Calrec Interview with Marco Pelloni, Fox Sports, Sydney

Tell us a little about yourself and your career path to where you are now.

I’m the Senior Audio Director (studios) at Fox Sports in Sydney and I moved to Australia from the UK thirteen years ago. I started in local radio in 1976 where I worked for Radio Victory in Portsmouth, UK, before joining Southern Sound Radio in Brighton and then LBC news radio in London. This is where I first discovered Calrec consoles. I can’t remember the model of the desks and obviously the technology has moved on in leaps and bounds since then…this was an era when copy from the news room was still delivered to the studio on carbon copy paper, typed up on a typewriter.

My aim was to get a job with one of the London television stations, and I joined LWT – or ITV as we now know it – as a dubbing mixer three years later. LWT on London’s Southbank was certainly the place to be as far as training goes, and I worked with and learnt from a first class bunch of people – a few of which I am pleased to say are still there. Within three years I was a senior sound supervisor at LWT working on current affairs and sport shows, and then L.E. and light drama.

In 1992 I become Head of Sound at GMTV which was setting up operations in the same building (now The London Studios), and while I was still performing duties with The London Studios my main function was to get GMTV’s audio up and running.

We inherited a desk when GMTV started and Calrec supplied a nice new C2 console which immediately improved work flow and facilities. It made mixing live bands at seven o clock in the morning significantly easier! I always look to the heavens and thank the audio gods for that famous Calrec head room when a vocalist is belting it out!

After ten years at GMTV I left for Sydney and Fox Sports in 2003 and I was pleased to find Calrec consoles at Fox Sports. Fox Sports have never shied from acquiring the latest gear and we soon took delivery of two Zeta consoles and another C2 for our dedicated sports news channel.

I must confess that having been used to the comfort of being in London for so many years where Calrec HQ was just up the road, getting product support for a U.K. produced sound desk from the other side of the world filled me with dread, but Calrec have an excellent set-up in Australia with Syncrotech. Talking to my counterparts around the Asia Pacific region, they seem to be equally as happy with the service they receive.

When Fox Sports moved to its purpose built facility in 2013 my decision on which sound desks to install was a straight forward one and the Artemis console was chosen.

What changes are you seeing in the way TV sound is being captured, mixed and delivered to audiences?

I find sports television offers some of the more challenging environments even when considering just the studio based part of a production. To a point, work flow or signal flow is very much the same thing when it comes to sports shows. Outwardly there are a number of studio-based presenters filling the gaps between one or a number of OBs, and at home it all appears seamless, which is how it should be. Inwardly however things get a little more complicated! One of the biggest shifts over the past few years has been the increase in signal paths to and from studio centres and OBs.

Embedded audio is a wonderful thing but you need a very flexible matrix to handle all of the potential signals, and whilst most professional desks can achieve what you need, the logical lay out and colour matching of the surface controls on the Artemis and Apollo desks makes the task so much easier and much faster.

We regularly pass various feeds from one of our OBs to another OB/network or customer. For example, clean FX or clean commentary is generally done via the Artemis if the OB is included as part of a studio show. This removes the need for our master control to send embedded audio on to somewhere else directly, but it also means that the desk can end up doing so much more than just mixing a television show, with a number of pre fader signals being sent on to various parts of the world.

With a number of mission critical signals sitting on a ‘live desk’ that might not be using some of those feeds or might be using different signals from the same source at the same time as someone else, a very clear presentation of “what is going where and how” is vital and this is where the Artemis and Apollo excel.

How do you use the console to overcome the challenges of modern live broadcasting?

At Fox Sports, apart from one or two exceptions, we tend to have a single operator in the sound control room doing all the mixing. Even on a heavily sting or FX based audience show, we tend not to have a ‘gram-op’ so it is very much a one man band for the most part. I tend to mix most of our shows very ‘bright’ as far as EQ is concerned which includes audience reaction and applause. I think this is partly due to what I was used to hearing at ITV and partly due to what I call the ‘maximise and minimise’ process.

Fox Sports’ two main production studios are not particularly large, and so a studio audience is always going to be close to the presenters, which makes managing PA spill a constant challenge. Maximising the audience participation without going over the top, which instantly sounds nasty, and minimising or compensating for the highly reflective sets that modern sports studios tend to have, involves some subtle gating and the use of the auto mix function on the desk. The auto mix function on the Artemis is very quick and responsive without sounding artificial, and a Cedar noise reduction system across the main microphone groups tends to do the trick.

Breaking it down further, the sets in the studios look great but have hard reflective surfaces and large monitor walls that are reflective from a sound standpoint; they also house a great many cooling fans that vary in speed and pitch depending on how hard they are working. Even the furniture and desks near the presenters tend to have a number of screens built into the front, which all add to the fan noise. Reducing the noise from equipment fans and air conditioning is done by the Cedar DNS 8 across the presenter and audience microphone groups, and the reduction in noise levels is dramatic.

What are the biggest shifts that have changed the way you work?

We see constant advances in technology, but the big changes are in how we use existing systems. Remotely controlling outside broadcasts is starting to happen in Australia, which effectively means the studio control room becomes the outside broadcast truck.

Going into detail about how every individual feed gets back to the studio centre is probably for another article but suffice to say, we suddenly need a whole lot more channels and routing flexibility. Working a studio control room like an OB truck means that patching often needs to be changed, and that’s where the Artemis PC application and interface proves its worth. When you have loads of set-up time you can afford to dig around a screen to find out what is what, but when you are mixing and patching on the fly you really appreciate a logical and well thought out interface. Freelancers who might not get a lot of time on the desk especially appreciate the logical patching screen and layout on the PC UI.

Are there any cultural differences in the way you approach your job since moving to Australia?

The main differences I find in working in the U.K. compared to Australia is the amount of production. The U.K. makes thousands of hours of just about every type of programming and has very significant budgets to achieve this, particularly in drama production. In Australia the focus is on sports production, and Fox Sports has been the leader in this type of coverage for twenty years. The way we capture sound has not changed a very great deal, although we have developed mic’ing techniques in OBs and in the studio, coupled with faster and harder compression techniques when required.

The complexity of signal routing and the different requirements for those signals, like multiple destinations and uses for the same signal, mean that the sound desk is not just a controller of levels and simple signal distribution – although in truth it was never really that simple. Modern desks have to be very efficient routing tools, and the operator needs to be able to interrogate the desk to find out what is going where in a fast and easy to understand way.

This to me is one of the deal-breaker selling points of the Artemis and Apollo, and to date I have not found another product that can show the whole picture as effectively.

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