LeftPress PA Training Handbook
Table of Contents
This handbook was prepared by LeftPress Printing Society. We have over 30 years’ experience providing PA sound systems to public gatherings, large and small, in a variety of different venues. During this time commercial and privately owned space has encroached on public spaces in Brisbane and, no doubt, elsewhere. The regulators of public spaces are Brisbane City Council, Queensland Police, State government and a number of corporations (e.g. South Bank Corporation and Jupiters Casino). LeftPress will be conducting training for users of its PA systems. Both new and old systems will require training to improve their efficiency in difficult times and because of added complexity of the modern public address systems. These training sessions will be made available to all current and future users of the systems.
Hiroshima Day 1978
The primary objective is to convey speeches to people attending a rally or meeting. It may do other things like amplify music. It may be used to give important instructions or to send out chants and slogans.
A PA system is a powerful tool for bringing people together. Speeches should not be too long. This gives more people a chance to speak plus makes the rally more lively and maintains the crowd’s attention. As a rule of thumb no speech should be more than five (5) minutes, preferably shorter. It is the chairperson’s job to guide the speakers. One way of gently conveying this to speakers (who may be engrossed in what they are saying) is for the chairperson to go a stand beside the speaker at about 4 minutes to let them know it is time to wrap up.
The objective of retaining people’s attention means that the sound must be at the right level, it must be constant throughout the rally i.e. not be too loud nor too soft. To do this requires having the correct equipment, and doing a surprising amount of work to monitor the sound. To do this properly is a job in itself. So at least one person (but preferably two people) should be nominated to do sound. Other people may need to be on hand to help carrying the gear and to look after the equipment. Do not leave the PA unattended.
During the rally the sound person will need to focus on the microphone, its stand and the control panel on the PA box. If a speaker has a soft voice or is nervous, it is the job of the sound person to reassure the person and encourage them to stand up to the microphone and speak clearly into it. The mic stand must be adjusted to suit each speakers height. Allow more confident and practiced speakers to do this themselves but discourage them from taking the microphone out of its cradle unless absolutely necessary. This can produce unwanted side effects e.g. feedback (see section below). The mic stand has been placed where it is for a reason. It may be provide the best vantage point for people attending the rally. It is important that the audience can see the speaker. If the rally is likely to continue into the evening then adequate lighting should be provided. Hardware and tool suppliers sell portable battery operated lighting.
Public Address System
The LeftPress PAs are unlike sound systems you will see at a concert (for example). Firstly, it is a public-address system primarily intended to carry speeches to a crowd of people (large or small). Secondly, it is a distributed system which means that the speakers are distributed among the crowd and connected by leads to a central amplifier on the PA box (be it the old or new system). In the new system the leads go from speaker to speaker as far as the edge of the square or park. This means we do not need big powerful speakers turned up really loud to make it possible for the people at the back to hear clearly words being spoken. A distributed system means that the PA and speakers need to be placed intelligently to take advantage of the topography. For example, Emma Miller Place in Roma Street is an amphitheatre; so, if the mics and speakers are placed on the concrete stage at the bottom, the sound will be broadcast upwards to the tiered grassy area at the back. On occasion attempts have been made to broadcast sound with speakers at the top of Roma Street Forum. To do this requires a more powerful system with the sound bouncing off the walls of the buildings opposite. This may be undesirable for a number of reasons e.g. lack of clarity. With a well-directed set of speakers using the natural shape of the amphitheatre will give sharper, clearer sound without side effects.
Remember that sound quality is important for conveying the message of the rally. These days there are a lot of audio-visual devices at any rally. Use of mobile phones, zoom recorders, and video cameras will be enhance if the quality of sound is good. This assists in promoting the rally through social media.
The prevailing principle that underwrite these spaces is codified in law:
“A person has the right to assemble peacefully with others in a public place.”
– s5 Peaceful Assembly Act 1992
There will be no shortage of private businesses, police, council employees, and private individuals who will tell you otherwise. There are restrictions on this principle but they are limited by it. Most of the restrictions are common sense like protection of the rights and freedoms of other persons and public safety i.e. during the Covid 19 pandemic we are required to practise social distancing.
The right of peaceful assembly was hard won by workers, their organisations, women, students and first nations people. So we must not surrender them cheaply and should challenge any government or private company that wishes to take away our rights of public assembly and marching.
