CONCERT SECURITY WARS: Battle of the Bouncers
INsecurity – local firms fight (and sue) for their right to bounce you!
Local Firms Fight for Rights to Bounce You
Your average concertgoer rarely pays much attention to event security. Most of what they do goes on out of our view, at least if they’re doing their job right. Sure, it’s nice to know they’re around, just in case someone falls down, something blows up or all hell breaks loose. If you ask them nicely, they can even help wrest your seat back from surly trespassers.
However, unless you’re trying to do something you’re not supposed to do, such as take pictures, smoke dope, sneak in, stage dive, expose your naughty bits, or fight with fellow patrons, you’ve not likely worried much about the (usually) big guys (and sometimes gals) standing (or prowling) around (or behind, or overhead, or sometimes beneath the stage risers…) .
Two newer firms, Omni and Elite Show Services, were initially run by former Staffpro employees who chose to go head to head with their previous bosses, vying for their own slices of the San Diego event pie. The competition and rivalry has been, at times, as messy and bruising as any mosh pit encounter, especially between Staffpro and Elite.
“I was locked out of my office. When I showed up for work, I was not allowed into my office by security guards.” Kontopuls would go on to purchase, along with his brother, a small existing security company called Elite. Within a short time, he transformed Elite into Staffpro’s main competitor in the local security game.
I asked Kontopuls what prompted his initial departure/ousting from Staffpro. “I had huge philosophical differences with my partner [Cory Meredith] about how the company should be run, from an operational and ethical standpoint. I also felt that having the majority ownership in Los Angeles wasn’t serving my San Diego clients properly. The San Diego branch was in total disarray.”
At that time, Kontopuls’ office was at the Convention Center. “I was kind of exiled there, put out to pasture for the most part. He [Meredith] just wanted me out of the way, and once they did that, the company started falling apart. The concert, hotel and the entertainment divisions.”
Subsequent to his departure, Kontopuls fired the first legal salvo. “The advice from my attorney was to initiate a lawsuit for breach of my employment contract. I was a stockholder in the company, so there was also a breach of fiduciary duty lawsuit. I didn’t have any income, they cut off my paycheck, and I was pretty much left sitting with what I had in my savings account.”
“I filed for unemployment, and Staffpro basically lied to the unemployment people as to what the circumstances were. They said I quit to start my own company, and I said I was locked out. At that point, my future was uncertain because I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Kontopuls’ contribution to Staffpro’s growth and success is a major point in the suit he filed against Staffpro at El Cajon Superior Court. “I acquired 90% of the San Diego business for the company, like the Convention Center and Bill Silva Presents.”
Kontopuls’ relationship with Silva, in fact, predated his employment with Staffpro. “I brought Bill Silva along when I went to work for Cory at Event. I’m the one who negotiated everything, went to all the meetings.”
When asked about that lucrative Silva contract, Staffpro General Manager Hugh Kollar told me “I don’t know if he [Kontopuls] was the guy or if it was Cory Meredith. As I understand it, Cory was the one who started the company, and Gus just happened to be the guy who worked for Cory down there.”
After Kontopuls left Staffpro, Kollar moved from Orange County to San Diego, to bring the branch “solid, stable management.”
Kollar did acknowledge to me that Kontopuls had “a great deal of savvy and knowledge about our operations” and that Staffpro was “concerned with the prospect of him [Kontopuls] using those trade secrets in a rival operation.”
Kontopuls is emphatic in his claim that Staffpro made it impossible for him to get work from other security firms. “I went to talk to a couple of companies about working for them, and they treated me like I was radioactive. Cory was telling people that anybody who hired me was going to get sued, because he pretty much had an exclusive on my life.”
“It’s all in the contacts,” said Kollar at Staffpro, “and when someone has the contacts, they’ve got the inside track on getting the job. If someone else is signing your paycheck while you get those contacts, how fair is it to try and take that business with you when you start up a competing company?”
Kontopuls said that going into business for himself became his only option, and several Staffpro employees came over to his new company along with him, including Director Of Operations Brian Mulder. Many of the guards at Staffpro were initially willing to work for Elite as well, some quitting Staffpro to do so, but Kontopuls said this caused Staffpro to throw another roadblock in his way.
“They did file a lawsuit against me, to try and shut me down but they were unsuccessful,” said Kontopuls. Court papers show that Staffpro attempted to place a temporary emergency injunction against Elite, forbidding them from conducting unfairly competitive business. The injunction was filed just days before the start of the baseball season.
