How unscripted audio is recorded on Below Deck: “it has to be right the first time”

Rental house RGear explains that when it comes to reality TV, Lectrosonics is the only solution to guarantee plain sailing…

Since 2006, RGear has made a name for itself as the supplier of audio and visual equipment to the reality television industry. At first glance, the clients page of the company’s website could be mistaken for a streaming service devoted to the genre, boasting household franchises including The Bachelor, Real Housewives and Top Chef.

Another big fish is Below Deck and its spinoffs, in which camera crews follow the crews of chartered superyachts and the affluent, often high-maintenance customers who book them. Robert “Bobby” Brehmer is the audio supervisor for the entire brand.

He and his mixing staff are currently employing Lectrosonics’ latest generation of all-digital wideband wireless, collectively known as the D2 line. The DBSMD is the transmitter of choice, with DCR822 receivers filling roving audio bags and four-channel DSQD receivers feeding master control. DHCT and DCHR pairings send reference mixes to cameras.

Brehmer and RGear co-owner Gregg Kita shared how Lectrosonics helps them rise to the unique challenges of making reality-at-sea:

“Reality TV is very different than doing anything scripted, the way the story can change on a dime and how the crew has to follow that,” explains Kita. “Though you can mix and process audio in post, you typically can’t call talent in to re-record dialogue. So, it has to be right the first time. Lectrosonics met this need from the very beginning — I’ve been using it for probably 30 years on reality series.”

One of many factors that sets some reality shows apart from fictional drama or comedy is the sheer number of cast members.

"Casts are often very large," nods Kita, "often 25 to 30 members. Of course, they're not usually all together at the same time. On the yacht(s), Bobby has around 30 receivers going at once -- several DSQD receivers in a 'control room' with him and an elaborate antenna system around the boat to get coverage for the majority of the entire yacht.

“For the ENG mixers running around with each camera and mixing only what their camera is shooting, it isn't practical for them to have that many receivers in their audio bag. The DCR 822 is ideal because it has two channels; so, they carry eight channels around (four dual DCR 822s) and rely on the party dial feature in the DCR 822."

“One cool thing about the DCR822 is that you can have a person’s name show up on the channel,” adds Brehmer. “So, we don’t need to remember that so-and-so is on 500.125, for example. We can just dial them up by name.”

the story can change on a dime and the crew has to follow that; you can’t call talent in to re-record dialogue.

Another pitfall: film sets are stationary, but a traveling vessel will likely encounter ever-changing RF environments.

“The yacht might come into a port where there are new digital transmission towers for broadcast or 5G,” notes Kita. “That means we must be very agile and quick about switching to new frequency plots, but holding onto whatever is still working in order to interrupt the story flow as little as possible.”

For this task, Brehmer keeps a laptop running Wireless Designer at arm’s reach. “Wireless Designer is now my primary intermod coordinator,” he says. “It’s very consistent and has become the straight go-to for us.”

Brehmer also notes that given the potential for electromagnetic interference from maritime communications and navigation equipment, not to mention the RF jammers some yacht owners deploy as a privacy measure, “the wideband ability of the DCR822 and DBSMD is just a game-changer. [It covers] the full legal RF spectrum and can squeeze more usable channels into a given bandwidth. Like all the Lectro stuff that came before, they’re consistently easy to use, durable, and sound fantastic.”

“I listen to feedback from Bobby and all the other mixers who work with us, and everyone is giving us the thumbs-up on this newest digital gear,” adds Kita. “I’ve already moved one of our other shows, Bar Rescue, to it. We’ll definitely recommend Lectrosonics for more shows. There’s no better solution for the world of reality television,” he asserts.

There’s no better solution for the world of reality television.