Looking for walkies to be used in theater

I’m looking to purchase 5-6 radios for a small community theater to be used for tech communication between stage manager, stage crew, and booth. It’s a small theater that does not do very complex shows, so full duplex is both unnecessary and prohibitively expensive. I’m looking for any suggestions meeting the following criteria:

[li]Good sound quality, able to carry whispers
[/li][li]Minimal delay between pressing button and being able to talk
[/li][li]Ease of use
[/li][li]Non-in ear headsets available, since they will be shared
[/li][li]Rechargable batteries
[/li][li]Long range not needed. Longest range would be no more than 300 ft., but would be indoors with a decent amount of interference.

Right now I’m leaning toward commercial radios, but since I don’t have big range requirements wondering if there are consumer grade radios that will suit my needs. The biggest requirements are good sound quality that will carry whispers without being obscured by static and responsiveness. Waiting two seconds after pressing the button would be unacceptable.

Good evening, my name is Andrew from BuyTwoWayRadios.com You can contact me directly at 1-800-584-1445 ext 227 and I will be able to help you with all your questions in full detail.

Check out my answer in the other forum, and by all means, call the folks at buytwowayradios. They know their stuff and can give you good recommendations. A lot depends on what country you live in, how busy the radio traffic is in your area and how critical it is to not have any delay in the transmissions.

As this is what I do - radios are great for organisation but we never use them for cueing purposes. if you want to cue shows with traditional theatre practice then you need wired comms - pure and simple. proper headers with boom mics and absolute reliability. We use walkie talkies, on licensed frequencies for the crew, general info, calls etc because we don’t want that kind of thing on the show comms channel. Nasty bursts of noise, people talking over each other, and radio limited bandwidth makes for very tiring comms and whistling tinnitus afterwards when you have to turn the volume up.

Clearcom in the US, Tecpro in the UK are the market leaders in show comms. radios only used when absolutely essential, and full duplex is essential. Anything else is just not how it is done - waiting for a cue is a stressful time, and people NEED to be able to interrupt the person calling the show, or somebody talking g about a low prioroty issue when your’s is urgent. We squirt our wired comms out of a repeater, but the receive output feeds back into the comms, so somebody with a walkie talkie CAN press the PTT at any point and inject their audio onto the ring, but the quality difference is quite obvious. Even if your shows are really simple - proper headsets and XLR cables are just the simple professional way. Radios are a bodge, and NEVER reliable.

I understand, but full duplex comms are not feasible or necessary for our environment. Walkies have always worked for us in the past, so I’m simply looking to replace them with a long-term upgrade.

[li]Even wired is way outside of our budget
[/li][li]Our shows do not have complex or precise cue calling
[/li][li]Crew needs to be flexible, often moving around the stage and theater so stationary comm points are not realistic
[/li][li]Way outside of our budget
[/li][li]Way outside of our budget
[/li][li]Way outside of our budget

I like the DLR1020s and price point, but I’m not a fan of all the voice navigation. I’d much rather have a simple beep or a display like the CLS1410, but the licensing for the CLS is very intimidating.

If you are looking for high-quality walkies, then I would suggest the Motorola DTR550 or DLR1060 radio. They are very high quality business-class radios and will last for years. They have some of the best sound clarity of any business radio, and will easily adapt to a variety of high-quality headsets.

While they are not cheap, they are excellent value. They are also licence-free, and unlike GMRS or MURS, you will not get any interference from other users in your area. They are digital radios and have hundreds (DTR) or thousands (DLR) of “channels” available to choose from. They can be programmed to match your needs, with various departments having their own channel in addition to the main channel. Or if you prefer, you can just unwrap them and use them right out of the box.

Obviously, full-duplex wired or wireless intercoms are necessary in theatre when you are calling a show or there are critical or safety cues, but if you are looking for walkies that will work in that environment and will carry through floors of steel or concrete, then check out the Motorola DTR and DLR digital radios.

Amazing. The first thing with anyone calling a show is the need for discipline and silence during standbys - the notion of the dresser calling up and asking for wardrobe to go to channel two is in my humble opinion - plain stupidity. On wired systems, which certainly in the UK is the kind installed in every professional theatre (for good reason) people listen, and talk when required. Here - all comms concerning the show running is heavily controlled by the DSM - chat will happen, but during standbys where large numbers of things are going to happen on the word GO - then interruptions are not on. Radios have their uses. Our sound people are on their own channel, as are wardrobe. Front of house are on their channel and the stage crew another. Only the resident stage manager talks to foh and reverse. Perhaps it’s a historic or country thing, but using simplex, or semi-duplex radios to run the show would be impossible.

