I love working out in the great outdoors. Whether it's listening to the distant din of traffic when I walk or run in Central Park or hearing the sound of the waves when I ride my bicycle by the ocean in my Rhode Island hometown, I find the sounds and sights of the outdoors entertaining and distracting. That's why I have never felt a need to carry a Walkman as I exercise. But working out indoors is another matter. I've tried stationary bikes, treadmills and steppers, and I have never been so bored in my life. No wonder the entertainment system industry is mushrooming.
Being able to listen to the music of your choice or watch television as you work out definitely makes the time go faster. And it helps take the tedium out of a workout.
Considering installing a system in your club? Here are some points to keep in mind:
* Decide which entertainment system best suits your needs - and budget. A FM system allows members to use any portable radio to pick up the frequency on a television. (You post a sign indicating which station members should tune into on their radio.) It's the least expensive system out there and suits facilities that are smaller and have only a few televisions.
A 900 MHz system features receivers attached to cardio equipment. Members use a headphone, which plugs into a box, and they select the channel and volume level they want. This wireless system can also allow members to listen to the in-club music system or a satellite music system.
Personal Viewing Monitors are small screens, which are placed in front of the cardio equipment. These can be used for everything from watching television to surfing the Internet.
* Be prepared to make the investment. Prices vary, but a FM transmitter costs, on average, $500, and you'll need one per television. 900 MHz systems runs about $329 per transmitter and about $129 per receiver.
Hardwired systems cost about $1,200 per piece of cardio equipment. And don't forget about the TV sets: The Conditioning Spa, in Greeley Colo., had to buy 12 new sets - at a cost of nearly $3,000. "Plus we had to hire somebody to come in and rerun the cable," says Willie Morton, co-owner and manager of The Condition-ing Spa.
* Offer your members variety in programming. At The Conditioning Spa, the newly installed entertainment system gives members access to three channels instead of one. "There was always a hassle before," says Morton. "One member would want music, another news and another sports." Now all three programs are available. "We're never going to make everybody happy, unfortunately," he acknowledges. But since the club's older crowd likes news, the younger afternoon crowd enjoys music, and a cross-section likes sports, the new system is a start. A good rule of thumb: If you're planning to offer three channels, or six, make sure you have at least one television for each channel.
* Make sure you have enough televisions. You should have a minimum of two televisions visible from each piece of cardio equipment, according to one supplier of entertainment system.
* Space the televisions out wisely. Think about placing the televisions a minimum of three feet apart. How many you install will ultimately depend upon the size of your room. The average size TV screen for viewing is 27 inches. If you find that a member will be further than 25 to 30 feet away, think about using a 32-inch screen.
* Buy a television that has an audio output jack. "The transmitter plugs into the TV and you can turn the volume on the TV off completely," says Butch Mayard, electrician for Red Lerille's Health & Racquet Club in Lafayette, La. "That way, you don't hear 15 televisions going off with 15 different signals."
* Decide if you want members to use their own headsets. At Red Lerille's, members "take care of their headsets and their own batteries," says Mayard. "If we supplied them, we'd have to maintain the headsets and radios. Besides, would you want to put on a headphone that someone else had in their ears? I don't think so."
You can also sell the headphones; they generally cost $6 to $11. "The typical profit margin per headphone sale is about $5," one manufacturer claims. "During a membership tenure, each member will buy at least one. So it's a clear profit." Especially since members often forget their headphones, see a show is on they want to listen to, and buy another set.
* Let the members dictate what they'd like to watch. News, sports, the major affiliate stations and financial are the most popular at Red Lerille's. "If we change the channel, the members know it," says Mayard. At the end of the evening, when business is slowing down, "some people do change the TV stations," says Mayard. "And in the morning, we have to change them back to where they're supposed to be."
* Keep in mind that the signal won't travel through walls. "You can't install a TV in one room and hope to pick up the signal in another room," says Mayard, "especially if there are metal studs in the wall or concrete columns. But as long as the room is open and the transmitter is plugged into the audio jack of the TV and you can see the TV, you can hear the signal."
* Keep spare transmitters on hand in case one goes down. "It has never happened at our club," says Mayard. "But members know what should be up there and miss it if it's not there."
* Be patient. It may take some fine-tuning to get the reception just right. "Right now our system is a little bit snowy," says Morton. "The company is going to have to put a larger amplifier on."