Canada’s Cold Water Cowboys Cast a Wide Wireless Net with Lectrosonics

“A Simple System Design with Gear that Can Stand Up to Abuse is the Key to this Whole Thing.”


Vancouver, BC (February 24, 2015) — Cold Water Cowboys, a Discovery Channel extreme reality television series that focuses on Canadian trawler crews fishing off the coast of Newfoundland, will shortly be wrapping up its second season. Mark Barry, lead sound consultant for the popular series, which is produced by Vancouver-based Paperny Entertainment, has been using Lectrosonics Digital Hybrid Wireless ® equipment on the show since the beginning, implementing a five-channel Venue system for the current season with plans to expand it for the future.

“All the shows I do are generally fairly tough sound environments; we do a lot of extreme shows,” says Barry, a BBC-trained freelance sound engineer who relocated to Vancouver from his native Ireland. Some of the ongoing reality TV series with which he is involved include Game of Homes, Highway Thru Hell, Yukon Gold and Klondike Trappers. Cold Water Cowboys was recently nominated for a Canadian Screen Award in the category of Best Factual Program or Series.

Key to the success of Cold Water Cowboys, which is filmed miles offshore out in the stormy North Atlantic, is Lectrosonics’ WM watertight belt-pack transmitter. “Everyone has a brand new WM Lectrosonics set up; we run the packs all day. And we run everyone on Countryman B6 lavalier microphones,” he reports.

Barry, who designed, bought and built all of the audio packages, installed the recording systems on each of four fishing boats at the end of April 2014 with assistance from Marco Dölle, a sound mixer based in Newfoundland who maintains the equipment during the season. “We basically create a soundstage on the boat,” explains Barry. “We have a Venue rack with five receivers and we run 100-foot custom-made, low-loss cables to the top of the mast where we have ALP650 [LPDA “Shark Fin”] antennas pointing at the deck and out to the sides.” All of the RF equipment on each boat operates within the same frequency range: block 19, 21, 22 or 25, he adds.

In addition to the wireless mics on each five-man fishing crew, the recorder also captures a wired plant mic in the wheelhouse—“Because that’s generally where arguments or fights kick off,” says Barry—and another pointing at the deck. The CB radio, sea-to-land radio and the satellite phone are also recorded. “Everything goes back to a Sound Devices 664 recorder—which is also the timecode source for the cameras—in a very dry, safe spot, running off deck power, with a four-hour backup. We record 10 tracks, 24 hours a day,” he says. Each fishing trip typically lasts seven to 12 days.

At roughly 64 feet in length, the long liners only have room for two extra people—in the case of Cold Water Cowboys, the director/cameraman and the director of photography (DOP). “The director, who’s usually in the wheelhouse, has a UCR411a compact receiver on his camera. His five guys are pre-programmed into his 411, so if he wants to do a standup interview he just quickly changes to the guy’s frequency and he’s recording straight to camera,” says Barry. “We just send a broad spectrum average mix to the DOP.”

Those two camera hops are currently handled by another brand of wireless transmitter, but Barry has a new plan for the future: “We realized we can fit a sixth transmitter onto that boat without any issue, frequency-wise, so we’re going to transmit with Lectrosonics instead. We’re going to tune in the sixth frequency, which will be the mix, so that both cameras can individually select each person on the boat and also select a mix at any time.”

The flexibility of Lectrosonics wireless equipment has become central to the way that the reality TV shows on which he works are filmed, says Barry. “You can do a lot with what you send to cameras. But what you mix is not necessarily what you send to cameras. We’re doing so much more in our multitracking and our mixes and our sends, that two channels on a camera are now more of a guide track for post-production. We’re able to send sub-mixes here, there and everywhere, and that’s all just based off of tuning groups and frequency blocks.”

“A simple system design with the right gear, well-built to stand up to abuse is the key to this whole thing,” he says. "And then translating it all so it’s very streamlined all the way into post, as there is no point in recording something unless post can find it. The alignments have to work, swapping around channels and bouncing stuff around. You have to bring your big guns, and when they fire, it all looks very simple. And Lectrosonics is a major part of it.”

About Lectrosonics

Well respected within the film, broadcast, and theatre technical communities since 1971, Lectrosonics wireless microphone systems and audio processing products are used daily in mission-critical applications by audio engineers familiar with the company's dedication to quality, customer service, and innovation. Lectrosonics is a US manufacturer based in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.

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