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Band on the Run: What the FCC's 700MHz Ban Means to Wireless Mic Users
Posted May 31, 2010 Print Version     Page 1of 1
  

Band on the RunAs part of the digital television transition that started last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allocated frequencies to public safety organizations and broadband providers. That spectrum includes the 700MHz band where many UHF microphones transmit. If your wireless mics operate on any frequencies between 698MHz and 806MHz, you may be breaking the law. This frequency range includes the newly defined public safety channels: TV 63, 64, 68, and 69. It’s not that the FCC is going to stake you out and swoop in on you in the midst of a wedding. The concern that videographers have is that instead of hearing the bride and groom stating, “I do,” your mic may pick up a nearby police dispatcher saying, “We have a 5150 in progress.” Wireless systems purchased in the past year or so are probably safe; the mic manufacturers had ample warning to switch their frequencies. However, if you bought your mics before January 2009, it is best to check their frequencies. Even frequency-agile mics may not operate with any other frequencies than those in the outlawed 700MHz band. Look in the battery compartment of the transmitter and receiver for the frequency or channel designation. Below is a link to the FCC that lists mic models by manufacturer.


Event videographers usually have two or three lavaliere (clip-on) mics and one handheld. The lavs go on the officiant, on the groom, and on the reading podium. A bodypack transmitter can connect to the DJ’s board to get a direct feed. A handheld RF (radio frequency) mic enables interviews, or it serves as a backup for those times when you need to aim a mic at the DJ’s speakers. The receivers need to be portable, camera-mounted systems. UHF band is preferred because, in many cases, the DJ or the church has a VHS system. Videographers like to use UHF so there is less chance of interference. Diversity systems help prevent dropouts, which is crucial for recordings that cannot be repeated. Frequency-agile systems let you select a frequency to avoid interference with the DJ’s mic or the PA system in the church.

Videographers don’t plan on upgrading microphones or audio gear—not nearly as frequently as they do cameras and computers. Audio equipment doesn’t have compatibility issues, and many videographers have invested in good wireless mic systems thinking they would last for many years to come. Unfortunately, many of those systems will soon be sent to the recycling center. For current and future system purchases, videographers need to select transmitters and receivers at frequency bands TV channel 51 and below, which are located in the core television band (UHF frequencies 470MHz–698MHz). These frequencies are not slated for allocation, nor has this even been proposed. Nearly all the wireless mic manufacturers now offer transmitters and receivers in this band. Be cautious about purchasing any used wireless mic systems in the 700MHz band; make certain they operate in the 470MHz–698MHz range.

Videographers are not the only ones who will be affected. Churches and live event venues stand to lose the use of their mics too. Faced with having to spend many thousands of dollars to replace their mic systems, a cadre of Broadway theater owners formed The Coalition of Wireless Microphone Users. They sent a formal petition to the FCC explaining that they use wireless mics only for a few hours rather than 24/7. Their reasoning was that performances and churches could be granted an exception to the ruling. That was a year ago, and the FCC has yet to change its position.

The FCC’s Position on the 700MHz Band
The FCC says that using microphones in the 700MHz band “could be extremely dangerous and could even be life threatening.” The commission warns of criminal penalties for violation of this law. It gave wireless microphone users 15 months from the originally scheduled transition to DTV, and even with last year’s 3-month extension for broadcasters to complete the transition, it was still a full year’s notice. As of press time (late April), no extension was offered for wireless mic users.

We spoke with Matthew Nodine, the FCC’s chief of staff for its wireless telecommunications bureau. He said that the new regulations prohibit anyone from buying or selling wireless mics operating in the 700MHz band. While the ban on the use of 700MHz wireless systems goes into effect June 12, 2010, the ban on sales took effect Jan. 15, 2010. This ban is not limited to manufacturers; anyone reselling a used transmitter that operates in the band is breaking the law. When asked what penalties are levied for a videographer who continues to use his or her 700MHz wireless mic system after the June 12 cutoff, Nodine said these will be handled on a case-by-case basis. If a videographer’s mic interferes with an emergency vehicle and the interference results in a death, it would be considered a very serious case.

Nodine said that the FCC reached out to organizations that use wireless devices operating in this spectrum and asked for public comments. However, he could not confirm that WEVA (Wedding & Event Videographers Association) was one of the organizations contacted. We checked WEVA’s website and found that the association’s John Zale had posted a notice in February 2009 about the spectrum reallocation. As part of that post, Zale included information on manufacturers’ trade-in programs.