I do appreciate that in perhaps small venues, with a lower head count and budgets then cheap radios can work, and they do - but the old saying that a ?2000 radio is nearly as good as an XLR cable hold true. Anything that works on a battery is suspect for primary operation. The person calling the show cannot use vox (it’s perhaps a very noisy stage) and sometimes will not have a hand free.

There are now even kits to build proper wired comms systems that won;t break the bank.

I do appreciate that having wireless is very useful because the cables do indeed get in the way - but these users are extra to the system - the person calling the show needs wired comms with the lighting people and the followspot people. Comms bandwidth on a cabled system is much kinder on the ears. The no bass, no treble, just mid-range comms bandwidth is VERY tiring on the ears and if the level has to be high, quite destructive.

The first time somebody calls a safety stop, and it doesn’t get through because somebody was asking wardrobe where a certain costume was, you will wish you’d thought it through.

Radio is always number two option in running a show professionally, at least in the UK. Radio is great for subsidiary conversations.

As for having everyone automatically migrate back to the main channel? That system simply would not work here at all - we want everybody OFF the working channel. Frankly, as all the departments fight with each other anyway - the last thing you want are wardrobe conversations - wardrobe talk to wardrobe. Sound talk to sound. Very rarely is there a need to talk to each other!

Paul, I understand what you are saying. Trust me; I have been on hundreds of shows in my career. We have both mentioned the downside to two-way radios to call shows. Obviously, when cues are important, they will not work. Only a full-duplex system with strictly enforced communication protocols will do the job.

However, the OP has stated quite clearly that they are NOT using them for critical cues, and that they have already decided that full-duplex is not wanted and they are willing to accept the compromises. That is why I offered my suggestions on walkies. No one is suggesting that two way radios could ever replace duplex intercoms.

On a hundred million dollar show, we would accept nothing less than full-duplex intercoms so we can call a safety halt instantly.

On a hundred dollar show when the only person you need to cue is right beside you, we use whatever works to get the job done and keep people safe.

Not your stupidity - but some things just have hit me hard over the years and communications is key - in the UK we’re bogged down with rigid health and safety documentation that simply makes theatre work potentially more dangerous if the radio system is carrying too high a traffic content.

I accept that small amateur groups might be able to get away with it, but I do not know any professional theatre here that do not have proper comms - Tecpro here or Clearcom in the states. Too critical for radio, which is fine for secondary.

I cannot even begin to think about having the primary channel constantly interrupted by people who need to get in touch with each other to both then change to a new channel. I just can’t even begin to see that working.

If they are small enough that radios will do, and don’t want/can’t afford proper comms, then I would agree it has to be that way - still crazy, but workable with a VERY small number of radios. As soon as you are big enough to have all the different user groups on the go, then radio gets less and less efficient.

And of course, batteries. Is a flat battery acceptable? Do they have a battery charging regime that works? I’m wearing an in-ear receiver at the moment and yesterday it went flat and I didn’t notice for ten mins till I realised no cues had been heard. Any incident in that time would have been a train wreck and potentially a real safety hazard.

Hundred dollar radios would have a very low risk assessment in the safety stakes here. If it’s a zero/low budget show, then I can understand - but for any show where people can get hurt - I would insist on proper comms.

Even colleges and small theatres here do it properly - and of course the other snag is the nasty noises a radio can induce in the radio equipment and audio systems.

My test would be - is a safety stop likely to be called? If the answer is no, because there’s nothing that can hurt people, then radios will do. If somebody is legally the person who will be prosecuted if something happens, then that person should NOT communicate essential stuff on the radio.

“Sorry your Honour, the battery went flat and they didn’t hear me say DO NOT do it”

Trust me, my job IS safety, not just a part of it.

I don’t consider safety regulations in my country as something to “bog” us down. I consider them a part of my job and a way to get everyone home safe at the end of every show.

I don’t want to derail this thread with a debate about duplex versus two-way radio because the OP already understands the limitations. He was asking about radios; I tried to help with information about radios.

We will have to agree to differ.