“The judge just looked at them and laughed,” said Kontopuls. “He said their case had no merit, ‘take it to court and fight like adults instead of trying to shut this guy down on the eve of his first big event’.”
“Absolutely. They actually sent supervisors out to the Pacific Beach Block Party, which was one of the first events I did. They had their supervisors tell people ‘If you don’t quit and walk off the post right now, you’re fired from Staffpro.’ Then they’d allow their employees to work for other companies, just not mine. If they called and said they wanted to work for Omni at Street Scene, or something like that, they were allowed to do it, but if they asked to work for Elite, they’d get a no.”
Kollar did indeed back up Kontopuls assertion, but only somewhat. “Sure, Omni and I are friendly competitors. We communicate and we talk, we help each other.”
In fact, Staffpro and Omni were subcontracting work back and forth at the time. When Staffpro manned a local U2 concert, several Omni employees were hired for the evening. Omni put several Staffpro employees on the payroll to help with at least one San Diego Street Scene.
About the exclusivity agreement Staffpro employees were required to sign, Kollar admitted to me “Yes, that did happen. Because of the situation that existed at that time, Staffpro was forced to do that. There was a lot of company information being taken.”
Though Kollar could not be more specific about the information he was referring to (“I don’t think that’s important now”), he did say that he didn’t support the decision.
“The management didn’t feel that it was healthy to let people work for other companies. But, the day I went down there, that changed.”
Kollar said he instituted a policy making it clear that Staffpro employees were welcome to also work for other security companies, if they wish. “In fact, I encourage it. We don’t have a problem. A lot of these guys are part timers trying to make some extra money, and we’re not going to stop them from making ends meet.”
Kontopuls laughed off Kollar’s statement, and said this hasn’t been the case. “Not at all. I’ve never heard of a letter being circulated saying that the policy has been dismissed. I still talk to people who say they’d love to do some work for me, but they know they’ll get fired from Staffpro if they do.”
When asked about his own relationship with Omni, the other Staffpro spin-off, Kontopuls didn’t exactly scramble for superlatives.
“They have their little niche. They do small club shows and they do Street Scene. Omni did refer some work [to us] during the Republican Convention and, I don’t want to get into details but I’ll never conduct business with those guys again. They’re just a competitor, as far as I’m concerned.”
Much of Elite’s eventual ascendance was attributable, said Kontopuls, to the operational differences between his company and Staffpro.
“We really stress the customer service aspect of the industry, and we treat the fans as guests of the event instead of going in there with a Nazi stormtrooper attitude. We’re not attracting your basic, I don’t want to say thug, but you know the kind of guy who can lift a ton but can’t spell it? We only hire about one in eight people who walk in our door.”
He added that Elite employees take a four hour customer service class, several hours of first aid and CPR certification, and particular attention is paid to training in alcohol awareness. “I tried to do this [at Staffpro] but was unsuccessful at it.”
What, in his opinion, most set Elite apart from his main competitor? “I’d say the honesty and integrity of senior management. And the fact that we’re locally owned and operated.”
When I relayed those quotes to Kollar, he wanted it known that Staffpro’s people receive much the same orientation. “They’re trained in techniques of alcohol management. They’re supervised, they know what to look for. One of my competitors once said that if you pay your people peanuts, you get monkeys. I don’t believe that. I believe if you supervise your people, treat them good, they’ll provide a good service for you.”
Kollar confirmed that. “There’s plenty of work in San Diego for everyone,” he said, with a thoroughly convinced (if not entirely convincing) tone of finality. “As long as supervisors are loyal and do what they’re supposed to do, it’s not that big a deal.”
Another competitor entered the local Bouncer Wars in 2000. XL Staffing And Security has around 220 staffers dressed to the nines and working around town at about two dozen venues, including On Broadway (the company’s first client), Aubergine, Stingaree, Ole Madrid, and 94th Aero Squadron.
Last year, XL became involved in a proposed reality TV show about the firm. Footage was shot at Mardi Gras and several clubs downtown from February 19th through the 21st of ’07. XL Staffing And Security owner Joe Mackey told the Reader “[The show will] mostly focus on our staff, and how they command in suits and ties instead of windbreakers and tattoos. As far as patrons go, we’re still working out how the releases [to appear] will go…people being confronted or asked to leave will probably end up in the show, provided they sign the release.”
