Stage to soundbooth - weekend band use

Hello there,

I play in a weekend band (Classic Country Music). From time to time, we play at venues that have a sound booth at the back of the venue. Typically, the sound guy has some type of “fold back” where he can speak to the stage through the monitors on stage. Generally speaking, we can’t understand a thing he says.

I am interested in acquiring a set of radios with the following features:

  1. the stage managers radio will use a headset that is capable of being heard through the loud sound of the band on stage. Even with no musicians playing, there is quite a bit of noise on stage due to to the monitors and people in the hall. A single earmuff and mic would be ideal. That way, he could also speak with the musicians without removing the headset.
  2. The stage manager and sound booth radios should have a push-to-talk, preferably on the earmuff. VOX is likely a bad idea in this environment.
  3. Both the sound booth and stage managers radios needs to support some type of “tone/light call” feature so they can get each others attention. This would be handy once the show starts and they might have their headsets removed.

The usual stuff like desk chargers and belt clips will be required.

I would prefer to not use FRS radios. I don’t mind getting a license if necessary. However I am already a licensed ham (AD5YY) and also have a FCC GROL (the new term for the First Class Radio Telephone license).

The most important issue is ample and clear volume to be heard. There is a LOT of background noise when setting up a stage for a live band. I already have a set of ICOM F4S radios with headsets, but they can’t overcome the ambient noise levels.

Thanks for your input.

Ben Price
San Antonio

Yes you are quite correct. Trying to use recreational radios in a high-noise professional environment would be akin to entering your family’s minivan in the Daytona 500.

Most FRS radios do not have enough audio output to drive professional-level headsets with the characteristics you desire. In fact, some business-class radios don’t have enough output to provide clear speech at high volume levels.

You will also run into two other problems. Users will invariably have their hands full just at the moment they need to communicate. Plus, when INSTANT communication is critical (for example, sound and light cues) someone else will be tying up the channel. This is why stage professionals don’t normally use simplex two-way radios for communication.

You will just not be happy with the performance of any cheaper options. This is why professionals use full-duplex wireless intercom systems, with a base unit, belt packs and matched single-ear or dual-ear headsets.

In order of increasing cost, here are some options.

#1 - Forget the over-the-ear style headset. They will not punch through high ambient noise. Try some high quality one-wire or two-wire surveillance headsets that will work well with your chosen radios. They come with an acoustic tube that puts the sound within your ear canal. Good quality headsets will give you good volume plus readability.

Surveillance headsets come with an ear tube inserted in an ear plug that closes off the ear canal. In low noise environments such as film sets, we normally toss out the plug and replace it with an ear mould, sized to fit inside the outer ear. This allows us to hear voices and ambient noise. But in your case, I would suggest you stick with the ear plug that blocks off the ear canal.

#2 - Good quality around-the-ear full earcup headsets can be matched to good business-class two-way radios. You can try a high quality single-earmuff style headset and boom mic. This leaves one ear free for communication to someone beside you, or in very high noise environments, you can insert a good earplug into the free side. It also leaves one side of your head free for working with gear, especially video equipment.

You will need to test your radio with the headsets to see if they will be suitable. If you go this direction, expect to spend some money and get some good advice from experts (such as our forum hosts) before you buy anything. Explain exactly what you want them for.

#3 - Stage professionals normally use a full-duplex wireless intercom system. This allows people to talk and listen at the same time and are designed for exactly those environments. There are some less expensive full-duplex wireless systems on the market now where all the gear is contained within the headsets themselves, but they are sometimes more limited in their audio quality and range. Top quality systems such as Telex use a central wireless base station/mixer and headsets wired to belt packs for full-duplex (everyone can speak at the same time) communication. Some of the newer systems work on the 2.4 GHz licence-free band.

The reality is there is no cheap way to accomplish this.

Chickenhawk: Thank you for your input.

As a quick clarification -

  1. In my case, the stage is not a stage in the theater sense of the word, but a bandstand.
  2. There will only be 2 radios required. One for me, as I will be on the bandstand assisting with setting the monitor sound levels and mix, and one for the person in the sound booth, which is located at the back of the venue.
  3. Once the sound check (specifically the monitor mix check) is complete, there won’t be a need for continued communication between me and the sound booth guy. Unless something breaks on stage and we need to replace a mic or cable, which should be rare. That’s why a tone call or light call feature would be handy.
  4. Although I am one of the musicians in the band, I will be the person on the bandstand talking to the sound booth guy.

In the attached picture, you can see the bandstand in the background. The sound booth is in the foreground and on the left side of the picture. (I tried to embed the picture inline, but couldn’t figure out how to do it).

Sometimes I volunteer to help the sound guy at this particular venue when they are hosting a multi-band afternoon. In those situations, it’s good to get the next band on the bandstand and the monitor mix adjusted in a short period of time. I’m hoping the radios will greatly aid in these situations. Who knows, maybe the sound guy will like them so much that the venue will purchase a set.

Thanks to everyone for reading my post and submitting input.

That helps.

Why not just go with a GMRS (if licenced) or an FRS radio, with vibration call then? The one in the booth can be an open walkie and the one on your belt can go to a headset of your choice. Just make sure to test them together with the headset to make sure you can get the volume you need. When reading specs, focus on audio output.

You will have to contend with every kid within 5 miles interfering with your communications of course.

If you want to up the game into business-class radios, you go with the MURS radios or the Motorola DTR series. MURS is a shared band as well, but there are fewer radios out there, so you may be competing only with local drive-throughs and retail stores.

DTR is a licence-free UHF radio. No one can monitor or interfere unless they have another DTR radio, and even then, there are 1000 combinations of channels so they will be 100% private. They have high audio output to drive any headset on the market, and very clear digital communication. They are not cheap.

Have one two-way in the booth and one on your belt with your choice of headset.

You can also try a couple of cheap HAM handhelds. There are some coming to market now that are type-rated for MURS and FRS/GMRS channels.

If you only need two, then look at some of the cheaper full-duplex intercom systems. Everything is contained in the headset or headset and small beltpack (such as the Eartec) and you don’t need a base unit. They are full duplex as long as you only use two of them at once. They run around $400 or so.

Top quality professional full-duplex wireless intercom systems like the Telex can run around $1600 for a two-headset system.

Lots of choices. Hope this helps.