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The Inside Story on Your Megaphone

The Inside Story on Your Megaphone

Revealed: The Story Behind the Blue Ocean Megaphone

The Blue Ocean® Megaphone sports an interesting name, a sleek appearance, extreme durability, and cool functionality as the only digital megaphone. This is the story behind the innovation.

You may have seen them lined up on the coach's bench. Or in a single file at the back end of a boathouse bay. The megaphones that just aren't working anymore. Maybe they need a new battery. Again. Maybe they got wet in the rain or from the water sloshing around in the launch. Or maybe someone dropped one and the crack can't be fixed. If your rowing club or school has a NK Blue Ocean Megaphone you probably are not familiar with these images. Because it works. Dropping it, dunking it, forgetting to buy batteries don't mean a thing.

How it came to be

It all started with Michael Naughton observing coaches trying to find a working megaphone during the rush to get crews out on the water. “How many times did I see a coach pick up a megaphone from the line on the bench and give it a bang to see if the thing was working?” asked Michael. He got to know Joe McFadden (now passed) at Undine Barge Rowing Club. Joe was the one all the clubs on Boathouse Row in Philadelphia used to turn to repair their broken megaphones. He had a garage full. A garage full of broken megaphones.

As a rowing coach, Michael saw a need for a rugged megaphone, built to withstand water damage, sinking, corrosion, and cracking and fully operational whenever needed. As Chief Product Officer at Nielsen-Kellerman, he saw an opportunity. NK Sports excelled at durable, waterproof electronics for rowing. Some products, notably CoxBoxes, had microphones, an essential part of a megaphone. As an engineer he saw an intriguing challenge: how to build a better megaphone.

Finding the solution was harder than anticipated. The typical timeframe for the development of a new Nielsen Kellerman product is 1.5 years. The Blue Ocean Megaphone took a bit longer. The simplicity of its appearance belies its detailed design. The complexity arises from the proximity of the microphone to the speaker. It is hard to amplify sound without any feedback. It is also hard to keep a person's voice sound the same, just louder and maintain that at a distance. Making the megaphone waterproof and durable was another challenge. Then how do we solve the problem of batteries that run out of juice in the middle of a practice?

It took many iterations, but the investment in research and development paid off. Now called the gold standard of rowing megaphones, coaches count on the NK Sports Blue Ocean Megaphone's reliability. Testimonials include stories of Blue Ocean Megaphones buried under mud from flooding but still working or recovering a missing megaphone months later that just need a charge before being good to go. Further confirmation came when the Blue Ocean Megaphone was designated the official megaphone of the Head of the Charles Regatta.

What is the secret of the Blue Ocean Megaphone?

Remember the Buster Keaton film when he had a cone strapped to his head to cox? That is the simplest form of voice amplification and some coaches still use the acoustic cone.

A big advancement arrived when megaphones became electric. As Wikipedia explains:

It consists of a microphone to convert sound waves into an electrical audio signal, an amplifier powered by a battery to increase the power of the audio signal, and a loudspeaker to convert the audio signal to sound waves again.

The first innovation for the Blue Ocean Megaphone was in the battery. Replacing batteries is an ongoing cost, and there is no way to know when they will fail. It is hard to ensure that water does not seep in the battery door especially if the hinge is not very robust. The solution was a rechargeable battery pack. Even better, it is the same battery system as the CoxBox, making them interchangeable. The battery pack locks in with a twist, sealing completely and eliminating the risk of leakage to the battery, microphone or other componentry. The charge will hold for a full day of coaching.

The next innovation happened on the inside. Other megaphones are analog. The Blue Ocean Megaphone is digital. The digital amplifier provides loud voice amplification while maintaining speech clarity. The Blue Ocean produces not only the most loud sound but also the clearest. Analog amplifiers in traditional megaphones produce muffled sound which is difficult to understand. The NK product has a circuit board with electronic components including a microprocessor which is the brain of the megaphone. It does several different jobs, including managing the digital amplifier and monitoring the battery, indicating the battery life and when it needs recharging. A connector provides the option of plugging in a CoxBox microphone, physically separating it from the amplifier and loudspeaker, allowing higher sound volumes.

The third innovation was the double handle design, which offered additional securing points and stabilized the outer horn. It adds to the sleek design. High-quality materials, like what motorcycle helmets are made of, provide durability and keep the outer rim from cracking. A shock-absorbing bumper can be added to the battery pack, similar to how SpeedCoaches and CoxBoxes are protected. NK is so confident in the design and construction of the Blue Ocean Megaphone that it offers a five-year guarantee.

After you watch the Buster Keaton video, check out some of the product test videos from NK on YouTube. You can watch the drop test or the float test but the most fun is Harsh Field Testing which has the speaker wading into Atlantic Ocean surf or being pushed off a dock on the Schuylkill River – the megaphones all keep working.

What's in the name?

While specifically designed for rowing coaches and umpires, the NK design team was aware of much broader applications, for example other sports, the military and for crowd control. Brainstorming sessions came up with a wide array of possible names. At that time, Michael had just finished reading the business book by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne titled Blue Ocean Strategy. The subtitle is “How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant”. The new megaphone definitely is unlike any other on the market, plus the name gave a nod to the key and unique feature of waterproofness.

The next time you spot a megaphone at your rowing club or school take a closer look. If it is a Blue Ocean, you can appreciate the complexity behind the sleek design and its reliability. Give a quick check to see if the battery back needs recharging. If it is not Blue Ocean, maybe stock up on batteries and be sure to be very gentle with it.

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