Under the Peaceful Assembly Act 1992 you are required to provide an Assembly Notice to the Commissioner of Police five (5) business days before the event. A similar notice to the Council may be required if the square or park is under the control of the Council. Contrary to what police, council and even some rally organisers may tell you, this is not a permit system. If you fulfil these requirements the rally is lawful under the Act. If police or council object to the holding of the rally or march, they are required to go to court to seek an injunction prohibiting the rally or march or changing the time and place.
As recent court cases have shown, there is no guarantee that the courts will uphold the objection of either the Police Commissioner or the Lord Mayor.
Be mindful that the holding of a rally for a political purpose is not simply a question of legality, it is a question of democratic rights and organisation. For example, if 10,000 people turn up to a rally in King George Square, there is very little the police or council can do, save to regulate the traffic and make sure the square is available. LeftPress has the PA equipment necessary to make sure the audience can hear what is going on and that people can exercise their democratic rights, even if it is in opposition to the government of the day.
As at 2020 the larger squares and parks where political rallies/events are listed below. All of these public spaces contain commercial activities that threaten rights to public assembly eg markets, coffee shops, bars, big screens etc.
|Public Place and Location||Controller||Number of people|
|King George Square|
|Brisbane City Council (BCC).||< 10,000|
(Cnr Elizabeth & George St.)
|Treasury casino/State government||< 3,000|
|Emma Miller Place|
|Raddacliffe Place [Brisbane Square]|
(Cordelia St South Brisbane)
|BCC / Jagera Arts / State government||< 15,000|
|Post Office Square|
(Betw Queen & Adelaide St)
|Queen Street Mall|
|Speaker of the Parliament||< 2,000|
LeftPress provides a contact person who is on call to book the PA. When an organiser contacts LeftPress we generally ask the purpose of the rally, the venue and approximate number of people who will attend. All are factors are in determining what equipment will be required and how portable it will be needed to be. We have drawn up a table below giving a rule of thumb of what will be required for different events. However there are some things that will always be required.
Here is a short checklist of what will be required on the day:
- Microphone plus Mic Stand. Check to see if more than one microphone is required e.g. when a choir sings. Extra mic stands may be required also.
- Wire to connect phone or musical instrument to PA via Auxillary input (see Picture 2).
- Charge the Battery charged for 10 hours before use. It is important for the life of the batteries to keep them fully charged. They are of the lithium-ion type. Charging both is easy. Plug in the power lead and turn on and the 240V supply begins charging the batteries. In the case of the old system you will need to plug in the battery box into the back of the PA box and it will begin charging. This step in unnecessary in the new system because the batteries are inbuilt.
- PA stands and speakers. Work out beforehand how many horn speakers (TOAs) will be required. Note that either the (CS Power Column) or Chiayo Challenger 1000 will always be required to power the other horn speakers. See Table – Capacity of PA to estimate number of horns needed.
- Leads. Long leads for each speaker. Count the number of horns and make sure you have the right number of leads and connector boxes.
- Will auxiliary power be needed for musos amps?
- Umbrella and covers for speaker box.
When you pick up the PA equipment from LeftPress briefly run through the checklist above. Be sure you have all the equipment needed e.g. enough mics, leads and extra speakers. Check that the green light is on when you connect the battery pack to the main box. If not users can charge the system prior to the rally or meeting. All it takes is the correct power lead and access to 240V mains power. The old system uses an extension lead and the new system has its own dedicated power lead.
CS Power Column (PEM model) – with four TOA speakers mounted on two stands. These TOA speakers have been in operation since the right-to-march campaign (1977-78). We purchased the box and amplifier in the early 1990s. It has a pleasant warm sound and comprises five speakers in a wooden box covered with brown carpet. The speaker box has a variety of inputs and outputs using leads to the microphone(s). It is entirely portable and can do crowds up to 1,500 – 2,000 people. We call this the old system.
|Size of rally||Venue||Equipment needed|
|Up to 200 people||Public hall or small outdoor space||Main speaker box|
|Greater than 200 but less than 400 people||Outdoors or public hall||2 TOA horn speakers and 1 spk. stand|
|Greater than 400 but less than 1,000 people||Rally in square or public park||4 horns and 2 spk. stands|
Chiayo Challenger 1000 Portable Wireless PA System. It is very versatile capable of providing sound to small audiences in a meeting room. Also it can supply up to eight (8) TOA speakers with sufficient sound to do crowds up to 10,000 – 15,000 people. It features a wireless microphone and Bluetooth system capable of playing high quality voice and music sound. We call this the new system. For a full technical description of the latter see Appendix – Technical manual for Chiayo PA system
i. To set up the Chiayo PA system is a two (2) person job. The PA stand and box are quite heavy. To compensate for this, the PA stand is fitted with geared mechanism for winding up the speaker box.
