After years of ad-hoc additions and patchwork fixes, Churchill Downs audio infrastructure was racing against time. A technology assessment identified more than six dozen points of failure, any one of which could have taken the system down, perhaps even during the Kentucky Derby. Ownership asked Alpha to stave off disaster. And thus began an audio overhaul almost unrivaled in its scale and complexity.
Churchill Downs Racetrack
Fabrication & installation services
Audiovisual & control systems
Testing & programming
Churchill Downs approached Alpha with what seemed like a straight-forward enough request: Increase the quality and operational efficiency of the track’s sound system. But this engagement was hardly routine. For one thing, there was the sheer scale of the audio network, which extended half a mile, informed up 170,000 people, and was dispersed across 60 locations. Then there were the findings of our threat assessment, which revealed 80 points of vulnerability resulting from years of patchwork fixes and ad-hoc additions to the audio infrastructure. Any one of them could crash the entire system. Suddenly our timeline, requiring all work to be completed in time for the next racing reason, seemed significantly tighter. But something else made this project truly unique: the weight of history surrounding Churchill downs. The home of the Kentucky Derby demanded more than a mere audio upgrade – it required a quality of work befitting the most famous racetrack on the planet.
Our goal was to get all systems operating on the same platform with an overarching control structure that would provide comprehensive and intuitive control from mobile devices. But first we needed to eliminate the myriad architectural, environmental and IT risk points. After performing the assessment and completing design work, Alpha design and audio engineers divided the overall project into three phases: the first focusing on equipment purchase, the second involving the execution of all professional services, including installation, programming, commissioning, and testing, etc. In the final phase Alpha tackled the track’s speaker array to verify if the many hundreds of speaker cabinets were functional or in need of alignment or replacement. Adding to the complexity of project: a double whammy of lengthy approval processes on the client side, combined with industry-wide supply chain issues that entailed a 4-6 month lead time for new equipment. At peak times, Alpha’s team of engineers, project managers, and technicians numbered up to 20 staffers, plus sub-contractors and the team from QSC – all working in concert to deliver Derby-worthy sound in time for the spring start of racing season.
At the outset of this project, Alpha identified three desired outcomes: improved sound quality, enhanced ease of operation, and reduced risk of failure. For Churchill Downs audio overhaul to be a true success, however, the team had to satisfy a more gut-level requirement. “We had to deliver a level of performance that both we and the client considered worthy of an iconic venue,” says Alpha’s VP of Sports & Entertainment, Jeff Volk. As the 2022 racing season drew to a close, one of the ways Churchill Downs signaled its satisfaction was by awarding Alpha multiple additional projects. “We have a near-constant presence at the track,” adds Volk. “I guess they have an appreciation for thoroughbred performers.”