If you have watched a Twins home game television broadcast over the last 18 years, an audio engineer from Thief River Falls, Minnesota, almost assuredly brought you the sounds of that game. Tveitbakk, known to his coworkers as “Tweeter” is a freelance audio engineer whose main gig today is for Bally Sports North. His job is to bring the sounds of Target Field (or the Xcel Energy Center, Target Center, or Mariucci Arena, to name a few) into your living room.
After moving to Minneapolis in 1994, Tveitbakk attended a technical school called Music Tech, where he learned about recording engineering and the ins and outs of being a live sound engineer that records bands.
“And then I found out quickly that a lot of bands don't make any money,” Tveitbakk said with a laugh.
So, he got into the production side of things instead. At the time, a company he was working for was building TV trucks for sporting events (like the one he works in today). Even though he had no previous experience with sports television, he made the switch and started as a broadcast “utility,” an entry-level jack of all trades on a production set. His first utility job was for a Monday Night Football broadcast. Because he had an audio background, he then learned to be an audio assistant or an “A2" (A2s assist the A1 audio engineer, Tveitbakk, in his current role). Then he learned how to mix sound for sports broadcasts, and he has been an A1 ever since. The first sporting event he mixed was a Gopher women’s basketball game in 2002. He mixed his first Twins game on May 8, 2003, at the Metrodome for the visiting Tampa Bay Devil Rays broadcast. He mixed his first Twins home broadcast in 2004.
Tveitbakk did not know about the world of sound mixing and sports broadcasting before he started.
"Just like a lot of people, you turn on your TV, and it magically appears on the screen, and you don't think about how it gets there," he said.
A day in the life
Tveitbakk and the other broadcast staff arrive at the stadium well in advance of first pitch- about six hours before the game- to start preparing for the day’s broadcast, and if they have to set up the truck and equipment, they arrive even earlier. Whether or not they have to set up depends on what happened the night before and the time of year.
The Bally Sports production truck, a 53” standard semi-trailer, is a “mobile production studio” that moves around to different sporting events. TV networks found out it is much more cost-efficient to roll the production studio to different arenas rather than install a permanent one in every stadium. This particular truck, which Bally Sports subcontracts from a company called Mobile Television Group, typically stays in the Twin Cities. April is both the truck and Tveitbakk’s busiest month because the NHL, NBA, and MLB are all happening concurrently. The truck might be at Target Field for a Twins day game, then pack up and move over to St. Paul for a Wild game the next day. But once the Wild and Timberwolves seasons end, the truck tends to sit at Target Field, which means there is less setup involved.
But even if the Twins play the next day, if there is rain in the overnight forecast, they will place tarps over the cameras and load the audio equipment into tubs and put it away overnight. At the end of a homestand, the crew will also put all the equipment away.
Once at the stadium, Tveitbakk’s first order of business is to test all the Target Field microphones with the assistance of his A2s. Tveitbakk has two A2s who assist him at Twins games, and they are the ones running all over the stadium helping set up and test the microphones while he stays in his audio room onboard the truck.
“We run through every single mic to make sure no squirrels ate the wires overnight and that nothing got unplugged,” he said.
While this testing does not often uncover a significant issue like a wire-hungry squirrel who struck overnight, things get unplugged or break occasionally. It is essential to catch them well before the live broadcast.
Tveitbakk and his team will run through the microphones in the announcer booth and the pregame/postgame set, check the wireless sideline reporter microphone (today Audra Martin) and check other headsets, like the one located inside the Twins dugout that players sometimes use for an in-game interview.
He will also assist the rest of the Bally Sports production staff with pre-producing elements for the broadcast. Pre-producing includes adding music to video montages, placing graphics onto video clips, and sometimes pre-recording segments to play back later during the broadcast. During the game, he is also responsible for the music that plays before the game cuts to a commercial.
