Lights! Cameras! Scanners

By: Chuck Gysi

Re-printed from National Communications

  Lights! Cameras! SCANNERS!  While many films still are made in
  Hollywood today, many more are made on location in towns and cities
  across the United States to add a touch of realism to the set.

  Thus, you shouldn't be surprised to find a film, movie or video
  production crew set up in your community for a day, a week or a
  month to shoot important footage for an upcoming movie,
  documentary or other show. Most companies that set up a remote
  production bring with them a host of equipment, personnel and

  The easiest way for production crews to coordinate operations
  for a set is to use two-way radio. That's been known for many years
  as the Federal Communications Commission created a radio service
  just for film production with overlapping frequencies shared by
  road construction and farming operations and newspapers.

  Originally the radio service was used primarily by film
  production crews. Most of the major movie production houses all
  were licensed on any of these 10 frequencies for use anywhere
  generally in the United States. However, as technology for media
  changed, the radio service became more of a catch-all for any film
  and video production crews. The radio service once known as the
  Motion Picture Radio Service now is known as the Video Production
  Radio Service.

  What's the frequency, Kenneth?

  While the FCC's refarming initiative has changed the face of
  frequency usage in many areas, most video production crews will
  remain on the original 10 frequencies allocated to the service.
  That's because the radio service is somewhat itinerant in usage and
  those who operate on the frequencies usually license themselves for
  more than one frequency and can switch channels to avoid
  interference to local users when operating in the field. For
  instance, if a video crew were to come in to town and set up on a
  frequency for the day and started to hear a local newspaper
  dispatching drivers for missed deliveries, you can bet they'd
  switch to another channel to stay on the safe side and avoid
  interference to the other local user.

  Because the users of the frequencies generally are itinerant,
  being that they move around from one area to another and don't
  remain in any one area much longer than needed to capture the local
  scenery, it's a good idea that they stick to the frequencies within
  the radio service to avoid upsetting the apple cart on local users.
  If a video production unit were to license on frequencies
  available under the FCC's refarming initiative, they might be more
  likely to interfere with a local business user instead of a similar

  Tune in
  The frequencies used by the Video Production Radio Service are
  pretty simple. There are six frequencies around 153 MHz and another
  four at 173 MHz. The frequencies are: 152.870, 152.900, 152.930,
  152.960, 152.990, 153.020, 173.225, 173.275, 173.325 and 173.375.
  The 152- and 153-MHz frequencies are shared with users in the
  Special Industrial Radio Service, which includes commercial road
  construction crews, builders and farmers. The 173-MHz channels are
  shared with newspapers and news cooperatives such as The Associated

  Video production crews also can license themselves on
  frequencies in the 800-MHz band, if so desired, but you won't find
  too many there.

The cameras are rolling and the action is hot on the set. Two-way radios help coordinate each crew member's work. (Photo courtesy of The Walt Disney World Co.)

  But wait, there's more

  While video and film production crews have radio frequencies
  that have been allocated for their shared use, there still are many
  other crews that have licensed themselves on business radio
  frequencies.  Thus, you can find these crews on the popular
  business band frequencies. These include the 2-watt handheld
  channels of 154.570 and 154.600 and the itinerant business channels
  of 151.625, 464.500, 464.550, 469.500 and 469.550. While many film
  houses have their own two-way radios, others find it necessary to
  rent handheld radios for use on the set when they come to a town
  and typically they will operate on one of the above seven business

  So where do you begin to search if you hear a film crew has
  come to town? The best bet is to search the 10 Video Production
  Radio Service frequencies first. If you don't hear activity around
  153 or 173 MHz, then check the itinerant and low-power business
  channels for possible activity.

  There are a few other places you may find activity, too. With
  the cheap availability of Family Radio Service handhelds, don't be
  remiss in searching 462.5625-462.7125 and 467.5625-467.7125. The
  usage of FRS frequencies for all types of activities will grow as
  the popularity of the low-cost handheld service grows.

  If the production you are trying to monitor is a real low-
  budget operation, don't be surprised to find cheap 49-MHz handhelds
  in use, too. These frequencies, shared with cordless phones and
  baby monitors, are 49.83, 49.845, 49.86, 49.875 and 49.89 MHz.

  It's wireless

  In addition to hearing directors, camera operators and other
  film technicians and crew members on a set, there is an additional
  challenge for on-site monitors. Keeping in mind that low-power
  handheld radios typically two watts or less are used by production
  crews, you'll have to be within a few blocks to hear the radios
  being used. But here's an even bigger challenge:

  Wireless microphones are used on every actor and actress on a
  film set.  Not only are the wireless mics used on people, they also
  may be used to carry sound from other areas of the set for mixing.
  But because wireless microphones are very low power, you'll
  typically have to be on the actual set or within a block to hear
  the mics on your scanner.

  Depending on the type of production you are attempting to
  monitor, there may be several places where you might find wireless
  microphone frequencies. Power is limited to 0.05 watt on these
  frequencies: 169.445, 169.505, 170.245, 170.305, 171.045, 171.105,
  171.845 and 171.905 MHz.

  If the production you are scanning is being performed by a
  broadcaster, wireless mics typically can show up anywhere in the
  UHF television spectrum. Tune from 470-806 MHz and even the 944-952
  MHz studio-to-transmitter link spectrum for wireless mics.

  Some other wireless microphones, especially those used by
  broadcasters, can be found in the 169-216 MHz range.  The nice
  thing about searching for wireless mics on site is that the mics
  are on the air all the time usually.  You don't have to wait for
  someone to transmit, like you do with two-way radios. Because
  wireless mics can cover such a wide frequency range, you don't
  really have to search in 1- or 2-MHz segments.  Search the entire
  segment in one swoop because if there are wireless mics on the air,
  you'll find them while searching through the band.

  Who's on the air?

  If you get lucky to monitor an on-site film production, you'll
  discover all types of communications to monitor, especially if it
  is a large-scale operation. Two-way radios may be used for any and
  all of the following uses: directors, technical crews, talent
  coordinators, stunt coordination, caterers (hey, actors and
  actresses and the crews all need to eat!), and more. If there is
  something that needs to be coordinated on a production set, you'll
  likely find someone with a radio on their hip keeping in touch with
  other crew members.

  Scanning a film production can be exciting. You'll be plugged
  in to all the key players in the making of a movie. Or maybe a new
  music video. Or even a commercial. Tune in and learn all the
  behind-the-scenes action involved in a production. You'll really
  appreciate it when you finally see it on the big screen or TV.

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