When asked if videographers who purchase new mic systems in the 500MHz or 600MHz bands need to worry about another spectrum allocation, Nodine said nothing was planned for the near future. He added that the FCC accepts written comments from anyone. “We read all of these.” Videographers may send their comments to the FCC at fccinfo@fcc.gov. You can download a PDF that explains the transition program and provides a link to the list of microphones that operate in the illegal band. The FCC has a FAQ as well as a telephone number to call to help you determine if your mic is one that is affected. The website also includes links to websites that may recycle your electronics. Recycling electronic equipment recovers valuable materials from the circuit boards, metal wiring, leaded glass, and plastics. The FCC’s page with contact information from wireless microphone manufacturers can be found here.

FCC Page on Frequency Ban

The Manufacturers’ Position
It is hard to think of tossing a $1,000 mic system into the recycling bin. So most manufacturers offer a rebate program. The plan is for affected mic owners to purchase a new system and to send their old transmitters and receivers to the manufacturer. They then issue a rebate check; the amount of the check is dependent on the model of the system you purchased and what you returned. Some manufacturers will give you a rebate for the return of a competitor’s brand of microphone if you purchase a new one from them.

Most of the wireless microphone manufacturers are offering rebates if you purchase a new system and send in your old transmitter and receiver. You don’t need to send in removable lavaliere mics, but handhelds with integrated transmitters need to be traded in.

The rebates range from $30 to $1,000 depending on the model of equipment you have and what you want to buy. Some prescient videographers purchased one of the few wireless transmitters and receivers made with the capability of changing frequencies. The rest of us are stuck with obsolete systems. Unfortunately, the rebate programs of several manufacturers were due to expire before June 2010, although some (such as Shure’s) have been extended through the month of June.

We spoke with Audio-Technica’s director of educational service, Steve Savanyu, who said that Audio-Technica ceased making wireless systems in the 700MHz band more than 6 years ago and stopped selling them more than 3 years ago. The company currently has systems in the 500MHz and 600MHz band, such as the ATW-1813 with 996 frequencies. The complete system includes ATW-R1810 single-channel receiver, ATW-T1801 UniPak bodypack transmitter, ATW-T1802 plug-on transmitter, and a lavaliere microphone. Even with the latest generation reliability of wireless mics, Savanyu suggests that event videographers, who have no option of doing a retake, carry along a 50' mic cable. You’ll need an inline power module such as the AT8538, which sells for less than $100.

Audio-Technica's 1800 series

You can find Audio-Technica’s site with info about the transition here. Rebates are 15% off AT products purchased and AT products sent in, and 5% off competitors’ products sent in. The rebate program lasts until Sept. 30, 2010. Sennheiser’s rebate, like Shure’s, expires June 30, 2010. The manufacturer is able to modify the frequencies or a small number of transmitter and receiver models. For information on Sennheiser’s program, click here.

Sennheiser EW112-G3 wireless bodypack

Until June 30, Shure offers rebates as high as $1,000 if you purchase a UR14D or UR24D/SM58 mic combo and return a Shure system. The top rebate for returning another manufacturer’s system is $600. While many rebates hover in the $100–$200 range, the rebate for the purchase of a PGX14 or PGX24 with SM58 mic is only $40. You can download the Shure rebate form here.

Shure 700MHz wireless trade-in program

Samson offers a free replacement for any 700MHz band mics purchased after Aug. 1, 2009; for purchases made between Feb. 1, 2009, and July 31, 2009, the company offers a replacement model for $150. The rebate program for customers who purchased their systems prior to February ended May 31, 2010. As of press time, Samson had made no announcement to extend the program. Its website is www.samsontech.com.

Sony posted this on its digital transition website: “Sony customers with WL-800 Series ‘B’ suffix models who want to modify their existing channels 62/64 or channels 66/68 wireless systems to operate on alternative channels 30/32 or channels 42/44 (on a charge basis) can contact Sony Service in Teaneck N.J. (201-833-5300) to inquire. Sony customers with previous UWP Series systems operating on channels 62/64 or channels 66/68 should consider replacing their wireless systems with new UWP systems that operate in channels 30/32 or channels 42/44.” You can find the Sony transition site here.

Sony Pro Audio DTV Transition page

Lectrosonics may be able to convert some systems to the new frequencies. If not, the transmitters and receivers may be exchanged for new models “at heavily discounted costs subsidized by the factory.” You can read Lectrosonics’ “consumer alert” here.

We couldn’t find anything on Azden’s website (www.azdencorp.com) about the transition, but you can call the company at (516) 328-7500.

