ATK AudioTek specializes in setting up the house audio for television broadcast events. They’ve supplied audio production services for the last nine Super Bowls, the Grammy Awards, the Miss America Pageant and many other events, including the opening and closing ceremonies for the Atlanta and Salt Lake City Olympics.
“When you’re programming the consoles for these shows, you do a good amount of typing,” Powell says. “The wireless keyboard gives the engineer a lot of flexibility. He can have his keyboard sitting on his road case or in his lap during setup and rehearsals.”
For an ATK show, even tasks as simple as labeling inputs and outputs can loom large. “In a show like the Grammies,” Powell says, “where you’ve got 20 different bands playing, you’ve got 20 different console setups. You have to be able to recall the screens you need and have the labels on all the faders pop up correctly, so you know where all the inputs and outputs are.” Of course at the Grammies, ATK uses four of the large PM1D consoles, so multiply the effort accordingly and you’ll see why a good keyboard is more than a convenience.
Powell says he chose his keyboards largely because of their size. “We have about 20 Yamaha consoles,” he says, “and we package each one individually with its keyboard, cables and other necessary equipment.” The Wireless Computing RF-220 has an unusually small footprint - it’s about half the size, Powell says, of the comparable Microsoft product. “The cool thing about this is that the typing keys are full size but the ancillary keys like the shift keys and arrow keys are smaller. This makes the keyboard easier to use on shows.”
Jimmy Redondo, operations supervisor at Wireless Computing, says that there are actually a number of other reasons why the RF-220 was a good choice for ATK. “One of its biggest advantages is two way communications,” he explains. “With most wireless keyboards, the transmitter sends a character and you just kind of hope that the computer receives it. But if there's any kind of RF interference, which there certainly is on a show floor, characters drop out. When you press a key on our keyboard, it sends the keystroke and then the receiver quickly replies that it got it. If the acknowledgement doesn’t come through, the keyboard can send that same keystroke up to ten times in a millisecond. I think we're the only ones that do that.”
Powell says he did have some initial problems with the interface between the keyboards and the Yamaha input ports. “Since Yamaha uses 100% proprietary software, there were some quirky things about their PS/2 ports,” he explains. Powell called Wireless Computing’s tech support, and they were able to send their VP of engineering, Charles Wilson, to Valencia to reprogram the firmware on their receivers.
“The difficulty,” says Wilson, “was that Yamaha didn't use off-the-shelf PS/2 mechanisms. I had to go in, look at them, then adjust the code on our receiver to accommodate the consoles' quirks.” Wilson was able to make a firmware change for all of the company's PS/2 receivers, so that ATK does not have to order a special version to work with the Yamaha systems. “The receiver now has some code it in it that lets it know that when it’s working with a Yamaha console, it has to make allowances for the peculiarities of its implementation of PS/2. Although the new firmware goes into all of our PS/2 receivers, the changes only go into effect when it sees that particular device, so it doesn't impact anybody else.”
“Wireless was very gracious in sending Charles out to do this for us,” says Powell. “We keep using them and keep directing other people who have these same consoles to them. We’ve had a lot of guest engineers on these award shows tell us they really like these keyboards. It’s kind of funny, but a lot of times we really don’t think about why is this working. It works, great. Let’s go. We've got so many other things on our minds.”