December 27, 2011
From the local high school to the top professional teams, effective communication between on-field and off-field coaching staff is a crucial aspect of maintaining a high level of football play. Part of the coaching staff works from up in the coaches' booth, with its commanding big-picture view of the field and the opposing team’s formations. The rest of the staff is on the sidelines with the head coach and the team itself. The job of the intercom is to bridge the two locations, enabling the fast flow of the information a head coach needs in order to make split-second decisions about how best to deploy the team. Top football intercom consultant Andy Cocallas of Game Time Communications, who has worked on intercoms at all 32 NFL stadiums and Wembley Stadium in London, England, as well as numerous colleges and high schools, uses exclusively Telex brand intercom systems for this key function.
“Generally you have an offensive coordinator and one or more assistant coaches on the sidelines talking to a couple of offensive assistant coaches up in the booth,” Cocallas says, “and then you have the same thing for the defense. And you have the head coach, also on the sidelines, and he’s switching back and forth between offense and defense. The coaches on the field have a Telex TR-1 wireless beltpack clipped at their hip, and the coaches in the booth have a Telex BP-2002 wired beltpack. They both use Telex PH-100 or PH-200 headsets, or, in the case of the NFL, headsets that were co-designed but built by Telex.”
In the pro leagues, Cocallas says, the configuration of the intercoms is shaped in part by NFL rules. “Each team’s on-field coaches’ intercom system is limited to a maximum of ten wireless and three wired units. For the booth the main restriction is the physical space; you can only get so many coaches in one of those rooms.”
One crucial factor influencing the choice of system for the pro teams is their need for encryption. “When a system is encrypted,” Cocallas explains, “it’s similar to when you and your neighbor both have a similar garage door opener. It doesn’t open his garage when you hit your button, because each opener has a different encryption code. In the pros and with many Division 1 college teams, they want to avoid a situation where everyone can listen to and talk to each other because they have the same system and they’ve ended up on the same frequency.” Most UHF systems are not encrypted, Cocallas says, which is a big factor in the use league-wide of the Telex BTR-1 system, which uses Telex’s proprietary ClearScan technology and provides secure wide-band full-duplex communications.
Cocallas, who often handles RF frequency coordination, names both venue size and local wireless congestion as key factors explaining the use of UHF for the NFL games. “UHF definitely gives you the clearest audio, and has superior ability to deal with crowded RF environments, so you’re more likely to find clear channels,” he says. “Many manufacturers don’t even have UHF systems for football; they are all 2.4-GHz Wi-Fi. And Wi-Fi has limitations, particularly in domed stadiums, in terms of dropouts and the quality of the audio. So aside from Telex there really aren’t many systems that are designed to match up well with the needs of high-level football teams.”
Routing for the BTR-1 system is provided by a Telex FM-1 system with the QSB-1 card reader and the SMP (system manager program) working together as a system that allows a user to easily manage frequency and intercom settings for a system of up to ten BTR-1s along with TR-1 beltpacks. “We typically run with six different channels,” he says. “For example, I might have offense on channels 1 and 2, defense on channels 3 and 4, and special teams on 5 and 6. With the FM-1/BTR-1, any six of those channels can be assigned, either manually or by the computer interface, to any wireless beltpack on the field. In the coaches booth the intercom is routed with a Telex IC-100 six-channel intercom source assign panel.
College and high school systems
While the BTR-1 system is used in the NFL and for some Division 1 colleges, other college teams in Division 1, 2, or 3 utilize unencrypted Telex UHF systems such as the BTR-80N, which uses narrower bands to increase the potential availability of clear channels when the RF environment is crowded. “The BTR-80N is a great system,” says Cocallas, who’s provided coaches’ intercom for dozens of colleges. “At Wheaton College here in Illinois, for example, they were having a lot of issues with Wi-Fi interference in the area. There are large Wi-Fi towers close by, and wireless scoreboards that caused drop-outs. Normally you can avoid a lot of that by going with the Telex BTR-800 or BTR-700, but the Chicago metropolitan area, where I’ve been working with the Chicago Bears for the last 13 seasons, is a particularly tough RF environment. We brought in the BTR-80N, and it was a lot easier for them to get clear channels without interference.”
In smaller stadiums that don’t have Chicago’s RF challenges, such as most high schools and lower Division colleges, Cocallas finds that a high-quality Wi-Fi system often works fine. “A big part of what I do in those situations involves the Telex Legacy system,” he says. The Legacy series uses 802.11 wireless LAN technology and is encrypted with 64-bit DES. “It’s a good little out-of-the-box, inexpensive, easy setup system for up to seven wireless coaches and you can easily add a few extra coaches in the booth with some inexpensive Telex cable splitters to make a great nine-coach high school system. It’s a great product that’s durable, reliable, and has an industry-leading warranty.” Cocallas has provided the Legacy to hundreds of high schools across the country, providing service, training, troubleshooting, and game-time support. He even has an Illinois Division 8 state finalist high school using the Legacy in Ireland for a 2012 featured football game, as Telex products are also built for international use.
For larger high schools and small colleges, Cocallas is looking forward to deploying the new RTS BTR-240, also a 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi system. “It’s got more filters than Legacy,” he says, “so in a tighter Wi-Fi environment you’ll have clearer communication. And you’ll be able to interface to the same Telex BP-2002 wired beltpacks that we are using in the booth at the pro level.”
With the addition of the BTR-240 system, Cocallas says, Telex will be building on one of its core strengths, which is that it has the product range to find the right product for just about any budget and setting. “A lot of my job has to do with trying to come up with solutions,” he says. “Everybody has slightly different needs, and it’s sometimes tough to predict in advance which equipment will be just right in a given situation. Telex has such a nice array of lines to go to. So if there are issues with an existing situation, there is always a Telex solution that I can offer to address the customer’s needs.”
Cocallas also points to the “design, simplicity, and quality” of Telex intercoms as reasons why he continues to turn to the Telex line. “The Telex systems stand out for football on many levels, including the antenna design, ClearScan, the operating systems, and the beltpack design. And Telex headsets are far superior to other headsets, so much so that other companies buy them to sell with their own systems. They are clear, comfortable, and durable. Telex intercoms are just an all-around quality product.”