by Curt Taipale
In Part 1 we recommended the use of a production intercom system to improve the quality and efficiency of communication between members of the tech team during a service, concert or dramatic presentation. Let’s take a look at some of the systems available today.
The most common type of system is an analog party-line intercom, so-called because anyone connected to the cabling for a particular channel can communicate with anyone else on that same channel at any time.
Each remote beltpack and speaker station requires a DC voltage to power its internal circuitry, plus of course the audio communications signal. That operating voltage and the audio signals are fed via a standard cable that has two conductors wrapped by a shield. In other words, the interface is as simple as plugging in an everyday mic cable.
My usual design for a production intercom system in a church comprises a main station that sits either at the FOH production booth, or in a rack backstage. That choice depends on the features of the main station itself and the most convenient wiring solution for the project.
I’ll feed branch circuits from that main station to several of the interface plates on the platform (wall plates and floor boxes). That allows the tech team to patch into an intercom line at their choice of locations on the platform, which can come in handy when your pastor asks you to provide them with an intercom handset at their seat on the platform. I also include a speaker station (with handset) flush-mounted in a wall at some logical location backstage. If it makes sense, I’ll provide those wall stations on both sides of the platform.
If the church has a baptistery, I will include a speaker station with a handset at a location easily reached by the pastor or his staff. I also provide or at least recommend including a speaker station with handset in the usher’s closet. Depending on the project there may be other locations that need intercom connections, but those are the primary ones.
The reality is that the ushers move around a bit. You may or may not have someone always in that usher’s closet throughout the service. The same can be said for at least some members of the production team. So at some point having wireless transceivers connected to the wired system, or an interface with two-way radios becomes highly important. There are some churches that use two-way radios for all of their production communication needs, and that can offer a lot of flexibility.
By the way, during the "heat of battle" (during a worship service) you may find it difficuilt to get someone's attention to pick up the intercom. For example, if the sound operator has their eyes focused on the platform looking for visual cues from the worship team or for unexpected changes, they may miss the fact that someone is desperately trying to reach them on the intercom. One great solution is to put a big flashing light right in their field of view (though hidden from the congregation's view). Here is one such device.
If there is any downside to using an analog production intercom system, it is probably the occasional issue with background hum, noise and hiss. Not all such system installations have that issue, but it can happen. So along came digital audio to save the day. By switching the audio circuits from analog to digital, manufacturers can deliver production intercom systems that offer all of the benefits without the hum and noise issues.
As with most situations, there are multiple ways to achieve results appropriate for the need. If it sounds like your church could really benefit from installing a production intercom, I encourage you to research the topic further. Toward that end, here are some manufacturer links to get you started.
Did you miss Part 1? Go here to read Production Intercoms, Part 1.
Copyright 2015. Taipale Media Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of TFWM.