KZSU Stanford broadcasting football live with the ViA codec from Notre Dame Stadium
KZSU Stanford broadcasting football live with the ViA codec from Notre Dame Stadium in Indiana.

KZSU and Tieline for Road Sports Broadcasting

KZSU and Tieline for Road Sports Broadcasting

By Jack Wang, Assistant Chief Engineer, KZSU Engineering.

Background

KZSU 90.1FM is Stanford University’s campus radio station.  We broadcast on 90.1FM throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, and online at kzsu.stanford.edu.  Our radio station broadcasts music, news, public affairs programming, and Stanford sports.  Without a doubt, live sports coverage of Stanford Athletics is our most heavily listened-to form of content.

KZSU broadcasts several Stanford sports:  Football, Baseball, Basketball, Volleyball, Soccer, and Softball.  Approximately 200 games are broadcast every year, and 70 or so broadcasts involve traveling on the road.  We generally focus our travel coverage on the four most prominent sports:  football, baseball, basketball, and volleyball.  Stanford competes in the Pac-12 conference and many of those travel locations include well-known universities such as Washington, Oregon, USC, UC Berkeley, Notre Dame, UCLA, and iconic stadiums such as the Rose Bowl.  Other locations include NCAA tournament sites for playoffs and championships.

KZSU Stanford broadcasting football live with the ViA codec from Notre Dame Stadium
KZSU Stanford broadcasting football live with the ViA codec from Notre Dame Stadium in Indiana.

KZSU is owned by Stanford University, and it is a non-profit, non-commercial radio station with an educational license by the FCC.  Our broadcasters consist of mainly Stanford student DJs, Stanford student sports announcers, and an array of alumni and local community volunteers.

Challenges for KZSU’s Stanford sports Coverage

KZSU is unique in that it is an FM radio station that broadcasts live sports in stereo.  Furthermore, because of KZSU’s non-commercial status, relatively small budget, and roster of student broadcasters, we have several specific requirements when we consider any sort of sports remote broadcasting platform:

  • Affordable
  • High-quality digital audio
  • Portable – must fit in a carry-on case
  • Reliable connectivity – IP codec w/ backup connectivity options
  • Ease of Use for student broadcasters
  • Durability
Tieline ViA at on-campus event in Stanford CA.
Tieline ViA used at an on-campus event in Stanford CA. The codec connected using the ViA’s 4G data module.

 

Choice of Tieline Product Line

KZSU chose the Tieline codecs around 2011, by purchasing and implementing the Commander G3 and iMix field and rack-mount units.  Prior to that, we primarily used Comrex-based analog-digital (dial-up modem) codecs such as the Comrex Vector.  Those dial-up devices required POTS.  With our constantly changing rotation of student broadcasters, and the inherent unreliability of POTS dialing and poorer sound quality, KZSU sports struggled with connectivity, errors, and audio instability for many years.

The goal in 2011 was to replace those dial-up POTS modem-based codecs with high-speed IP solutions so that we could stream a fully stereo digital broadcast from any remote stadium.  This would ensure high-quality sound for our sports coverage.

Our first use of the Tieline platform for a major football broadcast was for the 2012 Fiesta Bowl featuring Stanford (led by Andrew Luck) vs. Oklahoma State.  The Fiesta Bowl was held in the NFL stadium in Glendale, Arizona (University of Phoenix Stadium).  At a professional (NFL) quality stadium, it was necessary for us to pre-order a wired Ethernet (IP) connection instead of using a wireless solution. Over 80,000 people were in the stadium – it was impossible for us to use 3G data or any wireless solution, as the wireless networks were slammed.  But once we had the wired IP connection for that game, we were all set.  It was the first major sporting event we covered without using POTS.  We became fully invested in Tieline and committed to full-digital audio codecs for remote broadcasting.

Oregon State University provided us with a wired IP Ethernet connection for KZSU to broadcast live with Tieline ViA at Oregon State, Corvallis, OR.

Telecom Challenges Still Persist but Have Improved, and so has Sound Quality

Over the past decade, telecom at various university athletics venues across the USA have generally improved.  KZSU also upgraded its broadcasting kit by purchasing the Tieline ViA portable codec and a Gateway 4 rack mount codec to receive remote audio feeds at the studio. The gold standard for any sort of broadcasting on the Tieline platform is a wired data connection.  Unfortunately, not all stadiums have hard-wired Ethernet IP available.

The landscape of sports facilities varies wildly.  At some aging stadiums desperately needing renovation, there’s often a lack of space for student broadcasters and proper telecom.  Certain sports also do not have enough funding for modernized facilities.  Often, a university might have a brand-new and well-connected facility for one sport, and an inhospitable and aging stadium for another sport.  Therefore, the top priority for audio engineering on the Tieline platform when traveling for Stanford sports coverage is telecom.  A wired IP solution is always best.

KZSU broadcasts baseball on the UC Berkeley campus
Tieline ViA, first used by KZSU for road baseball series, Stanford versus UC Berkeley on the UC Berkeley campus. During our recent trip to UC Berkeley in March 2023, the Ethernet cable was severely damaged. A 4G Wireless solution saved the day.

 

Due to the inconsistencies of sports facilities, KZSU often runs into many tricky situations in which a wireless solution is the only method for connectivity.  The Tieline ViA product line with 4G data and WiFi has helped out tremendously for various events that KZSU has covered, in facilities where there was no wired IP solution.

