There’s a whole world behind the scenes at broadcast sports events, and sound engineer Jeri Palumbo has probably worked at them all. If you’ve ever gotten goosebumps over the roar of the crowd, you’ve enjoyed Palumbo’s labor.
From NFL and NBA to NASCAR, Palumbo has managed and manipulated the sound of iconic events, creating the immersive experience sports fans demand. She’s at the pinnacle of success in the sound world after two hardworking decades. And many of those decades she was one of only a few females in the field.
So what brought Palumbo to the world of broadcast sports?
A Sound Engineer Is Born
With grandparents and parents who were all musicians, Palumbo was around a world of sound from the moment she was born. “I grew up playing instruments and had a fascination for how to make sound ‘work’ by layering to make it sound better when recording,” she tells Parentology. “I was never afraid to play with technology. I just naturally gravitated towards it.”
Broadcast sports called to Palumbo. It’s an environment that’s hardcore, fast-paced and adrenaline-packed, that requires being a team player, being extremely organized and thinking on the fly. There’s also her love affair with the tech involved in making these broadcasts work.
And then there’s the other reality of the business. “I had to make my own way — to push myself into an environment that would allow me to learn more than I already knew.”
When Palumbo was coming up the ranks 20 years ago, the network environment with its union requirements and bargaining agreements for liabilities wasn’t conducive to shadowing or mentorships. For Palumbo, this meant starting out as a music arranger in recording studios. She suggests others consider roles that get their foot in the door, such as being a production assistant and doing everything from rolling cables to being at the ready within the environment when need arise.
“There are a lot of people who don’t handle their stress well in the truck, and they yell and they scream,” Palumbo admits. “It’s part of the culture, so if you don’t like that kind of culture, you have to supersede that.”
Then, Palumbo says, one needs to put in the time in the “seat” to get the experience to handle the challenges of a live event. This takes time, dedication and grit.
Owning the Role
During her tenure in broadcast sports, Palumbo has done the big stuff: NBA championships, NHL Stanley Cups, baseball playoffs, even the World Series and Super Bowls. NFL is her favorite sport to work. She’s worn the hats of broadcast engineer/mixer, field audio, radio frequency (RF) tech and communications. She’s also used her formidable experience for passion projects.
One that spoke to her heart was Songs of the Mountains, a live show about bluegrass musicians in Virginia. The challenge: the music was live to tape, so individually mic-ing each instrument wasn’t permissible.
“That show ended up being one of the most rewarding musically because I had to use a different aspect of my skill set to do it,” Palumbo says. “We had to break it down to basics by using only a single mic for multiple instruments simultaneously, which really challenged my EQ [equalization of the frequency bands] strategy. This forced me to ride the EQs on the fly, trying to make it sound as good as it would have if we had each one of the instruments actually live-mic’d.”
The show won a Telly award.
Her new challenge? Esports. Live, multi-player video game broadcasts, esports is wickedly complex, having to take into consideration computer/video sounds, real audio from players and crowd elements.
“Esports are a completely different ballgame of technology, and it’s just on the ground floor of people trying to figure out how to manipulate it,” Palumbo says. ”I find it really enticing.”
Want to Work in Live Broadcast Sound?
While it’s fast-paced, exciting, and offers a wide variety of venues, broadcast sound engineering isn’t for everyone. A recent article in The Guardian stated the overall percentage of women in the field is just 5%. Palumbo says this needs to change. “There need to be more opportunities presented to women.”
The current emphasis on STEM education, especially among girls, is a great step forward, Palumbo says. “Engineering is mathematical, analytical and esoteric.” She doesn’t think a college degree is necessary for sound engineering, at least not initially. Though those interested in management will find a college degree useful.
Palumbo encourages those, particularly women, in the pursuit of a career in broadcast sound engineering. To help get started, she recommends the Women’s Audio Mission in San Francisco (for those interested in music sound recording), which has a coding studio specifically for girls.
She suggests joining the SoundGirls organization for its support, training, camaraderie, empowerment and inspiration, particularly when it comes to live and touring events. She adds that joining organizations like the Audio Engineering Society (AES) and attending educational seminars related to the advancement of audio is always a plus and a nice introduction to the many aspects and career options in the field of audio.
The rewards waiting to greet newcomers to the field are both endless and bountiful.
About Redefining Rosie
This profile on Jeri Palumbo, a legend in broadcast sports, is a part of our Redefining Rosie: Cool Women, Uncommon Jobs.
Parentology created this series to celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. It features articles highlighting remarkable women in the workforce around the world — and in outer space. Check out our other profiles in the Redefining Rosie hub.