The Sound of Sports

When we think of the sound of sports on TV or radio, it’s generally commentary. But sports broadcasts would be nothing without all the sounds that are behind the commentary — the crowds, the kicks, the thwacks, and the grunts.

During the World Cup of 2010, the constant noise of Vuvuzelas made many people realize that the sound of a sports event, something they took for granted, does matter.

Dennis Baxter’s job is to design the sound of sports, and he is our guide in this documentary. For nearly 20 years he’s worked on the Olympics, defining how the broadcast will sound, always trying to increase drama and excitement. For him, closer is generally better. If he can put a microphone on an athlete, he will.

At the Oxford-Cambridge boat race, the TV coverage is enhanced by microphones on the cox in each boat. Wimbledon has a special sonic drama all of its own, as we learn from Bill Whiston who mixed the sound of the 2008 finals.

When good sound isn’t available, it’s not uncommon for a prerecorded sound to be added to cover the shot.

The experience of “live” events can be highly produced, very different from the experience of being there. Is this enhanced sound so very different from that of a film or a video game? We meet a Hollywood sound effects specialist and a video game sound designer to find out what they do to create a sense of authenticity and excitement. Are they raising our expectations of how “real” sport should sound?

Parabolic Mic

More details about the UK “Office Hours” with Helen Zaltzman I mentioned at the end of the episode.

  1. jeremy keens

    The greatest sound if sport story has to be test cricket in Australia in 1938. There was no audio link but the test was live broadcast. Cables in a summary code were sent with atmosphere and action. The commentators at this end read them and extrapolated the mood, action etc. there were tapes of crowd noise and the commentators tapped a pencil on a wood disk to create the shot. People listened and believed.

    1. Hi Jeremy, I’d love to know more about that 1938 story. Could you possibly direct me to any sources? Many thanks. What a fabulous programme.

  2. will

    This podcast answered a lot of questions for me. As an audio engineer I’m always critiquing audio in movies, TV, etc. This was one of those rare podcasts that spoke directly to a hobby of mine. I’ve notice the fairly recent addition of the mic on the bill of the umpire’s cap in the NFL which gives you a much better experience down on the field at the line of scrimmage. I wonder if there are samples used anywhere in American football? Great work.

  3. Daron

    This is a wonderful, beautiful show. It is always so amazing to know what happens in the background. This is the type of show that makes an audio presentation worthwhile. No visual to muddle the effects.

    Thank you for giving us this gift.

  4. I just discovered your podcast last week (thanks to a friend referring me to the episode on “duplitecture”), and this fascinating documentary was the payoff: instant gratification. Thanks a lot!

  5. 419er

    This is perhaps the first episode of 99pi I couldn’t finish. Normally i find the topics fascination even if they are out if the mainstream. Thus one, however, went in and on and on and on and on and on. I finally had to give up running and pull out my iphone and do two things. One: skip to the next podcast in my playlist. Two: leave this comment while resuming my run.

    Summary: tl;dl.

  6. Dave Hurley

    I’d have to say that this Falling Tree piece is one of the best produced and most engaging audio documentaries Ive ever had the pleasure of listening to. The editing, use of music, nat sound, mixing, etc. was completely worthy of the subject, which was… high-end audio editing/mixing and nat sound. Wow. Kudos to Peregrine Andrews!

    Additionally, I found the mix of the coxes in the Oxford-Cambridge boat race urging on the rowers to be just astonishing.

    Masterful work.

  7. Justin

    I really enjoyed listening to the boat race. Does anyone know where I could find more audio clips of a rowing team? I found the coxes to be incredibly motivating. I would love to listen to that while running/biking.


    I loved this episode sooo much. Thanks for always providing the most interesting stories.

  9. Great to get this feedback!

    Music in the dive section is “Prologue” from Tour de France Soundtracks by Kraftwerk.

    Justin, I’ll put a longer boat race cox section on my soundcloud/pezzatronic



  10. This was a great podcast, the topic was interesting, and i loved that this was longer than your usual episode (i like long podcasts. They are great for background noise when i do stuff, like drawing or painting :D)

  11. ViperX83

    Just found this thanks to Podmass over at AVClub. I’m an aspiring play-by-play broadcaster and it was incredible to hear how the pros really bring out the sound of a sporting event, fantastic episode!

  12. Sound of sports

    I just discovered your fantastic podcast and I am now working my way back in your archives. This is my favorite episode so far! Thank you!

  13. Bret C

    I rarely watch sports on a screen, but I found this episode fascinating! Thank you for sharing the rest of the story!

  14. Piotr

    I also am obsessed with the female cox shouting around 35th minute. Gives me goosebumps :)
    Fantastic audio documentary, btw.

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