ii. Place the stand near to where you wish the speaker box to be. Spread out the three (3) legs forming a tripod and tighten the knob that controls the legs. They should now be fixed.
iii. Bring the Chiayo speaker box on its two (2) wheel trolley And place it next to the speaker stand. Make sure the height of the speaker stand is set to its lowest level. Two (2) people will be required to lift the speaker box up on top of the stand and to place the bottom hole on the top of the stand.
iv. Place the trolley to one side so that people will not trip over it.
v. Using the handle provided crank the box up to a higher elevation. This will enable the better amplification of the sound to carry over the heads of the people or any obstructions. Make sure the knob is loose when you do this otherwise it will be difficult. Depending on the circumstances the speaker box should be about head height. Make sure you shut the handle and put it away. There is a trick to this, you must pull the handle out and slightly upwards in order to place it in its container (pictured).
vi. If you intend using the horn speakers then position the stand at the appropriate height or a little above.
vii. Splay out the tripod legs making sure that you have opened up the knob that controls the legs.
viii. Place the horn speaker bracket on the stand making sure that it is at its lowest settings. Now place both horn speakers on the bracket making sure to tighten the knobs. Using the telescope of the stand making sure the knob is not tight and rise the speakers above head height.
ix. Now plug in the brown cable to the external speaker and connect to small black connector box labelled (pictured).
x. Now hook up the two (2) round TOAs and point them in the direction you wish. Now you’re ready to do a sound check.
xi. Turn on the power and you will see some flashing lights and at the top of the back of the control panel. You’ll see the wireless mic being picked up on the UHF screen showing the number 520.250 MHz which is the preferred mic frequency.
xii. Turn on the mic. You should be able to hear the sound coming through the system. Check all the TOAs to make sure the sound is coming through them.
xiii. Stand in front of the speakers and speak gently into the mic. Get someone positioned in the crowd to see if the sound is carrying to the required spot saying “testing testing, one two”.
xiv. The wireless mic should be solid blue. If the blue light on the wireless mic is flashing that means you have to replace the 2 x AA batteries by unscrewing the bottom part of the microphone and putting in two double-A batteries and that should fix the problem.
If for any reason the wireless mic is not working, always have on hand a microphone with lead so that you can plug it into the microphone input on the back of the control panel.
To dismantle a system is the opposite of how you set it up. Lower the speaker box, disconnect the cables and placing one foot on a leg of the speaker and with two people then lift the Chiayo PA box upwards and off to one side lowering it carefully onto the trolley.
LeftPress portable PA ‘old system’ with battery showing control panel on back of speaker box.
This PA has four horn speakers that have been in operation since the right-to-march campaign (1977-78). The main speaker box was bought in the early 1990s. It has a pleasant warm sound and comprises five speakers in a wooden box covered with brown carpet.
The speaker box has a variety of inputs and outputs pictured below.
It is entirely portable having a small box carrying two 12V batteries (in series). This is fully chargeable by 240V supply through an extension cord (shown).
It has extension speaker outputs to two sets of TOA horn speakers. The whole system can be run independent of power restrictions in a square or on a footpath for eight (8) hours.
The back panel can take 2 mic leads and an auxiliary (e.g. guitar lead, phone or MP3 player).
This is similar to the set up procedure for the new system but I will run through a checklist to make sure people understand how the old system works.
i. Place the PA box on a stand (there is a hole under the box to accommodate the stand).
ii. Plug in either portable battery or mains input depending on what power source you are going to use.
iii. Connect up PA box to old horn speakers (the squarish ones) using connector cables. This will be necessary depending on the size of the rally. The rule of thumb is if the small box does not deliver sufficient sound, add on as many horn speakers as needed to provide sound to the entire crowd. See Table below titled Capacity of PA.
iv. Plug in mic (and other sound sources) into the panel on the back.
v. Make sure levels are set to low so that when you turn on the mic (or other sound sources) there will be no feedback.
vi. Make sure the mic stand is set behind the PA stand and horn speaker stands (or, if this is not possible, make sure they are directed away from the microphone). This is prevent feedback.
vii. Turn on power switch on the PA box.
viii. Turn on mic switch (found at the top of the microphone).