Mackey says his family-owned company owns a portion of the program, along with MTV/VH1 producer Rob Cohen. “I wanted to make sure I get something close to final say over what airs. I don’t want them to shoot three months’ of tape and then they accidentally catch someone doing some little thing wrong and that’s the whole show.”
Before the reality show deal was signed, Mackey says several other TV programmers expressed interest in working with XL.
“Court TV contacted us about doing a show. ‘Wife Swap’ wanted to have one of our female guards do a show for them…around ten percent of our staff is female. Fremantle Media, who do American Idol, they wanted us to do a show called ‘Bounced,’ where every episode ends with someone getting physically booted from someplace. We told them that’s not what we’re about.”
“I didn’t want to handle a bunch of thugs…our staffers specialize in communication, not intimidation. They go through forty hours of training covering everything from powers to arrest, club drug awareness, verbal Jujitsu, handcuff training, CPR and first aid, and there are monthly classes that are mandatory to attend. We do background checks going back ten years with the Department Of Justice and the FBI and, before they’re hired, we do a psychological profile to ensure they’re not prone to violence.”
XL Staffing and Security reported earning over four million dollars in 2005. More recent figures were, at this writing, unavailable.
“This isn’t the original paper sleeve, you know. It looks like someone just cut it out of a grocery bag and stuck the album in it.”
Off The Record co-owner (at the time) Rich Horowitz wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t know about the copy of “Two Virgins” he’d pulled from my collection of around 4,000 vinyl albums.
His expert eye quickly noticed that the cover jacket featuring a nude photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono was as counterfeit as the wraparound sleeve that had been cutout in one spot, to reveal famous faces rather than Beatle balls.
The bootleg release commonly sells for around $40.00 in collector’s magazines like Goldmine and through online auctions. Horowitz added my copy to a stack of records he was willing to buy for $5.00 or more apiece, along with about two dozen choice selections.
There were three other stacks of potential purchases, worth to OTR either twenty five cents, fifty cents or one dollar. Several hundred albums were separated into these stacks, with what Horowitz and company called “the quarter bin,” sprawling in six long rows across my living room floor.
I’d heard good things from other vinylholics about OTR’s willingness to buy large collections, to supplement the inventory described on their website then as “250,000 titles of all genres of music…expertly graded for appearance, sound quality and authenticity.”
The mountain of LPs I’d hoarded while running a record store in New England occupied nearly one full room in the two bedroom house I was about to vacate.
Stacked along three walls within wood watermelon crates and on rows of steel shelving, the records were so heavy that the walls behind the stacks were cracking and a portion of the floor was beginning to sag concave…
Dreading their relocation, and since the collection had gathered a decade of dust, I contacted OTR through the website. My decades of long-playing debris was heavy with 60s and 70s psychedelia, imports and European progressive rock, fusion jazz, regional garage bands, novelty records and soundtracks from cult movies and TV shows.
Horowitz phoned me the next day, and his first question addressed the topic most vital to all memorabilia collectors – condition.
“[For] the common stuff or ones that have wear and tear, we only pay a quarter each. Records in mint condition, even if they’re recent or common, might be worth a lot more to us, and if something is rare or a key piece, like a Beatles butcher cover [first print Yesterday And Today LP], we’ll pay around fifty percent of whatever we think it’ll sell for. That’s if it’s in good shape. Do you have a ballpark figure in mind for the whole collection?”
I said yes - without divulging the amount - and mentioned my background in record resale. “It sounds like the way to go would be for us to go through the entire lot and make two bids,” he said. “One for the choice pieces, and then what we’d pay for the entire lot.”
Arrangements were made for his two buyers to come by for an appraisal. On their arrival the following week, I set them loose to pull apart the albums while I worked on some overdue artwork in the next room.
A round record cover on an album by The Goggles was called “unimpressive. “We have lots of these. They did the cover this way because they probably had an old cutout template left over and wanted to get more use from it but it gets lost in the rack since its too short and the band pretty much sucks.” Says him, anyways. Me, I really like that album, AND it’s singular packaging.
“…Dr. West, that was an early Norman Greenbaum band…”
…and “It’s a Tommy rip-off, a rock opera - Alice Cooper does a few songs” (Flash Fearless).
On finding a run of over fifty Frank Zappa LPs, one noted “I haven’t seen some of these in a long time. They’ll sell really fast.” About ten of the albums turned up in their $1.00 stack.
