It’s the start of another New Year, and of course that’s the time when one thinks (at least a little, maybe) about making lifestyle changes. Eating healthier, getting more exercise, saving money, and all those kind of things. I recently was reading an article that discussed the importance of having hobbies. Research says that people with hobbies are happier, better maintain cognitive skills, have less stress, and in general, live longer. This reminded me of when I moved to North Dakota six years ago and bought a small townhouse at the country club just outside of Bismarck, located along the Missouri River.
The guys at the clubhouse poker table on my first “Men’s Night”, unaccustomed to people moving to North Dakota, were pretty curious why I picked Bismarck as the place to live in the U.S. I remember the conversation well: So, you like to hunt? Nope. You’re a big fisherman? No, have never fished. You own a boat? No, can’t even swim. So, you’re just a golfer? Don’t play golf either. Well, it’s a great countryside to just cruise around on your Harley. Motorcycles scare me.
That little discussion made me realize that most men my age have several hobbies—and I only had two: audiology (which some might consider a profession) and following professional sports (specifically the Denver Broncos and the Colorado Rockies). Certainly not as exciting as pulling a big walleye out of the Missouri, shooting an 8-point buck, or even (gulp) gardening. But it was all I had, so I thought maybe I could make the most of it by somehow working the two together.
My first effort was to write an article with well-known audiologist David Hawkins (perhaps Audiology’s top golfer), which we titled “The Case of the Missing Ping.” In this article we pointed out that if you knew the SPL of the “ping” of the golf ball hitting the driver, a little about free-field-to eardrum-transfer functions, REOGs, RECDs, RETSPLs, AGCi and AGCo kneepoints, you could explain why our patient could hear the ping of a good drive when he wasn’t using his new CIC hearing aids, but couldn’t hear the ping when he was wearing them.
As time went on, I started to realize that there actually were several things that linked sports with hearing and sound. Most sports make noise. Many sports make a unique noise, and in fact, some sports are more or less defined by the noise that they make! Some sports require excellent hearing; others can give you a hearing loss. All in all, it’s a pretty good match. Things like the “swish” of a basketball, the “crack” of a bat, or record-setting noise levels during a NASCAR event at Bristol Motor Speedway. Sometimes the interest lies with the connection between an audiologist and a sporting event. For example, did you know that audiologist Diana Sowers of Merrillville, Indiana played PRO football for the Indiana Speed of the Women’s Professional Football League? Or, if you want a recent example that made national news and the Jay Leno show, how about the November 27, 2011 sideline shot of Chargers kicker Nick Novak, son of noted audiologist Bob Novak?
With all these connections between my two hobbies—audiology and sports—it seemed that some of these connections should be documented. So, a couple of years ago, I started a blog on the topic, and managed 25 or so postings. The blog doesn’t really have a home anymore, but I thought I’d share ten of my favorites with you, in random order.
1. Christmas, Sledding and Unilateral Hearing Loss.
Well, how about we start with the sport of “sledding,” a popular event this time of year. Back in my childhood on the farm at Ryder, ND we would go sledding using most anything big enough to sit on, that was slippery, and was free. I recall that big cardboard boxes worked pretty well, but when we wanted to be a little macho and impress the younger kids, we’d use old refrigerator doors or car hoods.
Another item for sledding that commonly was used was a scoop shovel—much easier to find in the winter months than a loose refrigerator door. Perhaps the most notable scoop shovel sledding event happened back in 1919 in upstate New York, in the town of Bedford Falls. A group of young boys were using shovels to go down a hill along the river. The youngest of the group was Harry Bailey. When it was his turn, Harry traveled farther than any of the other boys, and went out on the river and fell through the thin ice. He would have drowned had it not been for the quick thinking of his older brother George Bailey, who jumped in and saved him by getting the other boys to form a “human chain.”
George Bailey saved his brother’s life that day. But, George caught a bad cold which infected his left ear, which led to a profound unilateral sensorineural hearing loss (this is according to a report delivered Christmas Eve several years later by an angel named Clarence Odbody). So there you have it . . . sports, hearing loss and Christmas all wrapped up in my favorite Christmas movie—It’s A Wonderful Life.
2. Getting Scientific About Crowd Noise
It’s that time of year when we all are watching college bowl games. Like most sports, there is a home field advantage in football; odds-makers say around 3 points. Crowd noise can play a big part. Not only does noise fire up the home team, but if the opposing team cannot hear their quarterback calling signals, expect to see an increase in false start and delay of game penalties.
So as you might expect, this topic has been researched, with papers presented at such prestigious meetings as those of the Acoustical Society. In one study, the researchers showed that the crowd noise increased from about 75-80 dB SPL when the home team quarterback was calling plays to 100-110 dB SPL when the visiting team was trying to call plays. They estimated that in terms of effective communications distance, the home team’s quarterback could communicate with other players up to 20 feet away while shouting; whereas, the visiting team’s quarterback is limited to communications ranges of less than 2 feet, even while shouting. Additional research has been conducted at several college stadiums to determine the best location for the highest noise from the crowd, and as you might expect, they then designate this area as “student seating.”
