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Clear Communications With Clear-Com

WILLOW CREEK COMMUNITY CHURCH

by Matthew Wentz

At Willow Creek, communication is key for our services to run smooth. At any given time, up to 40 stations could be used with both staff and volunteers operating these units. We use a combination of Clear-Com’s I-Series and V-Series, along with their Cellcom beltpacks. We also have an analog partyline backbone that was moved over when our main auditorium was built in 2004. The backend of the system is an Eclipse Median frame which allows us great flexibility. This flexibility comes with the availability of their interface cards and modules, which allows us to connect our I-Series panels, our v-station panels, and our analog partylines all into one unit.March 2014-1 pic

The controller for the Median runs on any Windows machine and is called Eclipse Configuration Software, or ECS. This powerful program allows us to make changes to the buttons on the panels, create Cellcom beltpack roles for different events, and even has some built in troubleshooting where you can monitor your entire system and log any issues.

In our main auditorium, communication is so vital because we have to coordinate what’s going on with the front of house, stage, video, and lighting teams so that our transitions are smooth. One of the major things the Clear-Com system does is to keep tensions low. Before we started using Clear-Com, people would be yelling from the front of the stage to the booth and because things were being misinterpreted as being angry or frustrated, it created a rough working environment. Now, since we’ve incorporated the Clear-Com system more than 15 years ago, people can communicate at a more appropriate volume and the working environment is less stressful.

Our Clear-Com system also has the ability to have partylines or fixed groups. We use the partylines quite extensively during service times. Basically a partyline is a conversation that anyone can join in on, if they have that button on their station. For instance, we have a video partyline and the video director is able to communicate to the entire video team quickly and effectively by having just one button engaged, versus having to try and hold down 10 different buttons to talk to each person on video.

We also use a private partyline so that only the main leaders (key production and programming staff) can communicate sensitive information to each other. This allows for corrective action to be taken without volunteers hearing the information and being offended or hurt. One new implementation we’ve just incorporated into the private partyline is the use of a wireless lavaliere that our executive producer wears; it goes down his sleeve very much like a secret service mic. This goes to a wireless beltpack and then ties into an interface module in the Median frame. Through ECS, I am able to add this into the private partyline. Now, the producer is able to communicate without having a bulky headset or Cellcom pack and can be very discreet in communication with the team.

Another useful tool with Clear-Com is the fixed groups. These are different from the partyline in that you can’t choose to listen when someone wants to talk to you using a fixed group. This function is mainly used for the technical directors so that they can talk to every production person and start the service, or communicate something quickly without having to select the individual partylines. We use this quite extensively during moments where the technical director needs to command the team, or to countdown from a video. As the Audio Systems Engineer, I use this forced group to communicate to everyone if I need to restart the Median for troubleshooting or if major changes need to be made.

The ECS is powerful because it can make simple changes, like adding a partyline or any button to a panel, without restarting the Median. One of the downsides of the ECS is that any changes that have to do with adding a Cellcom beltpack role, adding a new panel role or adding a role to a fixed group, is that those changes can’t be made live. The new information needs to be pushed to the Median frame and then rebooted. This momentarily will knock all of the stations offline. So communication to the team is huge when doing a reboot during service times because their communication will be down for a few seconds.

The ease of operation for the end user is extremely high because everything is customizable to how their flow works. Any time we have a new person in a role, they will take time to get familiar with the layout and then submit a request for any additions or subtractions or even how the buttons are laid out. The panels are clearly labeled with five character LED which tells the end user exactly what they have access too. Also, the buttons can be assigned one of several different functions; talk, listen, talk and listen, talk and forced listen, and dual talk and listen. Most of the time, we put talk buttons on the top row and listen buttons on the bottom row, ie, talk button for audio partyline on top, then the button right below, the listen button for the audio partyline.

The ease of use for connectivity on the system side is a little different between the I–series panels, and the V-Series panels. The I-Series panels need to have a point-to-point connection with the Median frame, which in a space our size gets tricky. With the new v-stations, which we have in our Lakeside auditorium, they connect via IP which means we can plug them into our existing IT infrastructure, and then the Median frame sees them without much programming.

Overall, the Clear-Com system is a huge win for our church and makes the communication each service calm and clear. And the flexibility we get with the system allows us much more expansion in the future.

Matt Wentz is the Audio Systems Engineer at Willow Creek, Barrington, IL, Campus with a degree in Media Communications. He can be reached at mwentz@willowcreek.org or Twitter: WentzMatthew