The Modern Olympic Games' New Challenge
Panasonic RAMSA Sound System
Opening Ceremony watched by 100,000 people
Throughout its history, the Olympic Games have constantly come up against new challenges.
At the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, there were several such "new challenges" and new star players. The stars included athletes who faced the challenge of competing in events which had been formally recognized as part of the Olympic program for the first time, the Organizing Committee who had never before attempted such a program, and Panasonic which, also for the first time, supplied ASTROVISION and RAMSA to the Olympic Games.
The Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games provided many memorable moments: Carl Lewis winning four gold medals in track and field, the first time this had been done by anyone since Jesse Owens in 1936, Yasuhiro Yamashita taking the gold medal in open class judo despite injuring his leg. It was also at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games that the women's marathon was formally added to the program.
Another revolutionary aspect was that the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games was the first Olympic Games to be funded entirely by private capital. There were many ideas for making the Olympic Games a financial success including money from corporate sponsors, fees for broadcasting rights, and contributions for taking part in the Torch relay. At the end the Organizing Committee's operating profits came to 215 million dollars. This was the start of the business model which almost magically transformed the enormous financial burden borne by past host countries into the black.
Corporations support athletes as they aim for the highest peak in sports. Spectators can enjoy the dramatic moments and unbelievable record-breaking feats on the television screens or in the stadium. "Spectators" have become an indispensable element in the Olympic Games. Events take place with not only the athletes themselves, but also the spectators in mind. The Olympic Games must therefore be staged using audio-visual technology appropriate to this new concept. This is when the Olympic Games teamed up with Panasonic.
Ryoichi Omachi General of Manager Matsushita Communication Industrial Co., Ltd.
"I think it was some time around 1980. Konosuke Matsushita, founder of Panasonic, was made an honorary citizen of Los Angeles and used the occasion to donate sound equipment to the theater in the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo. The clear sound and sophisticated functions of this advanced audio system, which comprised the latest amplifiers and speakers, made a great stir all over the city.
Ryoichi Omachi, General Manager of Matsushita Communication Industrial Co., Ltd., who was the sound equipment' system engineer at the time, looks back: "For the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, the Organizing Committee was looking for a manufacturer who could supply all AV equipment. At that time there were a lot of specialized manufacturers in the U.S. who dealt only in microphones for example, or only in speakers. The Committee probably contacted Panasonic after hearing about what we had done for the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center."
RAMSA, Panasonic's professional audio system, following its success at "Japan Jam," the legendary outdoor concert held in Enoshima in the summer of 1979, had just begun to be recognized as an excellent system through its achievements at outdoor events and concert halls in Japan. The Games presented a new challenge for Panasonic on several counts: a major sporting event, the unprecedented scope of the audio system which would be required, a large-scale overseas project.
"When I first heard about it I had my doubts about whether we could do it or not. We were not given any adequate drawings concerning the sites. Particularly, as for outdoor facilities, we had only composite pictures which the then manager Inoue had taken from a helicopter. However, as the suggestions rolled in, the excitement grew. With our expertise and technology in the professional audio area we could produce an audio system that would change the history of the Olympic Games."
The first thing the RAMSA team had to tackle was the sound design for the Opening Ceremony. The venue for this was to be the main stadium, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. This holy site, which had also been the Olympic Stadium 52 years previously, was to be restored to its former glory.
The Coliseum, which we were shown over by the Coliseum's staff in charge of sound, was truly colossal. Apart from the soaring platform for the Olympic cauldron and the small area round about, the entire Coliseum was filled with spectator seats. The only place to put speakers which would transmit sound to an audience of 100,000 people was each side of the Olympic cauldron platform. From there to the spectators seated on the opposite side the distance was 300 meters. What type of speakers could be used to fill this enormous space with sound. Anyway, we managed to get necessary information for the design of outdoor sound systems including information on noise regulations in the residential area around each site and weather conditions, original building drawings and pictures of the site.
Coliseum's audio simulations
Work started on a proposal based on the information brought back from Los Angeles. At the time RAMSA's selling point was computer-simulated audio design. Even the type of simulation which can be done in real time nowadays with a notebook PC took three days on a large computer in 1984. The team worked all through Japan's so-called "Golden Week," a series of public holidays in May, in order to produce a deceptively-simple proposal which would allow sound sources in only two places to reach every one of the 100,000 seats in the Coliseum. However, this would not be possible with conventional speakers.
"When the sound produced by speakers is very loud, the speakers generate a corresponding amount of heat and vibrations and sometimes break. In order to achieve a high volume of sound from a few speakers, we adopted a driver whose mechanism uses magnetic fluid, a material which easily radiates heat. To transmit high-volume sound to a distance, the sound must not be spread out; it must be pinpointed. For this we also developed a high-directivity longhorn, to transmit sound in one particular direction.
"Concentrating the sound source in one place was also due to maintenance considerations. The Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games were run on a commercial basis, and this had the effect of keeping costs to an absolute minimum. For us, that meant we had to manage on a limited budget. We even had to carry around the speakers to the different venues for different events. Once one event was over, we had to dismantle the equipment and move it to the next venue. We got up at three o'clock in the morning to do it. Everything was a new experience for us so we were all very "keen" and saw the Olympic Games as a challenge."
The Opening Ceremony on July 28th, 1984, for which the program was a closely guarded secret right up until the day, was eagerly awaited by the spectators who filled the stadium and the worldwide television audience. Probably no Opening Ceremony in the history of the Games had ever been the focus of so much attention. In Japan, NHK's live broadcast of the event achieved record-breaking viewer ratings of 47.9 percent.
The magnificent music of John Williams, famous for his scores for films such as "Star Wars" and "ET," filled every corner of the stand, just as in the RAMSA team's simulation. The spectators were thrilled. One flamboyant scene after another came up on the gigantic ASTROVISION screen, 160 meters square, next to the Olympic cauldron. It was an Opening Ceremony such as had never been seen before, brimming with unflagging energy and the creativity of U.S. show business. The whole world watched in amazement as a man in a spacesuit, trailing white smoke, with a rocket attached to his back, came dancing down from the sky.
Speakers using magnetic fluid
Athletes from all round the world became one with the spectators filling the Coliseum to enjoy the spectacle of the Opening Ceremony. When the U.S. team marched in, the excitement reached fever pitch. The roar of the crowd, like a rumbling of the earth, shook the stand. The audio operators in the Coliseum probably turned up the volume without realizing it in order not to be drowned out by the roar.
On the day after the Ceremony and the cheering crowds, the RAMSA team including Omachi called in at the Coliseum to check the speakers. They were horrified to find that despite repeated simulations, despite the magnetic fluid, more than half the speakers had broken through overloading. Omachi and the others, who had never imagined till then just how much emotion the Olympic Games could inspire, started urgent repair work. On the third day of the Games the track and field events were to begin in the Coliseum.
"Let's make the stand erupt again with the sound of RAMSA!"
In this way the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games opened the curtain on a new generation of sporting events. The above is also the history of how Panasonic's RAMSA audio system rose to the challenge of Olympic Games.
* These reports were written in January 2002.
We changed the corporate name from Matsushita Group to Panasonic Group on October 1, 2008.
Some reports in this page use our former name because they were written before the renaming.