Surf Ballroom Upgrades to Attract A-List Shows

Oct 7, 2003 12:00 PM, Editors


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The Surf Ballroom (Clear Lake, Iowa) is located midway between the “A” market venues of Minneapolis and Des Moines, Ia. The 2,000-capacity ballroom has recently undergone a management change and a renovation that has also seen the very first installation of a sound system.

Originally built in 1933 and then rebuilt in 1948 after a fire, the Surf Ballroom has never previously featured an in-house audio system, revealed Greg Owen, owner of local sound company Front Row Productions, and is the ballroom's resident monitor engineer. "The room was made architecturally to be very resonant, to carry the sound of the big bands. The room was the amplifier."

Hired by the Surf Ballroom’s local owners to put together an installed sound system that would satisfy the majority of touring artists coming through Clear Lake, Owen said, "I made a decision to get some Drawmer pieces and have at least eight channels of gates and compressors." In the FOH processing rack, Owen installed a Drawmer DL241—a stereo/dual-mono processor that comprises a compressor, an expander/gate and a peak limiter on each channel—and a DL441, a 4-channel unit that offers peak limiting and the same basic compression circuitry as the DL241. A DL251 2-channel spectral compressor is also included.

"Another great piece of gear we put in the rack is the Drawmer 1960," Owen continued. The Drawmer 1960 is a 2-channel unit, each channel of which comprises a completely natural-sounding "soft-knee" vacuum-tube compressor and an extremely low-noise microphone preamplifier. Eight channels of Drawmer gates are also installed. Two DS501 dual-channel power gates feature a new dual-mode tunable Peak Punch™ processing section on each channel, allowing the user to shape the transients of the gated signal. Owen also specified a Drawmer MX40 4-channel frequency-dependent Peak Punch gate. Drawmer's Peak Punch feature expands the initial attack when the gate opened to momentarily add punch to the gated signal.

Owen felt that maintaining the clarity of the signal at the Surf Ballroom was paramount, particularly for the many vocal performers visiting the venue. "The problem they always had here," Owen said, "was intelligibility of vocals and speech. To achieve that, in addition to the Drawmer processing, we bought some Neumann KMS 105 vocal mics.

“We were having problems with people bringing in ground-stacking stuff. There were standing waves and confusion because of the domed roof and flat surfaces at the back of the room. We felt the McCauley line array system would take care of some of that, but a better signal path all round, especially on vocal processing, is going to be the key to making this rig sound really good. I felt that we should put together a system that's top-shelf, because we don't want to have to still go back out and hire. If we can be in a smaller market and carry smaller quantities of what an A market-type tour would want, we'd be sitting real good. So we targeted the higher-end brands. We've also got a Midas Legend 3000 board and 75 to 90 percent of the popular gear that riders are asking for."

Some of the artists to visit the Surf Ballroom after the renovation have included The Outfield, Ted Nugent and Alice Cooper. The ballroom, which regularly also attracts some of the bigger country acts, will play host to Three Dog Night, Thin Lizzy and David Allen Coe before the end of the year.

For more information about the Surf Ballroom, visit

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