After two hours of browsing, one of the buyers called Horowitz. “It’s really an eclectic collection, a little of everything. Definitely some key stuff and stuff we don’t see too often. Hendrix, Beatles, Moody Blues, Miles Davis, blues and jazz and some real obscure progressive [bands] – it’s definitely worth coming out to take a look yourself.” I found this encouraging. Bring on the big dawg ---- he'll know how rare and in-demand some of this stuff is. A rare freak-folk album like Comus' First Utterance was going for $100 and up -----
By the time Horowitz arrived, the front half of my house was overflowing with winding rows of vinyl, stacked upright and covering nearly every inch of floor space. He did his own once-over and inquired about a few items.
“This one, ‘Epitaph,’ what are they like?” I described the German group (with a British singer) as a cross between Pink Floyd and Journey, with space-rock synths and guitars with slick commercial production. Or a hard-edged Wishbone Ash, with a similar multiple-screaming-guitar sound. I still totally diggem, especially their 1974 debut. I'll always be a sucker for good prog rock ---
“Do you know what this goes for?” he asked of a hexagon-shaped LP and jacket featuring the movie soundtrack from “The Andromeda Strain.” I mentioned seeing online auctions for around $75.00, and that my asking price was at least $40.00. “I’ll pass.” I think he was just testing me, to see how up-to-date I was on price guide values.
I flipped through several hundred of the records they were interested in, and pulled about three dozen that I didn’t want to sell at the offered prices.
“The soundtrack to [the film] ‘Candy’ is big with Beatles collectors because Ringo’s in it. I could get twenty bucks on eBay for it.” Horiwitz and I haggled up to five dollars whereupon I offered to include a poster with the album if he’d up the price to ten dollars. He agreed.
“All these Zappa albums are original prints,” I pointed out while pulling “Absolutely Free,” “Freak Out,” “Uncle Meat,” “200 Motels” and a few others from the fifty cent and dollar stacks.
“Yeah, but look at the records themselves. They’re in pretty poor shape.”
Though I had to acknowledge his grading expertise, at least regarding retail sales potential, I knew that none of the albums had scratches or skips bothersome enough to dim my enjoyment of them. Should I ever bring my lonely turntable back to life anyway.
Rather than negotiate, I returned them to my sagging, cracking, climate-controlled back room. Still half-filled with LPs.
I asked what those remaining albums were worth to him, and Horowitz shook his head, smiling with what I interpreted to be a bit of amusement and a bit of pity.
“To be honest, the rest is just junk. The market for common stuff doesn’t even exist anymore, and nobody can sell worn out albums, it isn’t worth the cost to store them. Tell you what, I could give you the number of someone who can haul them away for you and give you a few bucks to recycle them.”
I declined – keeping around 2,000 albums for myself - and we moved on to their bid for the maze of vinyl in my living room. I’d calculated the wholesale value [by OTR’s specs] at just under a thousand dollars.
Their offer was close enough to this figure, and we quickly closed the deal. I got them to toss in a bit more for a couple of concert poster books I had duplicates of, and that brought the number up to an even grand.
Earlier in the day, I’d been worried – would I really be able to do this? Part with a chunk of my collection? I’ve lugged these albums cross-country over six different moves. Twice that many homes.
I swear, once - when I had around 1,500 albums in the car, and we hit tornadoes in Tennessee - the weight of those albums is all that kept us upright and alive, as we cowered in the wheel-wells and watched parked trucks and phone poles topping onto their sides all around us!
Would I really be able to ween myself of my vinyl addiction????
As the three carted out the records, in boxes I’d prepared for my impending move, I felt none of the regret I’d anticipated. Instead, I felt relieved of a longtime burden.
Aside from their physical weight, all those LPs required housing, climate control, square footage of floor and wall space and security, so much so that I was feeling like the records owned me rather than the reverse.
All three OTR reps were grunting and sweating, their spines curving downward as they lifted each 20-30 pound box. I thought to myself, “better them than me.”
The weight I felt lifted from my shoulders was approximately equal to the weight of those departing boxes.
However, the sale had only culled a bit less than half my collection. There were still around 2,000 albums in the Leaning Tower of Vinyl threatening to knock down one or more walls of my house. What to do, what to do???
(to be continued…….)