Some recent examples:

  • Stanford Football at Vanderbilt (Sept 2021), in Vanderbilt University’s antiquated stadium.  We were on a dust-covered roof-top on a concrete ledge, with no telecom available.  We connected the ViA to Vanderbilt Athletics WPA WiFi network and broadcast the entire game wirelessly.
KZSU at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville TN
KZSU football coverage from the concrete ledge above the stadium at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville TN.
  • Stanford Football at Arizona State (Oct 2021), in ASU’s Tempe Stadium.  We were assigned to a hermetically sealed booth for guests with no telecom available.  ASU’s telecom provided a wireless data device that created a mobile WiFi hot-spot, and we used the ViA’s WiFi feature to connect wirelessly.
Stanford travels to Arizona State, Tempe AZ with the Tieline ViA to broadcast live.
KZSU at Arizona State, Tempe AZ. We were in a sealed spectator booth and the Tieline ViA connected live using a supplied WiFi hotspot.
  • We at KZSU are recently discovering new wireless uses for the Tieline ViA, on the Stanford campus itself!  Recently, KZSU has hosted and broadcast two student rallies and festivals on the Stanford campus where no wired connectivity options exist.  It was incredibly easy to take an audio feed from the live PA system and simply connect it to the Tieline ViA, which would connect using wireless data back to KZSU.  In the past, we would’ve had to rely upon long wiring runs, or POTS, to connect back to KZSU.
Tieline ViA used at an on-campus event in Stanford CA. We took a line-level feed from the PA system and connected using the ViA’s 4G data module.

Stereo Audio Imaging Enhancement

For the 2022 football season, KZSU implemented a special audio enhancement for road football games.  In order to project a stereo audio image, we added an Allen & Heath Zed-i8 mixing console for the broadcasters themselves to control.  That console would feed stereo audio to the Tieline ViA codec for IP connectivity back to KZSU.

KZSU broadcasting live from UCLA
Stanford at UCLA, in the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA. This cramped booth illustrates how compact the setup is. A stereo crowd mic is delicately perched out the window, about 7 stories up in one of the largest college football stadiums in the country.

Our Standard ViA kit (WITHOUT Zed-i8) includes:

  1. Tieline ViA & accessories
  2. 2 Sennheiser sports headsets
  3. Shure SM58 microphone
  4. Assorted XLR, Ethernet, Power cables
  5. USB-micro/USB-C adapters

This kit is portable enough to fit inside a single carry-on Pelican flight-case for one or two student broadcasters to travel to cover a game on the road.  The ViA easily supports two sports announcer headsets (Sennheisers) on channels 1 & 2, while the 3rd channel is used for a mic (SM58) to pick up ambient crowd sound.  The USB I/O Audio codec can be connected to a laptop for pre-recorded announcements during breaks.  Those inputs are all we need for standard road sports broadcasts.

Our Stereo Enhancement Addition to the Standard Kit:

  1. Allen & Heath 4-channel mixer (the Zed-i8)
  2. RODE camera-mount Stereo Video Mic
  3. Tripod mount, Assorted additional audio cables

The RODE Stereo Video Mic serves as our crowd mic instead of a single Shure SM58.  It allows us to present a stereo audio image for the crowd audio in a stadium.  Because KZSU is an FM radio station, the listeners can get a better feeling of what is happening inside a large football stadium where cheers may be emanating from one side while fireworks, cannons, or PA announcements are on the other.

More importantly, by connecting the 2 broadcasters headsets into a 4-channel mixer like the Allen & Heath Zed i8, we can control the stereo imaging by panning them slightly.  This enhancement really helps when announcers are in a booth.  Announcer #1 can be panned slightly right, and announcer #2 can be panned slightly left, so they don’t sound like they are on top of each other.  The stereo crowd mic is also fed into the 4-channel mixer so the entire mix feels like it’s in stereo. The stereo output of the mixer is fed to the Tieline ViA where channels 1 & 2 can be configured R/L.  The engineer/producer can connect to stadium effects with channel 3.  The USB audio I/O is still used for laptop audio.

KZSU at University of Oregon, Eugene OR. Stereo Enhanced Sound on the roof of Autzen Stadium, one of the loudest stadiums in all of collegiate football. Wired IP Ethernet connectivity was fine, even on the roof of this stadium.

 

This stereo enhancement is still highly portable.  A 3-man broadcast crew (2 announcers, 1 producer) can easily bring this equipment in 2 carry-on cases.  This audio enhancement was deployed in the Fall of 2022 Stanford Football Season for:

  • Stanford at Univ. of Washington
  • Stanford at Univ. of Oregon
  • Stanford at Notre Dame University
  • Stanford at Univ. of Utah
  • Stanford at UC Berkeley

Concluding Comments:

KZSU is deeply committed to bringing high-quality FM audio broadcasts of Stanford sports, and the product line by Tieline has been instrumental in delivering exceptional quality for remote broadcasts.

Since 2011 when we purchased our first Tieline products, KZSU has now successfully transitioned away from POTS-based remote connectivity solutions towards full digital audio.  We anticipate more wireless solutions as networks become more robust.

Tieline has been a great vendor that has provided excellent support for KZSU.  It is truly a special relationship over the past decade, one that enables KZSU, a small, non-profit, university-based radio station to deliver such high-quality sound using the Tieline platform.

Want to know more?

For more information on Gateway and ViA codecs visit www.tieline.com/products or contact Tieline sales:

(“KZSU and Tieline for Road Sports Broadcasting” first published in June 2023)

Tieline has been a great vendor that has provided excellent support for KZSU.  It is truly a special relationship over the past decade, one that enables KZSU, a small, non-profit, university-based radio station to deliver such high-quality sound using the Tieline platform.
Jack Wang
Assistant Chief Engineer KZSU
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