Zaxcom Goes on the Road with 'Idol'

(L-r) Kamal Humphrey, Bennie Mcrae, fishboom operator/ENG audio mixer; and Chris Tront, ENG audio mixer. ©Owen Smith
As ENG audio supervisor for "American Idol" and its companion show, "American Idol Extra," my job is to take the latest technology and make everybody sound their best anytime we're using ENG gear. This usually means we're working outside the studio. We sometimes do simultaneous shoots in multiple parts of the country for auditions and I have to make sure all the bases are covered with six Zaxcom audio packages.

I'm also in charge of audio for interviews, home stories, and celebrity packages throughout the season.

For the last couple of years, I've had all our ENG audio mixers using stereo Zaxcom wireless systems to send audio to cameras, and also to record a timecode backup. The system consists of the TRX900 stereo transceiver coupled with the RX900S stereo receiver.

The TRX900 is so small and light that it's easily portable. And I appreciate being able to power it from a battery distribution system bag. Another big advantage is the system's ability to send two channels via one frequency. Having double the frequency availability makes coordinating crews a whole lot easier, especially if there are other crews working nearby.

All of the Idol crews record timecode backup on the TRX900 2 GB mini SD card. Up to 12 hours of stereo audio can be recorded on a single 2 GB card. In our case we get timecode from the VariCam cameras. The master timecode is generated from the studio control room and at the end of each day, we download the cards and archive them. This backup has saved me a couple of times. And with the Zaxconvert software, you just enter the start and stop timecode from the particular segment, and it spits out a 48 kHz 24-bit WAV file that the post production team syncs with the picture.


This year I implemented the Zaxcom Deva Fusion for the auditions. I'm at a desk for these and it makes more sense to use a free-standing recorder. As it's hardwired to two cameras and recording timecode backup of all the sound, I have the flexibility to record my mix, isolate tracks separately and change routing on the fly while I record. The Fusion has six outputs, allowing me to send the mix or the isolated track, or anything I want, wherever I want.

I'm also using a Deva Mix-8, which is a MIDI-operated control surface with eight faders. I use it for the mentor shoots and also for recording backups of all the different celebrities and others with microphones.

When we arrive in a new city, there may be as many as 15,000 people hoping to be the next American Idol. There's so much talent waiting to be heard, and it's up to my team to give it a voice. Happily, we have both the skills and the equipment to give everyone their best shot at being the next American Idol.

Kamal Humphrey is ENG audio supervisor for "American Idol" and "American Idol Extra," has also served as sound supervisor for a feature-length documentary, "Running the Sahara" and has worked on many other productions. He may be contacted at

For additional information, contact Zaxcom at 973-835-5000 or