Tveitbakk works every Twins home game broadcast. During the rest of the year, he works Wild visitor feeds, home Timberwolves feeds, Gopher hockey broadcasts, and other non-Bally events like a recent skateboard competition in Iowa. Generally, Bally Sports uses freelance audio technicians based in other cities when the Twins are on the road (so if the Twins are traveling to Chicago this weekend, Bally Sports will typically use a Chicago-based audio engineer). However, Tveitbakk is traveling with the team to Houston for the Astros-Twins series on August 23-25 to mix those games.
During Twins games, Tveitbakk watches the game broadcast and opens up a series of effects microphones all over Target Field to bring the sounds of the stadium into fans’ homes.
“If you just had the announcer mics by themselves, it would be a very boring broadcast. That's why you bring in the ambiance, the crowd, and the crack out of the bat,” Tveitbakk said.
There are a number effects microphones all over Target Field:
- Five in the outfield wall (left field, left center, center, right center, and right field)
- Two in the bullpen. These microphones are on the dividing wall that separates the two teams' bullpens so that Tveitbakk can pick up both teams. One mic is located near the bullpen catcher, and the other is near the bullpen pitcher).
- A microphone pointed towards third base.
- A microphone pointed towards first base.
- A mic in the entrance of the Twins and visitor dugouts. This dugout entrance area is action-packed, according to Tvietbakk, and he tries to pick up sounds such as players celebrating or a player slamming his helmet or bat after a frustrating at-bat using these microphones.
New this year, the head umpire wears a wireless microphone which the umpire can turn on with a switch when he announces a replay review.
During the game, these effects microphones all remain off by default until a play happens near one of them. For example, if a fly ball is hit to Max Kepler in right field, Tveitbakk will open up the “RGT FLD” microphone on his Calrec Artemis audio board just as Kepler is going to catch the ball. If Kepler is close enough to the mic, fans watching the TV broadcast will hear the pop of his mitt. Then Tveitbakk will turn that microphone off again.
When he opens up the on-field effects microphones, Tveitbakk does not want to boost the sound so much that it sounds unnatural.
“You want people to feel like they’re at the ballpark. That’s our goal with the broadcast,” he said.
Not every play happens within earshot of a microphone: there is a “dead zone” of sound in the shallow outfield where it is difficult to pick up sound. According to Tveitbakk, networks put wireless microphones in the ground during the World Series to pick up more game sounds.
Whereas these effects microphones stay off until Tvietbakk uses them, four microphones remain on most of the time during the broadcast: the two (or sometimes more if there is a guest) in-booth announcer microphones, the crowd ambiance mics, and the bat crack mics.
Dick Bremer and his co-commentator have a couple of ways of muting their microphones during a broadcast by using a talkback box sitting on the desk in front of them: if they have to cough, they can push an aptly titled “cough” button on the box, which will mute their microphone. Suppose Bremer or Morneau (or Roy Smalley or LaTroy Hawkins) wishes to speak with his on-air producer or director. In that case, he can push the “talkback” button, which will mute his mic, and then the commentator can speak directly with production while still live on air.
Each commentator wears an earpiece so that he can hear the producer, director, or Tveitbakk talk to them as well. Tvietbakk watches the commentators, and if one of them gets up to leave the booth, he will mute their microphones so fans do not hear the rustling of his departure.
Knowing when to talk and when to let a play “breathe” so that the TV audience can hear the game sounds are a couple of the skills a commentator develops. Commentators often stop talking right as a pitcher is about to deliver the pitch so that the TV audience can hear the pop of the catcher’s mitt, the crack of the bat, or the strike or ball call from the umpire, courtesy of the bat crack mic.
Another microphone that is almost always on is the crowd ambiance mic. The crowd mic is located on the first base line and is pointed towards the first base crowd. It picks up on the general chatter and murmur of the crowd. Some bigger productions like the World Series set up multiple crowd mics all over the stadium.
