What was that you said? IFB?
Nearly two decades ago, as a brand new video productions teacher with a limited budget for necessities, I knew right away that an intercom system was one of the non-negotiables. After all, this was a communications class: I figured being able to “communicate” with the crew during an event or news broadcast might be important. As an instructor, this would become my way of teaching students while they were on the job. I could whisper into their ears special instructions, words of praise, or even a bit of comic relief during some of the long, and sometimes sleepy, speaking engagements we were recording.
Like many video teachers, I started out by purchasing the trusty Telex BTR200 base station and 4 beltpacks with rechargeable batteries. Years later, I moved that system over to our middle school program when we built our new production facility. I then and added a hard-wired RTS two channel intercom system that runs throughout the control room, studio, auditorium, and gymnasium.
Although the intercom was helpful for the crew, it did very little to assist the on-air talent, as it did not include an IFB system. The IFB, also known as the interruptible foldback, is most often used as a cueing system in television, a form of one-way communication from the director or producer to the on-air talent.
Over the years when I was fortunate enough to have some money to spend, I would revisit the idea of adding IFB to the intercom, but just could not bring myself to spend the thousands of dollars needed to add on to our current system. Plus, having the very active and mobile style of broadcasts our students do in the studio, limiting their movements by tethering them to the desk with a hard-wired IFB would force them to change the format of the show. Going with a wireless system was more than double the cost, so that was definitely out of the question for a penny-pinching video guy.
As our middle school video program experienced changes, that old Telex BTR200 base station with 4 tattered, but still working, headsets came back to our studio at the high school. Instead of placing it on the shelf, I tinkered with some settings, cleaned up the terminals on the beltpacks, and ta-da! I hooked it into our existing RTS wired system so the floor director can walk around the studio wearing a beltpack. I could freely roam the facility in the morning and still keep a listening ear while the student director prepared the daily broadcast of HVTV News.
This got my wheels turning again about having an IFB system. I started checking around for an alternative system, but it had to be wireless, and it needed a price point that wouldn't make me cringe. Call it divine intervention -- , or maybe too much time day-dreaming instead of paying attention to the Sunday morning message -- , but I remembered that many churches, especially those with an aging population, offer assisted-listening devices. I took a new direction in my search, and it turns out Nady, a familiar name in video productions, manufactures the NaALD-800 Wireless Assistive Listening System.
For a price point of about $400, this low-tech, low-price, UHF base station and 4 beltpacks was the perfect solution. An additional $25 Pyle Pro PDMIKC5 Table Top Condenser Mic with push-to-talk feature and cool looking light-up LED near the top of the gooseneck, now sits at the producer’s desk so our Broadcast Journalism teacher Jen Manion can whisper into the ears of her students during the show.
The kids absolutely love having the IFB. It has added a new dynamic of professionalism to their daily broadcasts, and they get immediate feedback on the spot by their teacher. We feed a little bit of program audio into the system so they can hear news packages as they are played back during the broadcast, and they can listen to their fellow broadcasters when they speak.
Although the beltpacks came with a standard earbud, we decided to upgrade just a bit. We purchased some single IFB earphone kits made by Otto Engineering with coiled clear tubing to run up the back of the shirt collar and into the ear to provide that complete professional newscaster look. At an additional $45 per belt-pack, the upgrade is well worth it.
In the future, each student will pay $8 in student fees to own an acoustic interchangeable tube and eartip that they will use when they anchor at the news desk, do a stand-up, or even report from the floor during a basketball game. As long as the IFB beltpack rests on the opposite side of the body as the wireless lav mic pack, it works without interference and is as clear as can be.
Tom Wison, Coordinator of District Media, Video-Journalism and TV-11 at North Canton (OH) Hoover High School invites other school districts interested in building a program to visit and learn about Hoover's journey. To lean more about the video production and broadcast news programs, visit https://www.northcantonschools.org/home/news/nccs-tv-11/ or contact Tom Wilson at