If it works for you that’s fine. In my world, radios that flash a light at you saying they are going to die imminently might get noticed, and maybe a beep could work, but these things get missed - it’s so common for battery regimes to get messed up. Yesterday a huge creature, on the end of a Jimmy Jim type crane on steroids failed at exactly the wrong time, because two people both swapped the batteries, thinking the other hadn’t. Despite trays saying charged - to be charged, sign off sheets and reminders. It happens. The Police have it happen often, picking up a radio only just put on the charger and finding it died ten minutes into the shift. As I said, expensive, professional radios have a fatal flaw - batteries and human nature. Sure - you can call for a new one.

Here, I would not for these reasons, accept radios as adequate for safety reasons in my production for key safety use, just as backup. I NEED the person in charge to be able to talk whenever he wishes, irrespective of somebody trying to get in touch with wardrobe, or front of house - and sometimes these people may be quite slow in getting their messages across. I’m fairly happy with a duplex system allowing radio traffic onto the comms circuit, as long as the people listening can always here the one key person. So simplex is out on safety grounds for me. We were talking about theatre, so I’m sure your film set is fine - it has to rely on radio because cables are not an option - but it’s just the notion of a system that directs everyone, no matter their need or status to the main operating channel I have issues with - this to me just allows everyone to hear everything, when they rarely need to. I am not inferring your film set isn’t safe, but I bet that if you were dealing with perhaps a pyro team on SFX that you would not want their activities interrupted by a wardrobe person looking for a lost hat - because that is what we get in theatre. lots and lots of trivial stuff clogging the system up.

Communications system need to be fit for purpose, that is all, and my view is clear. Radios are a potential problem for all sorts of reasons. If you remove the safety aspect from the question, then it’s less of an issue - maybe the show could get messed up a little, but it might not matter for some circumstances. That’s fine - but we don’t do productions that way. Radios are for where mobility and no wires are critical. Cables are preferred for all use where mobility isn’t as important. That’s it.

Safety in the UK is heavily monitored and legislated for, and the courts don’t accept cost as a good reason for poor safety. However, performance of wired systems is simply a million times better than radios, of almost any cost!

Obviously, you didn’t read anything I said.

If you think a radio flashes a light or makes a beep that one could overlook, then you have no experience with professional walkies.

We use a combination of a working channel, a common channel and individual department channels. They work the same across North America AND in the UK on film sets. You have never been on a film set and if theatres in your area cling to some archaic wired system and you like it that way, then stick with it.

We use modern technology to work more efficiently and keep people safe. There is no way we could work in film OR theatre and be tied into XLR cables dangling all over the backstage area. I am surprised they allow all these loose cables in your country. Here, they would be an extreme tripping hazard, not to mention it takes away my ability to move quickly from wing to wing when I need to. (And, no, I don’t work with pyro.)

So that leaves me wondering why you are even here. This is a forum for two-way radios; a person was asking for advice on two-way radios; I gave advice on two-way radios plus some suggestions on how to make them work. You choose to label this advice as “stupidity” and accuse us of behaving in an unsafe manner. Trust me; I take the safety of my friends and colleagues VERY seriously, and I resent the implication. If I thought they would be safer using a wired system, we would be using it. We don’t.

In Canada, we don’t look at workplace safety and health regulations as onerous or as “bogging” us down. We look at them as keeping us all safe so we get to go to work every day doing the job we love to do, and going home safe every night to our families.

I have been working in the professional radio industry since 1984, and the theatre industry specifically since 1990. When a client asks me this question - which radio should I use in theatres, I always give this answer.

As I said - we must disagree, but I take exception at your distortion of the facts, and that because this is a two way radio forum, the answer must be a radio, when in this case, I simply disagree. Radios in amateur shows, and low budget institutions may HAVE to be radio, because of price, and I understand that - but they are not the best tool for the job. Indeed - before any two way radio is taken into a stage area on Broadway or the West End in London - two of the busiest radio environments in the two continents - the sound department will conduct extensive tests to make sure they do not reduce the performance of the show radio mic systems - which they can easily do, and is, sadly, quite common.

You introduced your world - film - into the topic. Film is clearly a different animal.

Also your interpretation of safety, would need a sever alteration in theatre if comms traffic is general rather than specific. My Health and Safety package for the current production has more pages in it than the script so please don’t lecture me on my attitude to safety. Mine says in black and white that potentially dangerous activities must not be cued by radio. I think me show records show at least three occasions when a flying bar was emergency halted because somebody was in the way. Tell me how radios would deal with that one and I will shut up! When somebody says STOP, that is a safety critical message, and not one that can wait while users faff around asking about shoes!

