This is the 10th installment in David Hewitt’s guest blog series chronicling his legendary career working with some of the biggest names in music. Today, David looks back at the audio production for 1985’s Live Aid concert in Philadelphia. If you missed his last post, you can read it here.
Live Aid Worldwide Broadcast from Philadelphia, July 13, 1985
Thousands of words have been written about this world-changing event. My blog post is a brief account of the incredible people who made the Philadelphia show possible and who broadcast it to the world. We will dwell on just the audio story here.
It was the legendary rock promoter Bill Graham and his longtime production manager Michael Ahern who organized the hugely complicated show. I can still see Bill Graham “herding” the stars on stage to keep the show momentum going!
Clair Brothers provided the massive sound reinforcement and monitor systems. They were also augmented by See Factor equipment and crews. Many of the Live Aid artists already used Clair on tour and were familiar with their systems and crews, as were all of us live recording engineers.
My company, Remote Recording Services, was brought in to organize the audio facilities for the broadcast music mixes.
Because of the huge number of acts playing on a massive rotating stage, with smaller satellite stages and guest speakers, we needed multiple audio remote trucks and crews, plus all the special audio gear requested by the individual engineers and producers!
The bands on the main rotating A/B stages would be mixed by engineers in two primary trucks: Record Plant NY’s Black Truck and Guy Charbonneau’s Le Mobile Truck. Record Plant would also supply their White Truck for mixing the auxiliary stages. I had been using the Mobile Audio trailer for some of Prince’s Purple Rain tour recordings and it would function as a production office and also mix some of the auxiliary stage bands.
The special request audio gear (reverbs, delays, EQs, mics, etc.) were supplied by the late, great Jim Flynn’s rental company. Above and beyond the call of duty!
Because the live broadcast ran for so many hours, we needed relief mixing engineers to keep up with the changing acts. Many of the star performers wanted their own engineers to mix, or at least be in the remote truck to supervise. Unfortunately, my production files are long gone, along with of all the engineers, but here are the names I do have:
- Record Plant Black Truck: Bob Liftin, David “DB” Brown, Fritz Lang, and Steve Barish
- Record Plant White Truck: Robert “Kooster” McAllister, Eddie Ciletti
- Le Mobile: Guy Charbonneau, Bob Clearmountain
- Mobile Audio trailer: David Hewitt (). Randy Ezratty later bought the trailer for his company, Effanel
All of the music mixes would be fed to the production audio mixers in the video trucks. Those mixes were, of course, dictated by the video directors, who had to integrate all the talking heads, guest stars, and world feeds into the live satellite feed.
Engineers in ABC’s Phase 8 audio booth: Don Scholtes, Jonathan Lory, and Harry Yarmark. The legendary Ed Greene was in his own truck.
Of course, all of these overworked people needed a break, too! The Mobile Audio trailer had a separate back room with a couch that became a lifesaver nap pad for exhausted directors and mixers.
In pre-production meetings, the American Television Producers decided that no multitrack tape would be recorded, unlike the British Live Aid show, which recorded most of their shows on tape. To make matters worse, many of the live video tapes that were recorded were erased, discarded or lost. Some MTV and radio station recordings survived, but all were of reduced audio quality and many only in mono. So, if you heard any of the Philadelphia Live Aid music after the original broadcast, that’s why it sounds so poor! It could not be remixed like the London shows were.
For years after the live broadcast, I would receive calls from various producers, looking for the non-existent multitrack tape masters of the bands. My answer would be: “Here’s the ABC Television phone number.”
Thanks to David “DB” Brown for finding this rare photo of Bill Graham’s masterful stage crew. I worked with these guys on so many shows, most of them are gone now. I miss them all… but as Neil Young sang, “Rock ‘n Roll will never die!”
DB also designed this layout of the Remote Trucks with some of the primary engineers listed. Missing is the Mobile Audio trailer.