Friday, June 11, 2010

The sounds of silence

(With a bow to Simon and Garfunkel)

“You will hear some silence while you wait.”

That’s part of the conference call recorded message that plays when you dial in before the call has officially started. The whole phrase goes like this:

“The leader has not yet arrived. Please stand by. You will hear some silence while you wait.”

It always intrigues me. How do you “hear” silence?

Whoa. Pretty deep thought there. Maybe a philosophy class topic. One hand clapping, and all that.

In my brain it connected to another thought: On the radio, you never hear silence. “Dead air” is what the broadcasters call it. When dead air happens, it’s because somebody forgot to throw a switch or turn a knob or activate something. And for the radio people it’s a bad thing.

But moving on to the next thought, there is a time when you hear silence on the radio. On purpose. And nobody gets fired for it.

It’s in a broadcast of a baseball game. There are frequent lulls in the action on the field, so there are frequent pauses in the announcers’ talk. Those silences – when the announcers go quiet and all you hear is the faint murmuring of the crowd and the occasional shout of a vendor – are one of the endearing attributes of a baseball broadcast that makes it so pleasant, so accessible, so – well, listenable.

I grew up listening to broadcasts of baseball in Montgomery, Alabama. Our team’s name, of course, was the Rebels (Forget, hell) and they played in a ballpark named Cramton Bowl.

They don’t make parks like that anymore. It was used for both baseball and football, so it had a funny shape. There were grandstands behind the plate and along both baselines, but then on the first base/right field side there was a much larger extension of stands for football games. The right field line in baseball was also approximately one sideline of the football field.

When configured for baseball, there was this hill in center field. It was not a small rise, it was a serious hill. A center fielder in this park had to have mountain goat skills to catch long flies hit anywhere between left center and deep straightaway center.

And just beyond the left field fence, behind a big row of trees, there was a ravine with a railroad track running through it. In the days when there were still steam engines, a train would go by, chugging and puffing away, and if the wind was right, huge clouds of black coal smoke would roll up from the ravine and blow into the playing field. The left fielder would disappear in the smoke.

You had to be tough to be a Montgomery Rebel.

More in the next post.

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