Camera crews gather days before the opening of the 2012 Republican National Convention to participate in RF War Games. Photo: Kevin Parrish.
Next up for Louis Libin and the other TV engineers coordinating frequency use at this year’s Democratic and Republican political conventions is a pair of what’s dubbed RF War Games — highly organized, methodical tests designed to track down and correct any source of harmful interference before each event begins.
“The RF War Games are a very, very important because they give us confidence that we understand what is going on inside the building and that there are no surprises,” says Libin, who has served as the top frequency coordinator at the political conventions for at least the past five presidential cycles.
For broadcasters, the games also provide an opportunity to make sure they have built out their wireless networks correctly and are not experiencing any interference.
The RF War Games are staged on the floor of each venue on two separate days leading up to each convention.
Typcially, three days before each convention all of the RF systems are brought online in a highly staged, systematic fashion to allow frequency coordinators to identify sources of interference, Libin says.
“We try to start with only the continuous systems on, meaning the IFBs, for example,” he explains. “Slowly we bring up wireless mics in the VHF, and then we bring in the lower UHF and then the upper UHF.
“And once those all sound clear, we have them turn on their communications, and then we have them turn on their microwave video,” he says.
The approach makes it easier to find an offending RF needle in the massive haystack.
Then one day before each convention the process is repeated to make sure that steps taken to correct any problems actually worked, Libin says.
Often the tests reveal the source of interference to be something other than broadcast equipment.
For instance, at the 2012 Republican National Convention venue in Tampa, Fla., a noisy lighting ballast in the convention hall generated wideband noise across some of the UHF and microwave spectrum to be used by broadcasters, Libin says.
“It seems like there is always a problem at the venues.”
And the RF War Games give Libin and the other frequency coordinators a chance to get on top of it before the conventions open their doors.