“I FOUND NIRVANA (NEXT TO THE FOO FIGHTERS)” – A POEM ABOUT RECORD COLLECTING
Awhile back, after exhausting myself with hours and hours of filing records in a massive album collection, I was inspired to pen this little ode to OCD:
I found Nirvana - next to the Foo Fighters
I saw Asia with ELP
I caught Badfinger pointing at the Beatles
and Velvet Underground burying Lou Reed
I filed Buster Poindexter with the NY Dolls
And placed Ted Nugent with the Amboy Dukes
I mixed Meatloaf with Rocky Horror
and Southside Johnny with the Asbury Jukes
I have Box Car Racer right next to Blink
I placed Yes with Wakeman and Howe
I have Roy Harper mixed in with Pink Floyd
And the Doors with “Apocalypse Now”
I split Fripp with King Crimson and Gabriel
With Bowie, there’s Eno and Pop
Roxy Music includes Manzanera and Ferry
and Texas Jam's there with ZZ Top
Denny Laine's filed with Wings, not the Moodies
Ronnie Wood's with the Stones, not Small Faces
And Cream just goes perfect with Clapton
Like A Night At The Opera goes with A Day At The Races
ELP has Greg Lake, 3 and Carl Palmer
But Emerson’s under the Nice
Bauhaus has Pete, Love & Rockets
(and an audio book read by Anne Rice)
Tommy Bolin’s with Deep Purple and Zephyr
Frampton’s solo, not with Humble Pie
Alan Parsons has Ambrosia AND Pilot
(most of whom played on Eye In The Sky)
I found so many folks with the Dead
they needed their own separate box
a mystery worthy of Behind The Music
given I think that all Dead music sucks
I'm so sick and tired of filing
and remembering where things are filed
but it's better than trying to find things
in a mountainous, long-playing pile.
TURN ON, TUNES IN, DROP OUT – a History of Portable Music Players
As children, we're warned not to talk to strangers. However, this doesn't seem to apply to adults. Take a plane, ride the bus, hop any trolley, and someone in the adjoining seat is likely to chat you up, on any number of subjects, up to and often including their entire life story-so-far.
You can bury your face in a book, put on sunglasses, put out anti-social attitude, even put off bathing and oral hygiene if you will. But the only universally recognized "Do Not Disturb" sign almost guaranteed to repel human interaction is a set of headphones attached to a visible or unseen "personal audio" device.
The grandaddy of portable stereos is the Sony Walkman, introduced in July 1979 and originally called the Soundabout Model TPS-L2 cassette player. Sony co-founder Akio Morita, in his autobiography, Made In Japan (E.P. Dutton, 1986), mentions bringing the prototype unit home. "I noticed my experiment was annoying my wife, who felt shut out," he says. This made him worry that his product would encourage selfishness or anti-social attitudes. "[I] thought it would be considered rude for one person to be listening to his music in isolation."
To downplay this isolation, the first Soundabout came with an orange button and two earphone jacks. Pushing the button fed sound into two headsets, so the wearers could talk to each other using optional microphones. Morita intended this feature as a "share" option, so that customers wouldn't feel cut-off from others around them.
However, this isolation proved to be the machine's most marketable feature. Surveys revealed that few customers utilized the orange button, so it was removed from subsequent models. The name was changed to Walkman and, immediately upon its release, users began retreating into their own private, solitary soundscapes.
"Individual Lifestyle enhancement" is a marketing key phrase at Sony. They and other manufacturers offer their portable players in hundreds of colors and designs, to reflect customers' personal taste and style in the same manner as fashion or jewelry accessories.
In Europe, the Yppy came with a metallic finish signifying techno music's mechanical sheen, Japan had glow in the dark models, and players for the techie crowd were designed to resemble I-Mac computers.
Few dispute the convenience and appeal of portable players, but the headphones are another matter. "With regular speakers, sound goes through the air before it hits the ears, but open air lightweight headphones send the high frequencies directly into the ear canal without attenuation," notes audiologist David Perry.
"There was a study done at UCSD showing that people play their Walkmans at high volume,” according to Perry, “to drown out traffic or nearby conversation, and this increases the potential for hearing damage. When someone can't hear anything outside their headsets, they may be exposed to sound levels over 100 decibels...playing music that loud for as little as fifteen minutes can cause irreversible hearing damage."
With the rise of the Walkman, most local schools began including provisions in their student handbook forbidding students from tuning in their portable stereos and thus tuning out their academic environments.