3. And the Guinness World Record is . . . 128.7 dB
The research on crowd noise reminds me of a Guinness World Record event of my past. It was October 1, 2000 at the old Mile High Stadium in Denver. On this day, the more than 76,000 Denver fans led by “Barrel Man” in the south stands, got louder and louder until the official 10 second measurement period, when they peaked at 128.7 dB SPL. That’s loud, and indeed broke the old record by 3 dB. In case you think I’m making this up, you can check it out with the Official Guinness Adjudicator Della Howes, who was on the field for the measurement. I’d like to tell you that I contributed .01 dB or so to that total, but it went on at half-time and I sort of forgot about it, and instead was chasing down a beer and some nachos in the bowels of the stadium at the time. But I was there. The noise record and Della’s charm didn’t help enough, however, as the Broncos lost a tough game to the Patriots, 28-19.
4. There’s No Noise in Curling?
Speaking of crowd noise, curling is part of the Winter Olympics, and maybe you remember the crowd noise issue that came up two years ago in Vancouver during the women’s competition. It seems that the partisan Canadian crowd . . . are you ready for this . . . actually “made noise” when players from the opposing team stepped into the hack to deliver rocks. How rude is that? After losing to Canada, Denmark’s Madeleine Dupont said she was unable to control the weight because of the noise. She said it would have been fairer if the crowd had cheered as loudly when the Canadian players were throwing (I don’t think she gets it). After losing to Canada, German skip Andrea Schoepp reportedly complained that “the noise made the game unfair.”
Now I’m no expert at curling, but I have thrown a few rocks in my day. I’ve also played and watched a lot of baseball. You know what the baseball home crowd does in the top of the 9th when the opposing batter is trying to hit a blazing fastball? They make a lot of noise! I am quite certain that placing the rock at a desired location is a tad easier than hitting a 100 mph baseball. As the line from the movie goes—“There’s no crying in baseball.” There shouldn’t be any in curling either. Oh, and in case you don’t recall, Sweden defeated Canada 7-6 in championship play to take the women’s gold.
5. Hearing, Hubbard and the Huddle
So back to football for a moment. If you’ve spent any time at all watching American football, you know about “the huddle.” During the game, this is when the team on the field gathers together and the next play is called. By getting into a “huddle,” you can prevent your opponents from hearing key information, and the tight grouping helps improve the signal-to-noise ratio is noisy stadiums (and the touching is nice too). Now, you might think that the huddle has always been a part of football, but not so. The first documented football game played between teams representing colleges in the U.S. was November 6, 1869 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) lost to Rutgers. The huddle didn’t appear for another 25 or so years—and of course, its origin had something to do with hearing (or, hearing loss in this case).
In 1883, football was organized at Gallaudet University (then known as the National Deaf-Mute College). It was ten years later, that Gallaudet quarterback, Paul Hubbard realized that the opposing team could read the sign language he was using to communicate the next play to his teammates; this was especially a problem when playing other schools for the deaf. To remedy this, he had his teammates form a tight circle around him before each play, so his sign-language could be sent without the opposition knowing what was being said. Most experts agree that this was the invention of the “football huddle”.
6. Bang The Drum—Or Not?
Since we’re talking about the origin of the huddle at Gallaudet University, did you know that banging a bass drum used to be part of their football strategy? I found an interesting article on the topic written by Fred Bowen of the Washington Post back in 2000. According to Mr. Bowen, the use of the drum began during the 1970 football season, and was an idea of R. Orin Cornett (at the time, Gallaudet’s VP for long-range planning; now known internationally for developing Cued Speech). Normally, the quarterback provides the snap count for hiking the football by using a series of numbers, colors, and “hut-huts.” This should provide the offensive line a slight advantage over the defense, as they know when the ball is going to be hiked. This approach, of course doesn’t work so well if the offensive line is hearing impaired. Cornett’s thought was that the low frequencies and vibrations of the drum beat could be used to signal the snap. It proved to be successful, and so, the drum became a part of the Gallaudet game for many years. It is no longer used today.
7. The “Crack” of the Bat
When you think about the association between audiology and sports, it doesn’t get much better than the fact that the annual meeting of the American Auditory Society is held each March in Scottsdale AZ. That’s correct—the hub of all spring training Cactus League games! Audiology, Brats, Beer and Baseball . . . could it get any better? And if you’re a baseball fan, there’s something special about skipping out on the association luncheon, walking into a spring training stadium on a sunny day, and hearing that first annual “crack” of the bat. In case you don’t follow baseball seriously, you need to know that bats used in the major leagues are wood, made from ash or maple. In amateur baseball (e.g., high school, college) it’s common to use aluminum bats. There is no loud “crack” when the ball is hit, but rather a less-than-manly “ping.”
