Thursday, March 3, 2011

Best and Worst Acoustics in Memphis

Posted By on Thu, Mar 3, 2011 at 10:11 AM

Live-Microphone.jpg
Because of the large number of public hearings on consolidation of governments and school systems, I have visited a few dozen forums in the last six months. And the message I bring to you, my fellow Memphians, is "I can't hear you."

At least not well. The acoustics in public and private facilities range from great to awful. As a patriot once said, I may not agree with a word that you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it so long as you say it clearly and limit your remarks to two minutes.

I am a little fanatical on the subject of clarity. My job depends on getting it right as far as "Jim" or "Tim" or "$5 million" or "$5 billion" or "6 p.m. Tuesday" or "6 p.m. Thursday a week from now."

For several years I refused to get a cellphone for that and other reasons. But "call me on a land line" is no longer an option. So my typical conversation with friends, family, and newsmakers includes several "I'm sorry could you please repeat thats." On an assignment for an out-of-town newspaper, I once had a conversation with an editor that went something like this:

Me on a borrowed cellphone with the wind blowing and truck engines whining in the background: "I am in Dyersburg and the police are saying the hostages are okay but there have been shots and they are still negotiating. What is your deadline?"

Editor in New York: "So ..... there are many dead ... and shot in the head .... and no longer negotiating ..... ... have given them a deadline ... and your source is a sheriff named ZXXBXBDL! Can you have that for the early edition?"

You might think that face-to-face meetings would eliminate that problem but you would be wrong. The acoustics in at least half the venues I have been in recently are substandard. Here's my ranking of the best and worst, with the best first.

Germantown Performing Arts Center. With 800 people in the auditorium and a group of speakers with microphones on the stage, I could hear every word perfectly, whether from the stage, main floor, or balcony.

Southwind High School. Big, comfortable, modern, relatively new, and well suited to the latest audio and video technology.

Memphis City Council chambers. Council members, especially chairman Myron Lowery, have learned to speak clearly and urge citizens to do the same. It works. Big room, but better than the fifth-floor conference room when it is jammed and members are sitting around a table.

Hollywood Community Center. About 200 people jammed this venue for a schools forum. The acoustics were surprisingly good, and veteran speakers including Willie Herenton, Thaddeus Matthews, and Sidney Chism know how to project, with or without a microphone.

Whitehaven High School auditorium. A giant auditorium with well over 1000 seats, built long ago. A poor choice for a community meeting that drew fewer than 50 people, compounded by a PowerPoint presentation and computer that didn't work and poor acoustics.

Bryan Center auditorium at Rhodes College. Proving that money does not necessarily buy good acoustics.

Bridges. A fancy piece of architecture north of St. Jude hospital. See Rhodes College.

Central Station lobby. The absolute worst. The former train station was expensively renovated, but its public space is useless as a meeting room. Like speaking through a wet towel with a voice disguiser in a box canyon. With or without microphones, speakers cannot be heard even at close range.

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