full program content (music, links, production, etc) or it could be only voice content, with production and music still coming from the main on-air studio.
It’s common for OBs to have a 2-way connection with the studio, so anyone in the studio can talkback to those at the OB, and so any audio content that originates in the studio can be heard at the remote location. However, this is not always a requirement.
Establishing a 2-way link
A good 2-way link between the studio and OB allows audio to go from the studio to the OB, and from the OB to studio, with a low enough delay you can easily have a conversation. It also requires the audio in one direction to not include the audio going back the other way.
This concept can be a little more complex to explain/understand, but once you get there, it’s quite simple. Let’s say we are doing an OB where the only audio source is presenter mics. The presenter mics go into a mixing desk. From here, they are sent to headphones so the presenter can hear themselves, and sent off to the studio to be included in the show and broadcast.
However, the presenter also needs to hear what’s happening in the studio – music, production, etc. So, the studio audio is sent back in the other direction to the OB. This has everything faded up on the desk included. At the other end, that’s fed into the mixing desk to be added into the presenters’ headphones. Now they can hear their mics straight from the desk, plus the music and production from the studio, plus a slightly delayed version of their mics that’s gone to the studio and come back. On top of this, the audio from the studio is now in the mixing desk, and being sent straight back to the studio. Very quickly, it means its now looping and repeating, making it very difficult to do anything.
This issue can be overcome through the use of a cleanfeed. A cleanfeed generates a return audio feed that doesn’t include a specific audio source. For the example above, in the studio you would generate a cleanfeed that doesn’t include the OB audio (ie music and production playout, and any live mics in the studio). And at the OB end, the cleanfeed would include everything except the studio audio (so just the mics). Thus preventing loops and repeated delayed audio.
On some mixing desks, the ‘cleanfeed’ channel may be labelled up as a telephone channel – it is used for telephone connections so the caller doesn’t hear themselves back down the phoneline (as this would be weird). Other desks may not have any built in way of generating a cleanfeed, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be used to make one. If a desk has multiple separately controllable outputs (such as Auxillary outputs) these can be used to manually gerneate a feed (by turning up the aux send for each source that isn’t the original to be included).
If you’ve established a 2-way link, this means you can have someone in the studio ensuring your OB goes to air without any hitches, and ready to take over if something goes wrong. This would normally be done by a tech-op (similar to a producer, but focused on operating the technical aspects of the broadcast). They stay in the studio: keeping the OB fader to air; making sure ads go out at the right (if the station has ads); playing music if the music is coming from the studio; playing in any production.
In order to keep all this coordinated, talking back down the line is crucial. Obviously, if you talkback down from the OB, the fader needs to down in the studio otherwise it would go to air – this can only be done during songs/production being played out from the studio end. However, the studio can talk to the OB at any time as this won’t go to air – it will just go to the headphones of the presenter/producer (unless there is a PA at the OB end). This can be used to indicate timings and discuss the plan for upcoming features.
Most good cleanfeed/TBU desk channels will include a TB option for talking back down the line. If you are generating the cleanfeed using auxes/buses, then you should be able to include a mic on the aux channel without it going to air, to send down the line for TB. Often at gigs and live events, the sound desk engineers will have a mic they can feed into different monitor sources (on stage monitoring, a single musicians headphones, other engineers headphones, etc) and the principle is exactly the same.
Good OB Content
The aim of an OB, generally, is to bring an event to the listener. Whether this is a music/sports event they maybe couldn’t get to, or an event specifically put on for the broadcast, the idea is the same. You want to bring the atmosphere, updates on proceedings and content from that event to them so they can feel included and experience at least a little of what attendees may be experiencing.
@adam_hassell and @DNRagusa reporting live from pitch side into the @tu_xtra studios for the men’s football, part of the Tees Wear Varsity coverage from locations on and off campus. pic.twitter.com/y9Zazhx4VG
— Andy Munns (@munnsy79) August 20, 2019
This can be done in different ways. A common method is to broadcast the event itself (for example broadcasting the music from a concert) with some additional commentary and interviews in and around the music. This can work really well, especially if you have a broadcast mix of the music (different to the PA mix, so it sounds good on headphones/laptop speakers at home, rather than the PA at the event).
However, this isn’t always the best option. An alternative is to focus on the atmosphere and exclusive content – making the broadcast almost a separate event from what’s being covered. In this way, the listener gets their own experience which is not the same as being at the event, but still unique and, hopefully, interesting and fun.
There’s a lot more to be said on the topic of OBs, but honestly the best to way to learn and discover is to try it out for yourself. If you need advice on how to make them work using the tech at your station, please do email me (or your Regional Officer who can chat to me as well) a I’ll do my best to get back to you with some helpful advice. Otherwise, go out there, try new things, and, most importantly, have fun!