Hector Gonzales, a substitute teacher in San Diego public schools, never hesitates to confiscate Walkmans or iPods (which he returns to students at the end of the school day). "When you wear them in public, headphones are anti-social devices [which] foster self-centered, elitist attitudes and prevent the kindling of conversation among fellow human beings. Especially with teenagers, who need as much social interaction as possible in order to be well adjusted adults. And they play [music] at such a high volume...anyone standing nearby can discern specific lyrics."
Shortly after talking to Gonzales, I come across a teenager - "Sammy" - seated at a bus stop on El Cajon Boulevard, though I hear him before I see him due to the volume of the music he's playing through his iPod headset. Once I coax him out from under the speaker pads, I ask whether he feels cut off from his surroundings when his "private" music is loud enough to drown out all outside noise.
"Some people give me dirty looks, but kids my age are into it. Like, if I see another guy [with a Walkman or iPod], we might start talking about what bands we're playing. So it's just the opposite as anti-social. It was a dude with a Walkman who turned me on to his Suicidal [Tendencies] CD, 'cause we swapped headsets to check out each others' tunes. That's a complete stranger, dude. The music's what got us talking."
Of course, some wear their personal music players not to tune in music but to tune out the rest of the world. "When I'm at the gym, I put on [this] headset but there's nothing playing," says Deborah Macey, whom I spot wearing headphones at a Family Fitness Center. This admission comes only after I prove my credentials as an inquiring reporter.
"I thought you were hitting on me. See, I put [the headset] on to keep away all the guys who come here just to use pickup lines. It actually backfires if I take them off too soon because some guys will take that as an opening to say 'hey, whatcha listening to?' Most of the time, there's not even a tape in the tapedeck. I call it my portable panty shield...it keeps guys from trying to get into my panties."
David Perry believes that Macey should always leave the music home while working out at the gym. "Exercise, especially aerobics and weight training, draws the blood flow to the limbs and away from the ears, and that takes away some of the inner ear's protection from vibration. Even with music played at half volume, the risk of hearing loss is much higher during exercise. If you must listen to something during these activities, spoken voice recordings or talk radio is your best bet, as long as you can still hear normal conversation going on outside the headsets as well."
Techno Sweat CEO Rick L. Frimmer has a different opinion about personal player workout music. His Carlsbad company sells music downloads and CDs remixed at various BPMs (Beats Per Minute), designed to assist athletes in training. “This isn’t Sweatin’ To The Oldies,” he says.
“Most of our songs are available at five different speeds, geared for different types of workouts, like aerobic, cardio, [and] treadmill training.” Continuous play music programmed at speeds from 128 BPM to 155 BPM average $5.99 to $8.99, with a 30-minute sample download running $5.99.
The BPM-sculpted music comes from four sources: Techno Sweat originals by Israeli composer/performer Silicon Monk, licensed music from established artists (Metallica, Tears For Fears, Gnarls Barkley, others), songs submitted by the performers themselves for remixing, and prerecorded music submitted by athletes wanting to reprogram BPMs in their favorite workout songs.
Performers who submit music get a licensing fee and a credit on downloads and CDs; a submission form is available at technosweat.com. As for prerecorded music submitted by athletes who want their favorite songs speeded up or slowed down, Frimmer says no licensing in necessary. “Those [CDs and downloads] are custom recorded for the customer…we don’t run multiple copies of their workout setlist and sell them to other people, so we don’t need [to arrange licensing with] the original performers.”
Providing music for athletes is a growing industry. Nike sells running shoes with a music transmitter and are working with Apple on a workout chart designed for iPods. Oakley designer sunglasses offer a sports model with a built-in MP3 player. Swim goggles by Finis can be purchased with an underwater MP3 player.
The jury is still out as to whether wearing HEADPHONES while working out to music is more damaging to your hearing.
On the premise that headphones isolate wearers and prevent them from hearing important sirens, threatening engine noise and car horn warnings, California's Vehicle Code section 27400 states that "No person operating any motor vehicle or bicycle shall wear any headset covering, or any earplugs in, both ears."
The prohibition doesn't apply to hearing aids or "molds that are designed to attenuate injurious noise levels," such as those worn by construction and highway workers and refuse collectors regularly exposed to excessive noise.
