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June 2014
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Engineer Appreciation Day

Engineer Eric Arunas chats with artists Anna Deveare Smith and Joshua Roman

Engineer Eric Arunas chats with artists Anna Deveare Smith and Joshua Roman

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What questions do you have for the WFMT audio engineers?

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Engineer Appreciation Day Playlists

Friday is Engineer Appreciation Day on WFMT, honoring a group of professionals who are as essential to a broadcast as the musicians themselves. After all, a performance can only be heard if a skilled individual properly captures it.

Four-time Grammy-winner Chris Willis

Four-time Grammy-winner Chris Willis



The engineer faces an incredible range of variables: how will the presence of an audience affect the acoustics? Is the electrical wiring adequate? Will theater staff hang microphones from the catwalk or will the sound engineer have to climb up there? The engineer must account for rehearsal schedules, the equipment’s physical appearance (if there’s a live audience), the acoustical properties of the instruments in a particular environment, whether or not the performers move around onstage, and whether or not they plan to address the audience.

Hudson Fair

Hudson Fair

Close call: “One of the worst situations happened when I was in Zagreb, Yugoslavia recording all of the Beethoven symphonies for 3 weeks. The orchestra went on strike in week three leaving us with no way to complete the project. We had to sit down with an orchestra negotiation committee and pay some more money. We insisted on getting a new principal oboe, so he was replaced.”

—Hudson Fair


WFMT Trivia: WFMT and WTTW made their first stereo broadcast of a live event in 1958.

WFMT often depends upon ISDN, which stands for Integrated Services Digital Network. ISDN provides digital networking through telephone wires, allowing for broadcast-quality signals to be sent from a remote location to the WFMT studios. If the ISDN line has not been set up for a particular location, WFMT Operations Manager Donald Mueller must place an order with the phone company. Installation can take several weeks, which means advanced planning is critical to being ready come performance time. A day or two before the live remote broadcast, Don goes to the location to perform a test. The installation costs about a $1000.


Josh Sauvageau

Josh Sauvageau

Worst situation: “I was brand new at the station and scheduled two recordings back-to-back. Of course the first one went long and the second − a live Impromptu − required around fifteen microphones. I had twenty minutes to set everything and get my levels. It wasn’t until we were live that I found out several channels on the soundboard weren’t functioning. The broadcast was a mess, but I learned a valuable lesson: always schedule plenty of prep time.”

—Joshua Sauvageau


WFMT Trivia: WFMT has 21 live broadcasts scheduled in June.

A sound engineer has to consider which microphone best captures the sound of particular instruments. Choosing the optimal height and distance from the performer is critical.

Recording engineers work in peculiar places, often operating the mixing board from a separate room, like a church sacristy or a classroom. For Chicago Symphony Orchestra recordings, the engineers used to sit in the “bass room” of Orchestra Hall.


Eric Arunas adjusts the microphone for actress Anna Deveare Smith.

 “I’ve had to set up my recording gear in more than one toilet room.”

—Hudson Fair


The Fay and Daniel Levin Studio is pre-wired, making connection to the control room simple.








Neumann M 50 c.1951 (left) Modern Flea 49, Slovakian-made modeled on the M 49 (right)

(left) Neumann M 50 c.1951 (right) Flea 49, a recent Slovakian-made microphone inspired by the M 49


WFMT engineer Hudson Fair has a passion for the sound and design of the old tube microphone. He admits being impressed by a recent copy, “The Flea 49’s sound is very close to the original.”

Mary Mazurek coils mic cables

Mary Mazurek sets up for a “Live from WFMT” with musicians from the Lyric Opera of Chicago.









WFMT Trivia: WFMT broadcast the first compact disc.  Officials from Sony headquarters in Japan flew to WFMT, testing the equipment for hours alongside engineers Jim Addie and Gordon Carter before airing a jazz CD.


Gordon Carter, retired Chief Engineer for WFMT

Pickiest musician: “Many years ago we did a regular live broadcast of a certain concert. One of the musicians recorded the concert at home and did not like what he heard. Since he had a certain measure of influence, the next concert he insisted that he would get to hear the mix during rehearsal and possibly make adjustments. He listened during the rehearsal and had us make some adjustments. When he was done the only instrument you could hear was his. When our Program Director heard this he told us to put it back to the original settings for the broadcast.”

Most unusual location: “While not for WFMT, certainly the most unusual location was the cab of a steam locomotive running at 60 miles per hour.”