As for your statement on beeps and lights then my experience of radios must be more than yours, because a warning beep when the battery is failing is quite common, and the lack of a red light a pretty useful thing - apart from the obvious displays that you can’t read when in your pocket.

The OP mentioned theater - you clearly have NO understanding about how theatres operate. You will find cables all over the place, and while inconvenient, when managed they are not a hazard, enable easier use - a key feature with full duplex, and are much more reliable.

I really have no interest in film sets. I do work in TV quite a lot, and they are radio based, semi-duplex for talkback. What they do in TV is totally different from theatre. Their needs, like your film sets, are different.

As for pyro - it’s another risk, and the people working it in theatre are the same people we’re talking about - so cables are the primary system.

You can resent to your hearts content - I frankly feel you are commenting about things you clearly have not experienced if you think film and theatre work the same way.

Don’t get wound up - just have a walk to your local theatre that seats maybe 600 plus. I bet their stage manager will be talking to LX, Sound, spots on wires, with perhaps a radio to talk to the front of house people for clearance purposes.

Why do clearcom make their products if a bunch of radios are as good?

I am simply stating this as I have seen it in use in the UK for more years than I can remember. I have never, ever, moved into a theatre with a show and found ONLY radios. Indeed, if this was mentioned by a venue in advance, we would provide a hired in wired system.

Radios are simply the wrong tool sometimes, pretending they are some kind of placebo is wrong.

I have never said YOU are unsafe. Perhaps some working practices in your country are different from ours - but safety is our main concern here, and it’s heavily regulated. This of course means it is a complete pain, takes hours and causes much grief and I hate that part of my job. It must be done though. Complying with safety legislation is hard work. I thought North America was actually pretty much the same as us.

In fact, I believe that Show Stops are called more in the US than here.

Interestingly, a couple of full duplex radio systems have been tried here , and died. Battery capacity was a problem, and dropout the main ones. Too expensive and not good enough to be taken up. Clearcom, your side, have one I believe, but I hear that suffers in the same way. It’s also very expensive.

Have a great christmas and may your dropouts be small ones!?

I know radios will not work in most theatres. The OP understands that too. We get it. You work in 600-seat venues. I work in 2000-seat venues. But the OP is doing small community theatre where their entire budget for the year is less than my daily rate on one show.

As I said - we will have to differ on our opinions. I’m perfectly content to run a show on a pair of dirt cheap license free handhelds, if the production requirements consist of maybe “can we start?” - “yes”. The question that is repeatedly asked is if radios are appropriate to control theatre, and the answer is always ‘sometimes’.

A Motorola handy, for example can be three times the cost of a wired station - they’re really not that expensive, unless you want to risk license free.

What can I say, apart from my own experience? I do realise the OP wants to use radios. Lots of people do, and my entire point is that they’re just not the ideal tool for so many reasons.
One of their requirements was:

[quote]The biggest requirements are good sound quality that will carry whispers without being obscured by static and responsiveness[\quote]
Digital radios have pretty odd audio compared to analogue FM, and of course a small degree of latency, but that’s not really an issue - as the delay is very small. The processing of whispers or just quiet speech on digital is not that hot - so if you go radio, I’d suggest NOT going digital. Indeed, using a time, rather than frequency can be a problem - TDMA up close to audio systems can induce a nasty fluttering noise - rather than just a single thump when you press the PTT on analogue. Worth thinking about.

Yes, along with those fluttering noises you are familiar with, early digital radios also suffered from a problem where the digital signal got confused when transmitting beside very loud running machinery. They just broke apart into mush. This is why many fire departments who made early forays into digital radios had to revert back to analog until the technology improved.

Even today, I would be reluctant to use digital in high ambient noise areas unless using a good headset and noise-cancelling mic.

Thankfully, both the Motorola DTR and DLR series use adjustable mic gain to increase mic sensitivity in low ambient noise areas to better hear whispers, and reduce mic sensitivity for high noise areas. (The DTR can even set microphone sensitivity for the onboard mic AND the headset mic independently - LOW for hearing whispers in low noise environments, MEDIUM for most uses, and HIGH for high wind or high noise environments.)