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Don't expect monster sound.

Byline: Bob Welch / The Register-Guard

WITH THE Autzen Stadium expansion now only two months away from its debut, the question can wait no longer: With 12,000 additional seats, how much louder is the already-loud place going to be?

There is, after all, a bit of pride and tradition on the line here. Coaches in a Sporting News poll ranked Autzen Stadium as the 10th-best football stadium in America. "The place is nuts," says UCLA coach Bob Toledo, about as nice a compliment as you can get in college football.

I don't want to rain on anybody's tailgate party, but sound experts say the new Autzen may not be as loud as some Duck fans might think. Louder? Perhaps. Way louder? Nope.

Crowd noise, of course, depends on all sorts of factors, from opponents (no Duck fan has ever lost her voice over Idaho) to weather (gloves muffle clapping) to the socioeconomic makeup of the crowd (`The Wave" inevitably begins in the end zone ghettos and dies in the high-rent district beneath Autzen's roof).

But based purely on the stadium itself, the additional fans aren't likely to crank up the volume significantly.

"When you're already in a sea of people the fact that the sea expands another quarter of a mile doesn't make much difference," says Arthur Noxon, an acoustics engineer and head of the Eugene-based Acoustics Science Corp. "The increase would barely be above the threshold of detectability in a laboratory setting."

"With added people you're going to have more energy so more sound sources, but I don't think the difference will be significant," says George Relles, whose company, Relles Sound Inc., does work for such clients as the Seattle Symphony and the Peter Britt Festival.

Those of us whose knowledge of football is greater than our knowledge of science would like to believe that a 29 percent increase in seating (from 41,698 to 54,000) would mean 29 percent more noise to get into a quarterback's head.

Nope. All things being equal, points out Noxon, the additional seating will increase the sound level by 1.1 decibels. That's less than 1 percent, based on a 112-decibel reading that Register-Guard reporter Tim Christie got last year at the UO-USC game.

"Loudness," says Noxon, "has to change by 3 decibels before the average person will say: 'Wait a minute, isn't it louder in here?' '

WAIT A MINUTE, isn't it puzzling that 12,000 additional clapping, duck-calling and screaming maniacs could not actually make a recognizable difference in noise level?

Maybe not so puzzling after all.

To reach the notice-it-for-sure 3-decibel level, Autzen's original capacity would have to be doubled, Noxon says. "Remember, if you place a 70-decibel speaker on your left and a 70-decibel speaker on your right and stand in the middle, you don't get 140 decibels," he says. "You get 73 decibels. The rule of thumb is you double the sound power to get 3 decibels."

In 1987, the University of Washington added 13,000 seats to its then-62,500-seat Husky Stadium - a 21 percent increase to 75,500. Some U-Dub fans say it made the place noisier, but "it wasn't a whole bunch louder," says Leonard Helm, the stadium's utility work supervisor. "You noticed a difference in some areas, but not everywhere."

The Husky addition was a north-side upper deck that evened the stadium height on both sides. Autzen's addition will do the opposite - make one side (90 rows) higher than the other (65 rows). "The shouting from fans up top on the new south side is going to go over the top of the wall on the other side," says Jeff Weinkauf, a sound system designer for Eugene-based Anderson Group International. He expects a louder stadium, but not considerably.

UO Athletic Director Bill Moos doesn't expect 29 percent more noise "but it'll be louder - and loudest on the visiting team's side."

New end zone seats that come nearly to ground level - and closer to the field - will make it tougher on opposing teams deep in their own territory. The steep new stands - like the old ones - will help keep in noise. And a larger south-side roof will "work like a megaphone," Noxon says.

All said, the Autzen magic - ESPN's Lee Corso likes the stadium better than the University of Michigan's 107,501-seat monster - should continue. Moos wisely scrapped an earlier, upper-deck design that would have ruined the bowl concept and could have actually "de-noised" the place.

His choice will prove all the wiser years down the road when UO raises the north stands to complete the Autzen symmetry. In the meantime, I'm anxious to hear what the stadium sounds like Aug. 31 against Mississippi State.

The sound experts obviously know their stuff. But I'll believe it when I hear it.

Or don't.

Bob Welch can be reached by calling 338-2354 or by e-mail at bwelch@guardnet.com.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Jun 30, 2002
Words:812
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