—Gordon Carter


Director of Operations Donald Mueller stands with Kerry Frumkin

Director of Operations Donald Mueller stands with Kerry Frumkin.




Grammy Award-winning engineer Chris Willis sets the mic for mezzo-soprano Julie Anne Miller of the Ryan Opera Center.

  • Jason Carlock

    A fine group!

  • Carey Schug

    what are the hours for appreciation day so I can make sure I don’t miss it?

  • WFMT

    Engineer Appreciation Day goes from 8:30am – 6:00pm, with a break at 12:00pm for PianoForte. It’s an exciting day!

  • Joanne

    What a great idea to honor the critical “behind-the-scenes staff! Thank you to all the WFMT staff who provide so much wonderful programming, especially all the live broadcasts!

  • Jim Long

    Being a life-long enthusiast of sound reproduction and recording, I have found today’s presentations most interesting! A great idea (and only at WFMT)! Any comments on the number of mics used and their disposition are most welcome.

  • Kate Cerbin

    Hi Suzanne and all the WFMT listerers! I just wanted to fill in a bit of background on the engineer that you are hearing from now: Peter Cerbin (my son). He is young, only 34 years old, and he has made a commitment to being an engineer for classical music only. He completed his degree at Indiana University-Bloomington in 2004. He has been the engineer for “Introductions” for WFMT since that time. He loves classical music and believes he can continue to contribute to the incredible body of recordings by being available to record and promote classical music in any way he can. He is from South Bend, IN, where he “tolerated” my love for classical music, which “sunk in” and has duly influenced him in his career choice. The joke in our house is that he was the only child here (oldest of 5) who did not formally study music as a child! He was shall we say, unreceptive to the idea. For all those parents who love classical music, continue to listen and support it. You never know what will happen!

    Kate Cerbin

  • Allen Linkowski

    Enjoyed the morning segment of Engineer Appreciation Day before heading out to Pianoforte to experience the concert in personn. It was great to hear Gordon Carter’s reminiscences and, of the musical selections, I enjoyed, especially, the Telarc “On the Trail” while wondering what the proposed Reiner/CSO version (the board nixed it) would have been like. On the subject of the CSO, the broadcasts actually began c.the mid-to-late ’60s during Jean Martinon’s reign, only to resume in the mid 70s with, I believe, Solti’s “Flying Dutchman” after a hiatus of several years.
    Bravo to ‘FMT’s great engineering team!

  • Marc

    I own dipolar speakers, which means they reproduce front-back dimension as well as panorama. In fact they can do this more naturally than surround sound. Mary’s guitar quartet recording lives up to her description of the spatial domain. Indeed, although she did not mention this, the percussion on the guitars sounded truly like coming from guitar bodies, not only in the woody sound, but in the realistic hollows; they did not turn us into little person’s inside oversized guitars, but simply rendered the open, compact spaces of these wooden musical instruments.

  • mahatma

    I see no mention here of some of the engineers who made this station what it was. Mitchell Heller, Jim Addie, Al Antlitz, Larry Rock, to name a few. I think they deserve a round of applause..

  • Roger Dobrick

    I’m reading this a few months after Engineering Day, but I’ve never resisted the opportunity to throw my 2 cents’ worth into anything, no matter how late I may be.

    In my university days, one of my broadcasting professors was a former big market disc jockey and network TV crew member, so his lectures and classes were laced with his own experiences. He liked to say that engineers were broadcasting’s most eccentric subculture.

    I went on to a career in broadcasting, mostly in programming and production, but eventually the Peter Principle chimed in and I became a station manager.

    I don’t think engineers are “weird” at all, but by the very nature of their work their vocabulary and frame of reference is different from the rest of us.

    In my earlier career days, I was a producer and announcer at a public station in central Illinois. It being a relatively small operation, everyone had to perform a multitude of tasks.

    One time I found myself engineering a local concert. It was nothing less than a “Sing-it-Yourself-‘Messiah'” in early December. Our regular recording engineer had a conflict, so he tutored me ahead of time on best possible mike placement, recording levels, etc.

    Since I had developed a good rapport with the conductor, he agreed to lead his orchestra and the walk-in choir in one of the choral numbers ahead of the actual performance, ostensibly as a warm-up to the singers, but really to allow me to check on my mike placement and levels. With that additional bit of preparation, things turned out fine.

    After that project, I developed increased respect and admiration for the work of engineers, especially recording engineers. They may be a “counterculture” but they’re really the unsung heroes of radio and recording.