The code is rarely enforced, although bicyclists sometimes find themselves cited. "It's not very fair, because there's no law against deaf people riding bikes," argues Jeremy Porter of Senior Spokes, a North County cycling club. "Earmuffs, the kind you use to keep your ears warm, aren't illegal to wear on a bike or in a car, but they 'cover both ears' and drown out a lot more sound [than headphones]. There is one good reason not to wear headphones [while bicycling]. If someone else hits you, it's a lot harder to collect from the other guy's insurance company if you get into an accident with headphones on! They'll say it was your fault because you couldn't hear what was going on around you!"
Porter points out that car manufacturers brag about how soundproof it is inside their vehicles. "By comparison, wearing headphones doesn't block out nearly as much sound as the closed windows and soundproofing in a new Lexus. Walkman headphones are optimized for frequency bandwidths from around 600 hz to 3000 hz. That's about the same as the average speaking voice. Noise at frequencies outside this range can be heard easily through the speaker pads, as long as the headphones aren't played to loud. Lightweight open-air mini-headphones aren't going to block out the sound of a siren or a car horn or even a barking dog."
Porter says he listens to rock music with his Walkman while bicycling to and from his job five days a week, logging nearly fifty hours a week on the road. "I find that the foam pads [on headset speakers] actually block out the noise of wind whistling past my ears, and that makes it easier for me to hear cars coming up behind me, not harder."
Porter was cited for bicycling while wearing headphones, and he says the policeman who pulled him over suggested removing one speaker from his headset. "Now if you wear headphones so the speaker pads cover only one ear...that's technically legal but dangerous. The covered ear gets desensitized and sound reaching the uncovered ear gets priority delivery to the brain. When a noise originates from out of your vision range, from behind you for instance, your perception of the sound's source location is altered. It's a lot easier to tell where a sound is coming from with both ears covered than with just one ear listening to music."
"Walkman headphones don't impair hearing any more than eyeglass rims impair sight, or scarves impair the ability to smell."
Porter chose not to argue these points in a courtroom and instead paid a $200.00 fine for his traffic infraction. "Now I wear my headphones under a pullover wool hat when I bicycle. Ironically, the wool cap isn't illegal, but it blocks outside sound a lot more than my headphones."
As for wearing headsets while listening to private music on the job, some studies indicate that allowing employees to do so increases productivity and boosts workplace morale - and eliminates arguments over what music should be played aloud.
In one study of organizational behavior, 75 out of 256 workers of a retail sales company listed to personal stereos on the job for four weeks. They showed a 10-percent increase in productivity compared to co-workers. "They do seem to be more comfortable and relaxed," said Paul Wilson, a safety specialist for the U.S. Postal Service. "They can wear headsets as long as they're not around moving equipment. And we tell them not to turn them up too loud. We don't want them to go deaf."
As iPods become the norm for portable music players, the Walkman and related devices are seen less and less. Today, cassette machines similar to the original $200.00 Soundabout sell for as little as $20.00, some with radio tuners or recording functions, and models now play DAT (Digital Audo Tape), CDs (the Discman), minidiscs and MP3 files (Sony's Memory Stick Walkman and IBM's Diamond Rio).
Sony still ships around 10 million Walkmans annually, taking about 25% of the total portable music player market. Next year, the Walkman's 30th anniversary will be celebrated by the release of all-in-one limited-edition chrome-finished and gold-plated versions, with remote controls, digital displays, and designed to be only slightly larger than the CDs and cassettes they will play along with MP3 files.
In 2001, Sony released the Walkman SRF-S84 transistor radio and began producing portable music players capable of supporting electronic files. The NW-A series Walkman is a digital music player available in 6, 8, and 20 gigabyte versions, all working (as of 2008) from a Windows media format.
Sony also has video MP3 players available, like the Walkman A 800/A810 series. Just last month, the company unveiled its A720 and A820 series in the U.S. There’s also a series of music-centred mobile phones, marketed under the Sony Ericsson brand.
However, in the new digital age, iPods are now the best-selling choice for portable music, with countless peripheries available or in production, including home stereo ports, iPod hookups in planes and hotel rooms, etc etc etc.
Me, I still haven’t even replaced my favorite vinyl with CDs yet….and now it looks as though CDs are yet another dying technology.
Betcha I can find a used Walkman pretty cheap, tho -------------
"He's a statue with a Walkman.
Actually he's lying down.
Statue with a Walkman,
butterflies upon his crown.
Pretty boy, pretty rooster, pretty sound."
(Statue with a Walkman, by Robyn Hitchcock - Sequel Records, 1995)