THE EMAIL BLAST from the head of my son and daughter’s theater group relayed a frantic plea: “We need to raise $16,000 before the upcoming spring performances,” Anya Wallach, the executive director of Random Farms Kids’ Theater, in Westchester, New York, wrote in late May. If the money didn’t materialize in time, she warned, there could be a serious problem with the shows: nobody would hear the actors.
Random Farms, and tens of thousands of other theater companies, schools, churches, broadcasters, and myriad other interests across the country, need to buy new wireless microphones. The majority of professional wireless audio gear in America is about to become obsolete, and illegal to operate. The story of how we got to this strange point involves politics, business, science, and, of course, money.
Four years ago, in an effort to bolster the country’s tech infrastructure, the FCC decreed that the portion of the radio spectrum used by most wireless mics would be better utilized for faster and more robust mobile broadband service. Now, as the telecom companies that won the rights to that spectrum begin to use it, the prior tenants are scrambling for new radio-frequency homes.
[…]Replacing them will not be cheap. Even small community or school theaters can use 30 or more microphones, which, including ancillary gear, can cost $1,000 or more apiece. “I’ll need to replace at least 24 mics, which will cost at least 24 grand,” says Brian Johnson, artistic director of the theater program at La Habra High School, in California. The Shakespeare Theatre Company, in Washington, DC, will spend $50,000 on new mics, says Tom Haygood, their director of production.[…]