Audio Mixers are in the Mix at Universal

Larry McCall is not just a senior member of IBEW Local 40’s  unit of audio mixers at Universal studios. He is the senior member, with 27 years on the job. A full-time employee, McCall is at the top of the roster and is also one of four stewards for the union, which is under the same contract as the stage managers’ unit.

“Being a senior member, I can also be an informational hub for the other members,” McCall said. “Since I’ve been here for so long, I kind of know all the ins and outs, so I’m part contact with the union and part mentor.”

Between the audio mixers and the stage managers, there are around 50-60 members (approximately 30 of them are in the audio mixers unit). “I was also part of the group that organized to seek out representation with IBEW back in 1997,” McCall stated, proudly. “IBEW and IATSE were both bidding to represent us. And we went with IBEW and Tim Dixon as the business manager. It was absolutely the right decision. I think it was the best thing we ever did.”

McCall has spent his career at Universal working on the WaterWorld attraction, although there are other entertainment elements throughout the park that he also helps to run. His day at WaterWorld begins with coming in, opening up, checking to make sure all the equipment — microphones, mixing board and sound system — are all working properly. “Then we run a test show, to make sure that everything is all functioning properly,” he said. But that’s just the beginning. That’s followed by a staff meeting. “We call it our show meeting,” he said. “It includes the cast members, costume department, the crew, everybody. And we make sure that everybody’s aware of any potential problems that we might have and go over any informational things.”

Then comes the sound checks and the fight sequences. “WaterWorld is a live action show with stunt performers,” McCall said. “The audio mixer is responsible for doing the sound effects for the stunt fights, so we do a practice run with the performers before the first show.”

In off peak times, McCall will do only two shows per day, but that will ramp up to four and then six as things get busier. “Right now, we’re at our busiest,” he said, doing six shows a day. “In past years when things were really hot, we’ve done up to 13 shows a day.”

McCall started his career as a musician, playing classical instruments including cello, violin and viola. He moved on to the bass guitar, but realized “I needed to have other skills to feed myself, so I studied electronics, then joined the army for electronics. When I got out of the service, I went to work for various audio manufacturers and some sound reinforcement companies. Then I went from that into touring and mixing.”

McCall got the job at Universal after answering an ad in the paper for a sound/video technical services position, hoping to transition to audio mixer. “But my application was actually picked up by the entertainment department,” he said. “They felt that I was a better fit for this position.” And he’s been there ever since, although he also has his own sound company these days.

While McCall isn’t personally working on the new Super Nintendo World slated to open on Feb. 17, “One of our members is and things are moving along as we work through the bugs,” he said. “We have some of our other senior members on that, and we’re bringing in some of our more junior members to learn and operate as well.”

And, he revealed, there’s already a soft opening. “We’re in technical rehearsal mode and we bring the park guests in to run people through the attraction, to work out some of the bugs and logistics, to make sure that it’s good for the actual opening day.”

By Kelly Hartog

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