AKG has a section on its website explaining the transition; you can contact the company directly for information on rebates. Read more about AKG’s stance here or contact the company directly at (818) 920-3275.

Nady manufactures VHF portable wireless microphone systems such as the WHT Handheld Microphone Transmitter, which operates on a separate single frequency in the VHF 170MHz–216MHz band. It also makes the VHF WLT/WGT Bodypack Transmitter and the DKW-1 mini portable receiver. Nady describes the steps it has taken to ensure FCC compliance here.

Buyers' Guide to FCC-Compliant Portable RF Systems
This is just a sampling of systems that include a bodypack transmitter and a camera-mounted receiver that operate in allowed frequencies. The clip-on mic element is not necessarily included; by and large, lavs are interchangeable. Handheld transmitters that attach to a standard mic and handheld mic-transmitters are included. This list is not exhaustive; check with the manufacturers for new models of transmitters and receivers.

AKG DPT 700 Digital Bodypack Transmitter for DMS 700 Wireless System
• Dimensions 3.3" x 2.5" x 0.86"
• Price: $995

AKG PT 4500 Wireless Bodypack Transmitter
• 1,200 selectable frequencies
• Up to 50mW RF output
• Backlit display
• Uses AA batteries
• Works with WMS 4500 system
• Price: $599

AKG PT 450 Bodypack Transmitter for AKG WMS450 Wireless System
• Band 1/680.200MHz–710.00MHz
• Price: $249

Audio-Technica ATW-1811 Single-Channel Receiver
• Includes: ATW-T1801 UniPak bodypack transmitter and a   lavaliere microphone
• 996 auto-scanning frequencies, simultaneous operation of up to 10 systems
• UHF Band D: 655.500MHz–680.375MHz
• Price: $499

Audio-Technica ATW-1813D Portable Wireless Microphone Combo System
• Includes: ATW-R1810 receiver, ATW-T1802 plug-in transmitter, • ATW-T1802 bodypack, and lavaliere microphone
• UHF Band D: 655.500MHz–680.375 MHz
• 996 channels
• Price: $697

Audio-Technica ATW-1823
• Includes: ATW-R1820 dual-channel receiver, ATW-T1801 UniPak bodypack transmitter, ATW-T1802 plug-on transmitter, and a lavaliere microphone
• Price: $1,795

Audio-Technica ATW-T310 UniPak Transmitter for ATW-3110 Wireless Microphone System

• Uses 2 AA battery power
• Mic/line input connection
• Band C: 541.500MHz–566.375MHz
• Price: $196

Audio-Technica AEW-T1000 Wireless UniPak Transmitter
• For AEW single and dual receivers
• Accepts line- and mic-level signals
• Band C: 541.500MHz–566.375MHz
• Price: $419

Audio-Technica ATW-T702 Wireless Handheld Transmitter
• Price: $162.50

Audio-Technica AEW-T4100 Cardioid Handheld Microphone Transmitter
• For 5000 Series Wireless
• Cardioid polar pattern
• IntelliScan frequency detection
• Band C: 541.500MHz–566.375MHz
• Price: $439

Audio-Technica AEW-T3300 Handheld Transmitter

• For 5000 Series Wireless
• Cardioid polar pattern
• Uses 2 AA batteries
• IntelliScan frequency detection
• Band C: 541.500MHz–566.375MHz
• Price: $619

Azden 105ULH—105 Series UHF Wireless Microphone Combo System
• 105UPR receiver
• 15BT belt-pack transmitter
• EX-305 lavaliere microphone
• 15HT handheld transmitter
• RF carrier frequency range
• 566.25MHz–589.75MHz
• Price $399

Azden 325ULH Dual-Channel Portable Wireless Microphone Combo System
• 325UPR dual-channel receiver
• 35HT handheld and 35BT belt-pack transmitters
• EX-503 lavaliere dual-channel UHF portable
• RF carrier frequency range
• 566.125MHz–589.875MHz
• Price: $799

Azden 1200 Series Slot-In Portable Wireless Lavaliere Microphone System
• 1200BT belt-pack transmitter
• Azden EX-503 lavaliere microphone
• 638.125MHz–661.875MHz
• 188 channels
• Price: $995

Azden 1200BT Belt-Pack Transmitter for 1200 Series Receivers

• 188 DTV-compliant frequencies
• Multifunction LCD
• Price: $299

Azden 35HT UHF Handheld Microphone (566.125MHz–589.875MHz)

• Digital LCD display
• 188 selectable frequencies
• Uses 2 AA batteries
• Price: $229

Electro-Voice REV-BP Bodypack Transmitter for REV Series Wireless Microphone System

