This "memorandum for file" reports on the aged but powerful amplified sound system (donated by John Norton and owned by HCHS) we deployed in the Historic Courthouse tower. Some readers received related e-mail on this topic from me prior to the use. We cover three topics in this memo:
I did not time things, but even if one is well-prepared and energetic, it is surely easy to spend at least an hour setting up or tearing down the system safely.
Here is what needs to be done to deploy the system:
2. Performance and feedback
The first non-test use of this system was at the 2008 Pumpkin Caper. (Aside: Spooky sounds debuted at the Pumpkin Caper in 2006, a puny set of two, fired at random intervals from a humble PC speaker in the corridor of the public library in the Historic Courthouse. In 2007, a CD-based set of very many dozens of sounds was introduced and played with the Norton sound system on the Historic Courthouse campus lawn. In 2008, we used the same CD again.)
I began playing the sounds around 4:30PM. By hitting the REPEAT button on the remote-control TWICE after you power-up the unit and start playing the CD/DVD, the Norcent unit will loop its replay indefinitely (if disk-formatting makes that possible).
I started with the overall volume relatively low. Still, sounds were CLEARLY audible on Carrollton Street at the Post Office, and goodness only knows how much further - there was no time to do a "field survey". Many days before the fair I had asked the mayor of the town to supply a police officer who could help us set the volume at a level not so high that it would be a civil nuisance. He replied by pointing out that every two years the city puts on a fireworks show at New Year midnight, implying we were free to use our own disgression about the sound volume.
Charles, who was in the library corridor when he made this remark, complained that the volume was rather too low, and I turned it up quite a bit in consequence.
No one was questioned about their opinion of the "sound show". Even on the Historic Courthouse campus, the sound was very, very far from painful, on account of speaker placement multiple dozens of feet up in the air. But one adult festival attendee within my earshot, whom I don't think imagined I had any connection with the event, remarked to her child that she wished "they" would stop the sound show. I did not inquire after her reasons, which might have included content, volume or other concerns. Did anyone else receive any feedback or ask after it?
As the festival was winding down, Karen asked that I turn down the sound "a bit." At the risk of wrongly interpreting the qualification as an attempt to spare imagined feelings on my part, I turned it down substantially, to the level originally set. When we closed shop about 8:30PM, the system was shut off, disassembled and stored.
When placed up in the tower, the sound from the Norton system carries amazingly far in town. How loud should one make the sound? It depends on the time of day, duration and duty-cycle of use, content you broadcast, sentiments of the event crowd AND general residents. Opinions will vary and I have no definitive answer. The City of Buchanan should provide advice on what makes a nuisance in the absence of well-known case law or explicit ordinances. Previous town festivals have used amplified sound systems before, so the issue is not entirely new. BUT - placement of same in the tower opens a NEW DIMENSION, because the sound is no longer baffled within the town square, but can carry BLOCKS away. Use some discretion.
That said, tower placement of the speakers is of advantage compared to street level use in that no one at street level is blasted at a volume setting which is loud enough for the convenience of the most distant intended listeners. By the way, at lower volumes it is hard for people on the street to localize the source of the sound, and the speakers are visually inconspicuous. This produces an appropriate "spooky" effect for Halloween events. Praise (or blame?) Karen for the suggestion to mount the speakers in the tower!
Mayor Biggers suggested that we use our wireless microphone to allow street access to the tower sound system. I had previously arranged that announcers might either go to the tower and use the wired mike in place there or provide us a recording we could burn to CD, both being fool-proof methods. I declined using our wireless mike at the last minute for want of testing prior to the day of use, generally a wise policy for big events that should be robust against gotchas. (Remember my discovery concerning the new DVD system fault above!)
All the same, this is an interesting notion. The mike manufacturers suggest you can burn through the two required 9V one-use batteries within 2 hours. As I write, such a pair of Energizers will cost you $5.68 online at Wal-Mart. (About $3 per hour with continuous use.) That's why HCHS instead elected to invest in NiMH rechargeables and a charger for about $25. (They seem to last about an hour before they need recharging.)
Sadly, at least once, our poor coordination prevented the use of batteries charged up the night before an event, because no one knew to move the batteries from the charger to the mike system on the actual day of the event! Suggested problem solution: Next time, tape a card to the mike reading: "Take 9V batteries from charger, place same in both mike and receiver, and turn both on for up to an hour before power exhaustion."
While on the topic, I suggest we buy two mains supplies (about $10? each) which can replace the needed 9V batteries. This lets us power the wireless mike and receiver indefinitely at low cost of operation, while obviating the need for a signal cable between the two. Naturally, this means the two ends must then be tied down near some mains power outlets (e.g. a performance stage trailer on Carrollton Street and the Courthouse tower.)
Whether we use charged batteries or splurge for one-use units, I think it would be interesting to test the use of the mike system with the receiver in the tower, where it could drive the Norton speaker system, and the mike positioned at several strategic places in town, including at least all three of the HCHS-managed buildings (HCH, SWHH, LCSH) and the City Hall. Such testing would require auxiliary use of a pair of cell-phones so that the people at the mike and in the tower could coordinate. Depending on mike position, it may prove necessary to adjust one or both of the trimming pots on the receiver module (using a jeweler's screwdriver). Such settings may also depend on diurnal and other temporal patterns of interfering local radio spectrum habitation in our gadget-filled age! (I have no plans to run such tests myself any time soon.)
An obvious alternative to the wireless mike is use of a pair of cell phones, with one phone acoustically feeding a wired mike in the tower. But such a link suffers from the acoustic inferiority of cell phone telephony, making it unsuitable for artistic sounds like performed music, quite aside from any usage charges. By the way, for the same reason, I don't like using the Norton sound system for the best in sound quality - remember the hiss problem we detailed above.
Please note that even if some remote feed of tower-placed speakers proves technically feasible, one should be demure in intruding on the ACOUSTIC PRIVACY of town residents. The temptation to excessively force one's attention on them by such intrusive means could easily lead to callous practices that produce not only great resentment, but even anger, not unreasonably so! After all, a town is NOT a privately-held fairground or mall, but a place many people call home. Persons and groups who desire the former should lease or purchase same. Question: Is there a town-wide emergency alert siren system? Neighborhood systems of that type were common in the big-city haunts of my Cold War childhood, now long decades ago.