According to Tveitbakk, the most important microphones he works with are the bat crack mics: the fader is front and center on his audio board. There are two bat crack microphones in the form of two parabolic dishes pointed towards home plate (hidden inside the “TC” logo boxes against the backstop). With these microphones, the TV audience can hear not only the crack of the bat but whatever else happens at home plate: a slide into home plate, the catcher, the umpire yelling “strike!” or a batter slamming his bat in the dirt. Sometimes a batter uses colorful language, which gets picked up by the bat crack mic. The broadcast is not on any tape delay, so if the mic picks it up before it is muted, it goes onto the broadcast.
When mixing sound for Twins games, Tveitbakk listens to the broadcast's overall sound and makes adjustments to what his ears hear, and he uses technology to aid him as well. An example of an on-the-fly adjustment he might make occurs if there is a big play and an announcer gets particularly excited and raises his voice. Tviietbakk might have to temporarily decrease the sound output of that announcer’s mic. He has two meters to aid him with this: a stereo program meter and a loudness meter. These meters ensure the broadcast remains compliant with FCC regulations about where the sound of programs should be.
Because he is so focused on the overall sound quality of the broadcast, and he is busy communicating with his producer and director, Tveitbakk is not always able to listen to the content of the broadcast.
“Sometimes I'll have a friend text me, ‘What did Justin [Morneau] just say?’ and I’ll be like, ‘I don’t even know what he said, what happened?’” Tveitbakk said with a laugh.
The fanless, Covid-19 shortened season in 2020 presented unique challenges for Tveitbakk.
“It was different. You know, there's this artificial crowd noise that was pumped into the stadium, but also, you get really good sounds because there weren’t fans. So that was interesting. But you're still kind of fighting the artificial sounds, so it really wasn’t ideal.” he said.
Tveitbakk says there is a difference between doing sound in front of a small crowd and a sold-out house. But even when it is a little more challenging to pick up the game sounds like the pop of a glove, the exciting, raucous atmosphere makes up for it.
“When the stadium is full, it's definitely more challenging to get more sounds out of the game. But also just the atmosphere itself is kind of fun. You know, having that extra loudness.”
According to Tveitbakk, the most challenging part of his job is the live aspect of the game.
“You're always on, and every move you have to make sure of before you do it because you could make a mistake, and it goes on the air,” Tveitbakk said.
Just like weather can sometimes throw a wrench into a baseball game, it can affect the broadcast too. Microphones do not work when they are wet, so if there is going to be a rainy broadcast, Tveitbakk's A2s wrap the mics with plastic to try to keep the mics dry and pull them off if it is raining too much.
Sometimes it is the players who humorously cause the elements. During an Apple TV broadcast of a game on July 13, Jose Miranda hit a walk-off home run vs. the Milwaukee Brewers. The crew put a headset on Miranda for a postgame interview, and then he was doused with water. Boom- the headset did not work anymore. The crew had to scrabble and get a different one for him, which took three or four minutes, “an eternity in live television.” Miranda graciously waited for the crew to bring him another headset, and then the crew could carry on with the interview.
"Something that people at home enjoy"
Even after all these years, Tvetibakk loves mixing sound, especially for baseball broadcasts, which he finds are different from any other sport.
“Baseball is the most fun to mix because it's not a linear sport. It's not back and forth, you know, like basketball, hockey, soccer. Baseball is here and there and here, and now we’ll go down to the dugout, then we'll go to the bullpen- so it's more fun,” Tveitbakk said.
Mixing Twins games has brought him some fond memories during his career. He has mixed a triple play and some of the longest games at Target Field. At the Metrodome, he remembers mixing some Twins playoff runs and working during game 163 in 2009. He has even won two team Emmys for his sound work. For fans who grew up watching games during the 2000s, his mixing brought the sweet sounds of Johan Santana’s pitches and Joe Mauer’s hits to your living room. He says his favorite part of his job is being at the stadium and helping bring something fans enjoy into their homes. Baseball brings people joy.
“Sometimes when I meet a teacher or a nurse, I'll be like, ‘well, your job is significant because you're helping people,’ and then they'll correct me and say, ‘well, you're providing entertainment. That's important, too,’” Tveitbakk said.
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