As you might guess, the crack and ping sounds of baseball bats have been carefully analyzed. The sound of a wooden bat has a relative smooth, broad spectrum with somewhat of a peak in the 750 to 1500 Hz range. The aluminum bat has almost the exact same spectrum, except for a very prominent peak around 2200 Hz (about 60 dB above the noise floor) and a secondary peak at around 2800 Hz, which is what gives it the ping sound (this is because the barrel of the aluminum bat is hollow). Daniel Russell of Kettering University has written an interesting article on the acoustics of baseball bats.
8. 1884: It Was a Very Good Year!
Speaking about baseball, even the casual fan knows about the World Series. The modern-day World Series has been around since 1903, but there were championship games before then. The first on record is from the year 1884, when the Providence Grays of the National League defeated the New York Metropolitan Club of the American Association. The Grays became known at “The World Champions.”
In case you haven’t thought about it lately, there were also important things happening in other places of the world in 1884. Some of them even were related to audiology—an area almost as important as baseball. It was at this time that Heinrich Hertz was conducting his early research on contact mechanics and electromagnetism. Hertz had just finished his post-doc under Hermann von Helmholtz. Helmholtz obtained his doctorate under the guidance of Johannes Müller, which might help explain my interest in these fellows.
The work of Hertz during this time was significant in several areas. Research that he perhaps is most recognized for was the “Hertzian Cone,” which expanded the field of electromagnetic transmissions. He showed that radio waves could be transmitted through different types of material, but were reflected by others—findings which eventually led to what we now call radar. For you audiology students out there reading this, consider that much of Hertz’s research was conducted while he was still in his 20s. He died in 1892 at the age of 36 from Wegener’s granulomatosis. In honor of his work, the use of the term “Hertz” to denote cycles per second (cps) was established by the International Electrotechnical Commission in 1930, and adopted by the General Conference on Weights and Measures in 1960.
9. Talking Turkey
How about the sport of “turkey hunting?” That’s been around since 1884 too, although I’m not sure if Hertz had time to participate. Now, the only turkeys I’ve ever hunted were at Safeway (they like to hang out in the back), but around here (Bismarck), turkey hunting is a pretty popular activity. And here comes the audiology part—last year I was at a colleague’s office when one of her patients came in and wanted Memory 2 of his hearing aids programmed so that he could better hear wild turkeys. Perhaps some of you probably have had similar requests from your patients.
Now, I know that the NAL-NL2 and DSL5.0 are new are “new and improved” algorithms, but I don’t recall anything related to “turkey sounds.” Well, I found that it’s remarkably easy to find turkey sound samples on the internet. I was surprised to see (and hear) that there are at least 12 different wild turkey sounds. To name a few, there’s a cluck, putt, Kee Kee and a purr. So what ones are important for a hunter to hear?
I consulted with local Bismarck audiologist Joe Ness, a serious turkey hunter. He tells me you really want to hear all the sounds, but the most important depends a little on whether you’re hunting “Long Beards” (spring season) or hens (fall season). He says that you often hunt turkeys in a blind, and you want to hear approaching birds and localization of the bird is of course also critical. You certainly don’t want a turkey to sneak up on you—who knows what weapons they are carrying. He didn’t tell me this, but I suspect that if you’re calling in a gobbler, you’d want to make enticing hen-like sounds . . . you could use a “cluck” or something like “Hey big guy, I’ve got the candles lit, the wine poured and some Barry White playing.”
10. Can Audiologists Carry a Tune?
Since it’s basketball season, I guess we should have at least one audiology connection with that sport. If you’ve been to a college basketball game, you know that when an opposing player shoots a free throw, and misses the entire rim and backboard, the home crowd sings “AIR-BALL.” But did you know that whether it’s Ruth Bentler in Iowa, Robyn Cox in Memphis, or Catherine Palmer at Pitt, all audiologists sing “AIR-BALL” in unison in the same key (the key of B flat major, if you’re curious)? That’s right—all audiologists (and maybe others too) sing “air” on the note F, then dropping down to “D” for the word “ball.” You think I’m making this up? Check out what Dave Barry has to say on the topic!
So there you have it. A few of my favorite connections between audiology and sports. Enough for now—It’s a New Year and I’m off to look for a new hobby (or maybe not).
Gus Mueller is a professor at Vanderbilt University and has a consulting practice nestled on an island west of Bismarck, ND. Dr. Mueller is a consultant for Siemens Hearing Instruments and Contributing Editor for AudiologyOnline. He is a Founder of the American Academy of Audiology. Dr. Mueller is an internationally known workshop lecturer and has published numerous articles and book chapters on diagnostic audiology and hearing aid applications. He only has two hobbies.