Finally, A School Assembly That Rocks!

I have had the good fortune to work at many local high schools. Interestingly enough, most schools have a great deal of high quality components which many times are not being used correctly due to improper installations. For instance, the schools which have had the low level audio interconnected using unshielded wire, (wish I could say I only saw this once) but what happens is the same company which did it wrong at one school had a contract to do it wrong for many schools. It is a simple fix; simply rewire using the proper shielded wire. Instantly, a 70-90 percent reduction in the noise floor of the sound system. Lower the noise floor and your system becomes more dynamic and intelligible.
Most high school gyms have the sound system buried in a closet of some sort off of the main gym floor. Many schools have purchased good quality wireless mic systems and have put the receivers in the closet with the amps. So now you have a system where if you do have someone running the level controls of the mics, they cannot hear the performance or see the speakers. You might guess that the sound is very bad. Here is what happens: you preset the mic up for a speaker and they hold the mic close to their mouths (as it should be) and speak in a normal voice, all is well. Now this person slowly moves the mic away from their mouth and before long is holding the mic below their chest. This is OK if that person is now screaming to excite the crowd, or the flip side they did not move the mic away from their mouth and now they are screaming and over driving the mic. Now if the person was on the gym floor from a good vantage point they could adjust for these fluctuations in usage. However, in a closet you can neither hear nor see what is going on.
I recently had the opportunity to rework a high school gym. A control mixer was used for the audio and we also allowed for video clips to be played and watched on a large projection screen on gym floor. The senior class decided that the gym needed an upgrade for the sound during their assemblies. I was already familiar with this gym and the sound system which had well placed small commercial pa speakers, 4 on each side, pointed directly at the bleachers. This is about as good as it gets in a gym, for keeping sound off the highly reflective gym floor is a good plan, also since the assembly and the program happen on the gym floor this helps the wireless mics not feed back from speakers directly to the mic.
This high school had their production class put together 6 short video clips of the activities. I taught them how to use a simple 14 channel mixer to mix in the speech elements with the sound from the laptop playing clips to fill music played from an i-pod or phone. What an incredible difference! The program was captivating and fun, the sound was-as they said better than it had ever been and the video and sound allowed for a very professional presentation. This senior class gift cost just under five-thousand dollars and truly made for an outstanding, long term investment for the high school.