You are now ready to do a sound check. If you are going to play music through a phone (or some other device) now is a good time to plug it in also. Get someone to go and stand near each horn speaker and check that sound is coming through.
If one of a chairperson or organiser is available ask them to make an announcement to check the levels. Make sure the organisers are happy with the positioning and direction of the speakers. Adjust the mic stand to the height of the chairperson and monitor this when new people come to speak.
You will need to check the levels by walking around the crowd throughout the rally (as numbers may grow as the rally proceeds).
If there is to be a march, make sure that someone is left to keep an eye on the equipment. If there is any heckling or interference with the microphone/PA speakers you will have to intervene to protect the equipment and to ensure continuity of the rally or meeting. It is best to stand close to the equipment and ask people to show respect to the speakers.
To dismantle the system is the opposite of setting up. Make sure you turn everything off to save the battery power.
In wet conditions you will need to cover the microphone and the PA box with a plastic bag or umbrella. The horn speakers will operate in wet conditions and do not need to be covered.
|Size of rally||Venue||Equipment needed|
|Up to 200 people||Public hall or small outdoor space||Main speaker box of either old or new system(CS Power Column)|
|Betw 200 & 400 people||Outdoors or public hall||2 TOA horn speakers on 1 speaker stand|
|Betw 400 & 2,000 people||Rally in square or public park||4 horns on 2 speaker stands deployed strategically among the people. Set the horns high so as not to blast people standing nearby.|
|Betw 2,000 & 15,000 people||Rally in square or park||Use new system with all the horn speakers 4 old and 4 new as required. They are inked in series.|
Safety is a big issue because:
i. You are dealing with electrical equipment. Fortunately most of the leads have low voltage and can’t really hurt you. However power leads to mains supply should always be rated for wet conditions especially extension leads. LeftPress can provide the appropriate leads if you wish to use mains power but this is usually unnecessary because the batteries are adequate for most rallies or public meetings. If mains power is available you may wish to have the leads as a back-up in case the batteries run out (unlikely) or if there is an issue with a lead.
ii. Some of the equipment is quite heavy: PA boxes, speakers, even the stands. Make sure you work in pairs and do not try to lift the equipment unaided.
When the equipment is set up and connected with power, it is important to get someone to go to different sections of the square/park before the rally gets under way to check that sound levels are right. Also, if the organisers wish to play songs/music using their phones or if a musician(s) are performing at the rally make sure they have appropriate connector(s) before the rally. Devices (phones) and instruments may be able to connect to the new system wirelessly via bluetooth. This needs to be checked prior to the rally.
It is a good idea to monitor the sound levels throughout the rally because, as more people arrive, you may need to change the direction and elevation (height) of the horn speakers.
One of the biggest bugbears for a sound person is feedback. This is the shrill sound that the PA emits when sound usually coming from an incorrectly directed box or horn speaker goes into the microphone and is amplified. The mic sends the sound to the amp which increases the level and so on. This is called a loop. It can damage people’s ears (accoustic shock) plus, if left unchecked, it can damage the equipment.
As soon as the feedback loop starts the sound person must turn down the mic level on the control panel. This means you have to be nearby. If the sound is extreme, you may need to turn the mic or other input off completely until you find the cause. Sometimes another input device can be the cause. However if you have only one microphone on it will be the sound level or a wrongly directed speaker. When someone is speaking at a rally you should only have one microphone turned ‘ON’. Even if you have other inputs (e.g. a guitar) you do not need to have the volume turned up until the guitarist is performing.
Many leads may be necessary for use in a rally depending on size and equipment used. It is important to check the leads that will be required. Leads have a habit of failing because of being trodden on and general misuse. The covers can be used on or near the podium where people are likely to tramp. This is a safety issue. One way to overcome this is to tape down the leads and place them in nooks and crannies where people can’t tread on them. Covers may be used. It is important to coil up leads without kinks or twists in them and to bind them with rubber bands or Velcro.
Below are some examples of leads that may be required:
Stored leads beside PA box – the yellow plastic standing between the leads and the PA box is a lead cover.
Arrange for a convenient pick-up time by phone or text.