• C2 Band: 650MHz–674MHz/TV channels 44–47
• 950 possible frequencies; programmable in 25kHz steps
• Price : $556

Electro-Voice HTU2D-267 Handheld Transmitter With N/D267 Microphone Head
• 1,122 possible frequencies; programmable in 25kHz steps
• Price: $199

Lectrosonics 100 Series UHF Portable Receiver

• Frequency block 22
• 256 selectable frequencies over a 25.6MHz band
• UCR100 UHF frequency-agile receiver
• RF carrier frequency range
• 537.6MHz–608MHz, 614MHz–793.5MHz (in 10 blocks)
• Price: $514.95

Lectrosonics LMa Frequency-Agile Digital Hybrid UHF Belt-Pack Transmitter
• Digital Hybrid Wireless technology
• No compander noise
• Servo bias audio input
• 256 frequencies
• 200, 100, and IFB series-compatible
• Frequency block 20
• Price: $649

Lectrosonics VRS Receiver and LM Transmitter With M152 for Venue System (Frequency Block 19)
• 256 Selectable Frequencies
• Both transmitter and receiver offer 256 selectable UHF frequencies over a 25.6MHz range
• Price: $1,095

Lectrosonics SMa Sub-Miniature Microphone Transmitter
• Sub-miniature design
• Digital Hybrid Wireless technology
• Frequency block 21
• Dimensions: 2.3" x 1.8" x 0.64"
• Price: $1,129

Lectrosonics 400 Series Wireless Lavaliere Microphone System

• UCR411 camera-mountable receiver
• LMa belt-pack transmitter
• M152 lavaliere microphone
• Frequency block 20
• 256 frequencies
• Price: $2,501

Lectrosonics 400 Series Wireless UHF Lavaliere System

• UCR401 portable receiver
• LM Digital Hybrid Wireless transmitter
• M152 omnidirectional lavaliere mic
• Frequency block 20
• Price: $2,056

Lectrosonics 100 Series Wireless UHF Lavaliere Microphone System
• M152 lavaliere mic
• RF carrier frequency range 537.6MHz–608MHz
• Price: $1,260

Lectrosonics 400 Series Wireless Lavaliere Microphone System
• UCR411 portable receiver
• MM400 watertight transmitter 3.03" x 2" x 0.69"
• M152 omnidirectional lavaliere
• Frequency block 20
• Price: $2,837

Samson UM1 Portable Wireless Lavaliere Microphone System

• CT7 bodypack transmitter
• UM1 UHF diversity receiver
• LM10 Lavaliere microphone
• Price: $219

Sennheiser EW112-p G3 Camera-Mount Wireless Microphone System With ME2 Lavaliere Mic
• Band A: 516MHz–558MHz frequency
• EK 100 G3 portable UHF receiver
• SK 100 G3 bodypack transmitter
• ME2 omni lavaliere
• 42MHz bandwidth
• 1,680 tunable UHF frequencies
• 12 compatible frequencies per bank
• Price: $599.99

Sennheiser ENG Package 1 (G: 626MHz–668MHz)

• EK 2000 receiver
• SK 2000 bodypack transmitter
• SKP 2000 plug-on transmitter
• Synchronize frequencies via infrared
• True diversity technology
• Four output power settings
• Mic- or line-level input on transmitters
• Price: $2,497

Sony WCS-999 Camera-Mountable 900MHz Lavaliere Microphone System

• Single-channel
• RF carrier frequency range
• 912MHz–915MHz
• Mixed user reviews, mostly negative
• Price: $101.99

Sony UWP-V1 Wireless Lavaliere Microphone Package (30/32; 566MHz–590MHz)
• UTX-B2V belt-pack transmitter
• Omnidirectional lavaliere microphone
• URX-P2 portable receiver
• Selectable mic/line input
• Price: $525

Sony UWP-V6 Wireless Plug-In and Lavaliere Microphone Package (42/55; 638MHz–662MHz)

• UTX-P1 plug-in transmitter
• UTX-B2 bodypack transmitter
• Lavaliere microphone
• URX-P2 portable receiver
• Selectable mic/line input
• Price: $730

Stuart Sweetow (sweetow at avconsultants.com) runs Oakland, Calif.-based video production company Audio Visual Consultants. He taught video production at UC Berkeley Extension, was associate editor of Wedding and Event Videography, and was a contributing editor to Camcorder & Computer Video magazine.
 

Learn more about the companies mentioned in this article in the EventDV Videographer's Guide:
Audio-Technica U.S., Inc.
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