Sound expert: Chiefs fans have the lungs to set new Guinness world record

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s not that Ian Wolfe doesn’t like their odds. It’s that he thinks they’re loopy.

A group of Kansas City Chiefs fans wants to break the Guinness world record for loudest crowd roar at an outdoor sports stadium. At present, the mark is 131.76 dbA (decibels); the threshold for human pain is 130 dbA. It’s like asking Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi to drop one of his amplifiers on your head, just to prove a point.

“That’s unhealthy,” Wolfe says, chuckling.

“Unhealthy for everybody. The threshold of pain is 130, so that’s not good for your ears at all. Or for anybody’s hearing. So I’d make sure everybody signs a waiver before they go in and do that. I say that jokingly, but somebody could say something.”

Wolfe is a sound man by trade, the director for audio/visual system design at the Henderson Engineers Inc., in Lenexa, Kan. He’s been in the sound business for three decades, including a run with Acoustical Design Group of Kansas back when it would measure the noise at Arrowhead Stadium during game day.

And Ian pulls out the paperwork from one such study: September 20, 1993, when the Chiefs hosted the Denver Broncos. Joe Montana versus John Elway. Monday Night Football. Kansas City almost always put on a good show for Monday Night Football.

Among the pile of charts and graphs are the following notes:

“Opening kickoff”: 100.3 dBA

“Boo Elway”: 105.9 dBA

“Montana run”: 106.5 dBA

“Interception”: 113.9 dBA

All the numbers are natural, all were organic, all came without any prompting from the public-address system, Neil Smith, or anybody else. So was the reading of 116 dBA that Wolfe jotted down during another contest, the unofficial official Arrowhead record to date.

“No one even knew we were measuring it,” Wolfe says now. “I was just sitting down there, incognito, just getting measurements during the game. Just the right time, right place, (and) had the equipment with us.”

The Chiefs return home Friday night, the first time they’ve suited up in front of the home folks since last December, hosting the San Francisco 49ers in their second exhibition of the month. Jim Harbaugh versus Andy Reid. For quarterback Alex Smith, it’s old boss versus new.

For Ty Rowton, though, it’s the first step toward reclaiming the roar. The first chance to start reliving the insanity, the first chance to bring the pain.

“I just want to restore Arrowhead,” the longtime Chiefs fan says, “to the way it was.”

Once upon a time, an appointment at 1 Arrowhead Drive was feared. Outside, they burned charcoal; inside, it was cornerbacks. The fans didn’t wear black. They didn’t put bags over their heads. They didn’t fly banners over the stadium during the game demanding sacrificial lambs. It was one congregation, one voice. Booming.

So when Rowton saw a news item in which Seattle Seahawks fans had set up an official date with the Guinness people — September 15, versus the Niners — to try and set a new record for loudest crowd at a sporting event, the veins started popping.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute, that’s OUR record,'” Rowton says. ” ‘We’re the loudest stadium in the NFL.’ I posted this on Facebook and asked, ‘Does this sound wrong to anybody else?'”

It did, to dozens. Then hundreds. Then thousands. Rowton and fellow fanatic Todd VanderPol started a Facebook group called “Terrorhead Returns” as part of a grass-roots effort to get those same Guinness types over to Arrowhead this fall. As of Thursday afternoon, the group had 7,370 members.

“When my sister was going to Kansas, we went down to visit her and her husband, and (Arrowhead was where) I went to my first NFL game,” says VanderPol, who grew up in South Dakota. “And I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever been to in my life.”

The red tape has been somewhat, shall we say, less cool, but Rowton, VanderPol and their posse have soldiered through regardless. A $700 fee was required by Guinness for an expedited review of their proposal; A friend paid it, and the record-keepers in London sent an e-mail of approval the next morning.

But there’s one more big financial hurdle, Rowton says, and that’s getting a Guinness official here from England, something the group has been told will cost at least $7,500. The only other option, as far as official rules, is some kind of adjudicator for every 50 or so fans in attendance — a potential headache, logistically.

On the plus side, the Chiefs seem to be on board; Rowton says he’s met with club officials about taking the baton, and the next challenge is coming together on a date.

The Oakland game, on October 13? The Cleveland game, on October 27? Sound travels faster in warm air than cold, so kick before Thanksgiving would be preferable.

“We’re just tickled pink how excited upper management is about this idea,” Rowton says. “They said they believe we can break this world record, so that’s pretty neat. I truly do, too.”

Arrowhead was built partially below ground level with high slopes of seats on both sides of the bowl, creating an echo effect. Wolfe — who’s helping Mizzou with work on Faurot Field, and has measured sound at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis and Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. — suggests the Guinness measurement be done by a microphone at field level, somewhere, “because everybody is focused there. All the voices are aiming in that direction.”

It’s also what they did in Turkey, where the bar in question was set: March 18, 2011, at the Ali Sami Yen Sports Complex Turk Telekom Arena in Istanbul, during a match between Galatasaray SC vs. Fenerbahce SC.

According to the official Guinness entry, the sound level was measured from the sidelines, 2 meters — or roughly 6-and-a-half feet — from the crowd, and done over three attempts, before 51,988 in attendance.

Considering that a full Arrowhead draws nearly 30,000 more than that — 79,451 — Wolfe thinks Terrorhead has a shot. A honest-to-goodness, genuine shot at history.

That, and a headache.

“My guess is that if they wanted to do that, it would be possible,” Wolfe says. Then he laughs. “But it sounds like a place I wouldn’t want to be when they’re measuring it.”

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at