When you pick up the PA equipment from LeftPress briefly run through the checklist above be sure you have all the equipment needed e.g. enough mics, leads and extra speakers. Check that the green light is on when you connect the battery pack to the main box.
Arrange with LeftPress for a convenient time to return the equipment. On return of the PA Leftpress will issue you with an invoice with payment details on the form. Please provide LeftPress with your/organisation name and email address. Equipment should remain neatly packed in containers and bags provided until the rally.
If weather looks bad always take a couple of garbage bags and an umbrella to cover the older PA box and mic. The TOA speakers work OK in the wet. The newer Chiayo system has its own cover.
Parking is always an issue when attending rallies in the CBD. Make sure you have someone ready at the drop-off near the square or park to help you take the PA out of the car and to look after it while you park your car.
Take care to find a shady spot (if possible) for the mic stand so that the speakers at the rally will not have to stand in the hot sun. An umbrella is an important item to have on hand, be it rainy or hot.
It is important to assess the public spaces where gatherings may occur. We are going to give an assessment of how sound behaves in typical public spaces in Brisbane. However these rules of thumb may apply anywhere.
Emma Miller Place with arrows showing the directions where the horn speakers should be pointing.
It is important to point the horn and box speaker at different sections of the crowd. If people are seated in a semi-circle as occurs at Emma Miller Place break it up into slices and point the speakers at each section as shown in the picture.
Each venue have their own sound characteristics, capacity, facilities and comfort levels. We summarise some important features in the comments below. Each space can be used differently depending on the size of the crowd and the conditions of the day. In response to this the speaking equipment may be set up in a variety of ways to accommodate differing size and nature of the rally.
This was set up in 2010 to accommodate the large number of rallies and protests that occur at the gates of parliament over the years. On occasion the gates have been breached by people angry at inaction by the government of the day. The space provides quite a lot of shade and is generally cooler than other parts of the city because of its proximity to the botanic gardens which are next door. The speaking equipment can be set up in a variety of ways depending on the size and nature of the rally.
i. Facing away from the speakers corner plaque. This enables the speakers at the rally the comfort of the shade from the tree behind and also takes advantage of the length of the space. The space is only about 20 metres wide but about 80 metres long. Not all of that space is available because cars park at the entrance to Alice Street. Some union rallies have had a stage where speakers corner is, taking advantage of the corridor in front of the stage. Sound travels well in this space.
ii. Facing away from Parliament and toward the Botanic Gardens. This has the advantage of confronting the monster with the audience at the back. Government Ministers and MLAs often come out onto the balcony and listen to the speeches from the extra-parliamentary opposition. In that case I generally turn one horn speaker around to face the parliament.
iii. The reverse.
Speakers Corner, George Street parliament house – Qld Uncut rally at gates of parliament – October 2012. Photo: Rick Ng
Reddacliffe Place: Top of the mall – 266 George Street Brisbane City. Note that the LeftPress old system (inset) is providing sound for this rally.
This is an interesting space between the busway and the Brisbane City Council Administration building. City Council has quite a schizophrenic approach. They direct organisers to this space when KGSq has commercial activity going on in it. Yet they say that demonstrators must make way for pedestrian traffic.
Bounded by George and Elizabeth Streets and North Quay this park is under the control of the Treasury Casino although State government has some input into who uses it.
Measuring 100 metres by 100 metres it is one of the largest parks in the city capable of holding over 5,000 people. Recently it held about 20,000 after police shut down George, Elizabeth and North Quay. The sound system has to be set up carefully when the crowd gets that big. At the 2021 Invasion Day rally people in the streets could not hear because buildings blocked the sound. This is why we need a public address system with horn speakers distributed amongst the crowd.
Technical manual for Chiayo PA system can be found here
+++ This handbook is written for users of the LeftPress PA systems and for members of LeftPress. +++
LeftPress is a socialist enterprise for the promotion of socialist literature and other original works. We have over 30 years’ experience providing PA sound systems to public gatherings, large and small, in a variety of different venues. Our aim is to provide a resource to organisations and individuals at cost. We will do this so long as the aim of the rally or event does not contradict our purpose. LeftPress is run by a committee of workers dedicated to the abolition of private property and its replacement by the institution of worker control of production. Our purpose is to replace capitalist production with socialised industry. We charge a modest fee in order to maintain the equipment. By arrangement, a LeftPress member may be present at the rally [there is a small extra charge for this].