Above the airwaves!

Friday 9 November 2018

Broadcast Rental has of course been known for some time for its special custom-made broadcast solutions, and has seen its fair share of crazy challenges. But live visual radio from a hot air balloon, that had never been done before, not even by Hilversum’s Linking Professionals. And then Radio 538 came along…

In De Coen en Sander Show DJs Coen Swijnenberg and Sander Lantinga are crossing off their bucket list, which includes unusual, far-flung places where they would like to make radio. The set of a popular Dutch soap, the centre spot of the football pitch in Johan Cruijff ArenA, Coen Swijnenberg’s attic room and Schiphol Airport. They did it all, and now they can tick off ‘broadcasting from a hot air balloon’ as well.

Never done before

For the visual radio side, they came to Broadcast Rental. Obviously, live broadcasting from a hot air balloon presents some challenges. ‘This was a very special request’, Geert Paul Slee of Broadcast Rental confirms. ‘We have done a lot of crazy things, but this was a first. ‘What’s more, it had never been done before. At least not this way, with eight cameras all received as individual video sources on the roof of Het Nieuwe Kantoor, a big office building in Apeldoorn some 30 kilometres from where the balloon lifted off. On that roof all receivers were placed, the show was linked up and the camera’s – three PTZ’s plus one handheld and four Marshall camera’s – were operated.’ During the balloon ride, the basket turned into a literal air-borne studio with a full desk. Of course Coen and Sander were on board, together with some technicians, and guests of 538, an artist plus a photographer. For Broadcast Rental Ron Eshuis joined the crew to provide technical support if necessary.


Broadcast Rental received the request to transform the balloon basket into a flying radio studio mid-July. ‘When we get asked something like that, our people immediately put their thinking caps on’, Geert Paul Slee says. ‘How can this be realised, and what can be our role? Then we all sit down at the drawing table and start solving the puzzle, piece by piece. The Friday before we got the actual basket here, and we installed everything within three days. We used three PTZ camera’s that we could also operate from Het Nieuwe Kantoor. Like I said, that is where all video signals came in. We were holding our breath, for when the balloon is still on the ground, you can’t see anything. Once it lifted off, and the antenna rack popped open (installed by 12connect, ed.), and the aggregate was eased out, all of a sudden – ping, ping, ping… all video signals  came in, over 30 kilometres away. That gave us a real kick.’ The aggregate in question was hanging below the basket but had to be hoisted up for landing. And that system, too, turned out to do the job just fine.

Video sources

A helicopter stayed close to the balloon, sending two more video signals to Het Nieuwe Kantoor. ‘Ultimately we had ten video sources coming in’, Slee explains. ‘The funny thing is that we had only recently bought 4K video transmitters. In fact, we pulled the entire radio studio through. We put all video sources separately in the transmitters, and took them out again at the reception end. They were then put separately into the video mixer and that’s how we linked the show. Everything worked just like we expected, and there was no need to fall back on our plan B. Ten days before the show we had taken a test ride in the balloon, testing one video source to check whether the reach was enough.  When that was a success, we could breathe again. That’s when we really got going.’ Typically, Martijn Swart, the initiator of the project at Broadcast Rental, wasn’t there because he was away on holiday. ‘But he was watching us, even from Mongolia’, Slee laughs.

'Tear to my eye'

For the people at Broadcast Rental – who have seen it all – this was a challenging job, Slee confesses: ‘Let’s just admit it – very challenging. When that balloon touched down, and we saw everyone high-fiving, the release was huge. Goose bumps and tears to my eyes, as bad as that. You could see it triggered something in people. All those emotions coming by. At some point a whole line of people was following the balloon on the ground. This was definitely a tour de force, technically. In bicycle racing there are helicopters flying over as link transmitters, but not here. Just in one go 30 kilometres farther away. It shows that the future holds many new opportunities.”

Pushing boundaries

All-in all this was a project that pushed the boundaries.  Most of all because of the use of 4K-equipment in today’s technology. ‘This mix really proves that you can use it all together’, Slee agrees. ‘We wrote special software to get it done, and a lot was custom-made, but that is exactly what we do best.’ Broadcast Rental is obviously proud of what it accomplished, as Slee illustrates:
“It was just awesome! Proud doesn’t even begin to describe it, but I wouldn’t know how else to describe that feeling. It was a moving moment, and I honestly teared up. It was so very special!!”

Year in the making

The same goes for Radio 538, says Julien Hommes (Technical Producer and Broadcast Engineer) who for a year had been working on the project behind the scenes. “A year ago, Coen and Sander came to me, asking me if I could find out whether it was possible to broadcast from a hot air balloon. And that’s what I did. After several tests with Wi-Fi, 4G and so on, my search brought me to Broadcast Rental, 12Connect and HFPrints. They helped us with this project. HFPrints set up a stereo link connection. 12Connect hung 4G+ antennas on the rack below the basket that could be used as a back-up. And Broadcast Rental helped with the video links. The whole project was coordinated with agentschap telecom. Together we could realise a good range of frequencies to carry out the project without any interruptions. BAS Ballonvaarten supplied the hot air balloon. They, too, proved a reliable partner in this process’.

Sky is no longer the limit

On the day of the ride everything went as planned. ‘What’s more, things went even better than we had hoped’, acknowledges Hommes, who went along for the ride. ‘Everything fell into place. With my Riedel Intercom I was linked to MCR in Hilversum, the mobile studio following the balloon on the ground and the people in Apeldoorn, and I heard everything that was going on. The moment you know it all works and all signals are coming in, that’s the best feeling. Nothing can go wrong anymore. The audio signal came in even while the balloon was still on the ground, and when we were 20 metres up in the air, the video signals were coming in. Especially when you have been busy preparing for a year, it just feels incredible when everything comes together. Many of our colleagues in radio have told us that we have shown that the sky really is no longer the limit. It is huge that we could pull this off together.’

This article has been translated from the original publication in AV&Entertainment Magazine.

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