The wall muffles the Who

By Times staff
Published March 27, 2007

The Who is so loud its guitarist suffers from irreparable hearing loss. The Guinness Book of World Records once listed it as the loudest band of all time.

So what better group to test whether a $2.6-million wall would muffle concert noise at the Ford Amphitheatre and resolve, maybe for good, a long-running legal dispute with Hillsborough County?

If the Who's Sunday night show is any indication, the wall works. Not a single noise complaint was filed with the county or Temple Terrace officials in the first Amphitheatre show since the wall was deemed concert-ready.

"I'm delighted," said Wilson Rogers, senior vice president of Live Nation, which operates the Amphitheatre. "It was either build a wall or remain in court. I chose to build a wall."

The outdoor venue opened in 2004 along Interstate 4 to mixed reviews. Residents lodged more than 400 noise complaints during the next two years. A subsequent lawsuit cost the county more than $600,000 in legal fees as it tried to get the amphitheater to comply with noise rules.

In late 2005, the county struck a deal with the amphitheater's operators at the time, Clear Channel Communications. Commissioners voted to delay further legal action if Clear Channel built a gigantic sound barrier that would absorb noise. Clear Channel later spun off its entertainment division into a company called Live Nation, which completed the 67-foot wall last month.

Its first test: the Who.

"If anyone was going to test the wall, it was going to be these guys," said Rick Tschantz, an attorney for the county's Environmental Protection Commission, which enforces noise rules.

Residents like Billie Morales detected a big difference.

"I live straight across from the amphitheater, but I didn't even know the Who was over there last night until I let my dog in before dark," Morales said. "And even then, I only heard it when I was outside."

Michael Van Sickler, Times staff