How Ofcom experts help Glastonbury's stars to shine

05 July 2019

Glastonbury Festival-goers enjoyed pitch perfect sets from legends ranging from Kylie to The Cure thanks to the efforts of Ofcom’s Programme Making and Special Events (PMSE) team, who helped to make sure the event went smoothly.

The PMSE team help to manage the radio waves used by equipment such as wireless microphones, in-ear monitors, cameras, and wireless communications devices like walkie-talkies. They also make sure users of this equipment have the right licences in place.

Each piece of equipment needs to use its own frequency on the radio spectrum, and these need to be managed carefully to make sure they don’t interfere with each other, or with any other technology used on or near the festival site.

Des discussing frequencies with Sheryl Crow’s monitor engineer
Des discussing frequencies with Sheryl Crow’s monitor engineer

Painstaking planning

Team members Des Vitalis and Greg Smith were among the team members who planned for six weeks to make sure the vast array of equipment used by performers and crew at Glastonbury worked effectively and safely, as well as attending the festival in person to keep an eye on proceedings.

The team’s work meant millions of music lovers could enjoy crystal-clear tunes from an incredible line-up of bands – on-site and via TV and radio.

But this was no simple feat – the team assigned a total of 1,742 radio frequencies to equipment used across the festival site – 400 more than at the previous Glastonbury festival in 2017. This involved expert planning across multiple stages, all with their own specific needs depending on the amount and type of equipment being used.

So, what exactly was involved?

Des said: “We worked with event organisers and each band’s audio-visual team. Then there was radio, and TV – with their own requirements – like presenters needing to walk around talking into cameras.

“We also collaborated with Ofcom colleagues from our spectrum assurance team, Richard Beere and Matthew Allen, in carrying out a site visit before the festival kicked off.

“We took along a special mast to measure TV signals, to make sure they’d be clear. Glastonbury’s event organisers expressed concern over changes to digital television services in the area one week before the start of the event, which could have affected the spectrum that was being used.

“However, we made sure these changes would have no impact on any frequencies licensed for the event.”

Jay, Des and Greg investigating BBC’s interference issue
Jay, Des and Greg investigating BBC’s interference issue

Star spotting

Professional to a tee, the duo didn’t get selfies with the bands – but they were in close proximity of stars like Janet Jackson and Lauryn Hill. Des was even able to strike up a conversation with Bananarama in the green room.

Hailed a hit

“The event was almost without a hitch,” Greg said. “One act’s AV guy decided to use a different frequency to the one we issued them. This affected the equipment being used by one of the BBC’s presenters, but luckily we resolved it quickly.”

He added: “Overall, we got great feedback – Stormzy’s people were happy and the BBC were pleased too. We were elated it was such a big success – it can be nerve-wracking!”

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The team make the most of a rare break for a quick on-site photo

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On stage during Babymetal’s set

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The festival’s West Holts stage

What is spectrum?

You can’t see or feel radio spectrum. But any device that communicates wirelessly needs spectrum – such as televisions, car key fobs, baby monitors, wireless microphones and satellites. Mobile phones use spectrum to connect to a local mast so people can make calls and access the internet.

Why does Ofcom manage spectrum use?

Only a limited amount of spectrum is available, so it needs to be managed carefully. Certain bands of spectrum are also used for different purposes. For example, mobile companies use different parts of the spectrum to TV companies. So, it needs to be managed to prevent services interfering and causing disruption to people and businesses.