I Too Suffer From Hearing Problems

I read with great interest Nat Lauzon’s article about being hearing impaired and working in radio. I find it very heartening to know that I am not the only one to suffer from this problem.

My hearing was never really good. As a very young child I was relatively deaf and learned at a young age to read lips to compensate for my lack of hearing.  As a sufferer of chronic ear infections, at the tender age of 5 tubes were put in my ears and my parents were told that they would not only help with the infections, but once they were removed, my hearing would also improve.

The tubes came out, but my hearing still wasn’t very good. I learned to speak with a hearing deficit which resulted in a slight lisp which years of speech therapy was not able to correct and a penchant for sometimes mispronouncing certain words.

When, in high school, I decided that radio was my career goal, everybody laughed at me. They told me to stop dreaming, that there would be no way I’d make it in radio, first of all, I have a lisp, secondly, some of the words that I habitually mispronounce are common words, therefore any program director who even heard me speak for two minutes would surely reject me.

I’m a stubborn guy and radio is what I’ve always wanted to do, but , in my mind, influenced by everyone around me, I launched a career in print journalism. My first paying print reporters job came when I was 14, I worked around my school schedule.

After a few years of writing for various newspapers and bombarding English talk radio program directors with demo tape after demo tape, I finally got an offer at CJAD 800, the most popular English language talk station in town. I was excited, I was barely 17 and the program director was interested in my proposal. Numerous phone conversations led to a meeting and then an offer. I was sure that this would prove everyone wrong, that finally people who discouraged me, who told me my disability was forever going to impede my radio career would realize that when you have a dream nothing stands in your way.

Well on the day that I was to sign my contract there was a management change which saw the entry of a new Program Director who then promptly cancelled my deal.

I was devastated, but not crushed.

At the time my hearing had deteriorated substantially. Unbeknownst to my parents, friends and family, I was hearing less and less. One day I told my mother and we went to an audiologist to have me checked. The results were that my hearing fell into the low end of the normal range. Once again, for the second time in my life, I had to rely on watching people’s lips in order to really “hear” what they were saying.

It was recess in high school, I was hanging out in the hall with some friends when suddenly there was what seemed like an explosion, then a second right behind me. My hands went immediately up to my ears, to cover and protect them, but it was too late, the loud noise had deafened me completely.  You see, as a joke, one of my classmates had decided to blow off firecrackers in the hall, the loud noise had finally done my hearing in.

I immediately went home and another trip to the audiologist revealed that I was 90% deaf in both ears. The audiologist said it could just be my sensitive eardrums were reacting to the firecrackers and my hearing would come back, but chances are I would be experiencing a hearing deficit for the rest of my life.

I was nearly completely deaf for weeks until one day my hearing started clearing up. But along with being able to hear again, there was a low grade ringing in my right ear. It sounded like a group of bells were ringing in a distance, not loud enough to bother me, just loud enough, however, to be noticeable.  Back to the audiologist who told me that it was just a reaction from the firecracker and the ringing should go away…It never did.

Two years later, I got a job at CJAD as a technician, (which eventually lead into a replacement reporter’s gig and some on-air time on talk shows) and a couple of years after that I started hosting a radio show on Montreal’s Jewish radio station, Radio Shalom.

I’ve been hosting the Radio Shalom show for 13 years and am the most popular English show on the station. I have interviewed hundreds of guests, covered thousands of events and spent thousands of hours talking to the public.

The funny thing is, unless I mention it, nobody really notices the lisp and most people embrace my sometimes strange annunciation as an endearing quirk, it makes me original.

As for my hearing, it’s not a hundred percent. The ringing is still there, but I’ve mentally shut it out.  I’m lucky enough not to be able to hear most in-store musak, loud noises deafen me for extended periods of time, if you call me from behind I may not hear you depending on the surrounding environment and I pump the volume on my studio headset just a little louder than most people are comfortable with.

All in all, however, I am able to continue with a radio career, able to do voice over work and able to produce great commercials all while compensating for my hearing deficiency.

I’m not at the point where I currently need hearing aids, but I’m sure that’s the future and I’m ready for it.

As Nat said, there is nothing to be ashamed about, this is the way I was born and much like people need glasses to see and canes to walk, some of us need a little extra help to hear.

I proudly stand with Nat as a 38 year old man with a hearing problem who works in radio.

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Howie Silbiger hosts The Howie Silbiger Show live Sundays at 7pm on www.truetalkradio.com - Call in 1-877-669-1292

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