Best Audio’s Laurence Estrin has served as the audio and communications consultant for the presidential debates since 1976 at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

Pete Erskine has worked at the debates since 1996. Erskine engineered the communications systems for the 2008 presidential debates, including the Riedel Digital intercom programming, the infamous timer buzzer, and the backup audio console. 

The 2008 debates were held over the course of only three and a half weeks at The University of Mississippi, Oxford, Miss.; Washington University in St. Louis, MO; Belmont University, Nashville, TN; and Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY.

Each debate year most of the crew are the same with slight changes.  In 2004 the cities and crew were:

  • Tom Nicks was the FOH engineer for Coral Gables, Cleveland and Tempe.
  • Michael MacDonald was FOH for the Town meeting in St. Louis.
  • Russell Emery was the Media center engineer. Emery was also in charge of timing the lights.
  • On Stage Audio’s Kelly Epperson was the TD and equipment supervisor. Epperson designed all the audio systems.
  • Michael Abbott was the FOH engineer for all of the debates.
  • Russell Emery was A2 for Mics and in charge of the timing lights.
  • Stan Hunter managed all the installation of equipment.
  • Shipley Landiss was the Media engineering coordinator.
  • On Stage Audio’s Jamie Ransford was the equipment supervisor.
  • Steve Savanyu was the onsite Audio/Technica rep.
  • Steve Mendelsohn coordinated all of the RF both inside and outside the venues.

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987.  Read the history on (CPD website address), along with video footage and complete transcripts of many presidential debates.

The debaters' view.

Setup discussion with Marty Slutsky, Larry Estrin, Steve Mendelshon, Steve Savanyu, and Russell Emery.

The Matrix panels for the 2012 debates were the desktop rotary Clear-Com Eclipse.

The debate stage in 2008 at Hofstara University. Photo by Harlan Erskine.  

For the 2012 Debates, the entire intercom system was switched to Clear-Com.  This is the main Debate hall Node.

In the OSA shop the three Clearcom Eclipse nodes, HelixNet beltpacks and Tempest 2400 Intelligent roaming racks were assembled.

Technical Diagrams

2004 Presidential Debate Audio system - This is a single line drawing of the as-built sound system used on the 3 Presidential and one Vice-presidential debates.  They were held in the months of September and October 2004 in Coral Gables, FL, Cleveland, OH, St. Louis, MO and Tempe AZ.

2004 Presidential Debate Intercom programming - This PDF shows some of the basics in the programming of the Buzzer control and the media pool feed mute control which are diagrammed in the above one-line drawing.  The two methods accomplish the same function in different ways.  These methods force each to a different default if the station goes down or gets disconnected.  The buzzer is off and the pool feed is on.

A panorama shot of the setup at Hofstra University.

Mike Abbott at the FOH console and Kelly Epperson adjusting the system EQ.

Timing lights control center

Audience seats.
Photo by Harlan Erskine.  

Timing lights on the center Camera. 
Photo by Harlan Erskine.

The Strike.
Photo by Harlan Erskine.  

The media interviews after the debate.
Photo by Harlan Erskine. 

The Production crew with President Obama after rehearsal.

Moderator's view of timing lights, clock and setup thermometer.

.Steve Savanu managed the multi track recording of all networks to insure quality control.

Audio/Technica wireless and Kelly Epperson.

Riedel Node configuration (click here for a full listing PDF) - port assignments for the Tempe, AZ debates.  The port numbering is not standard.  I number each port with the node number (100's) and port number for that node (1-32).  Keeps everything in order and simple.