Songs for the Deaf

Hearing aid concert streams debut in Austin

Oticon Opn’s in-ear system
Oticon Opn’s in-ear system (Courtesy of Lindsay Cavanaugh)

Tonight, for the first time ever, a rock & roll concert will be broadcast directly into hearing aids. Only in Austin are users of Oticon’s Opn system be able to tune into a hi-fidelity live stream of Styx performing from an amphitheatre in Jersey.

The Texas state capital is a logical ground zero to debut hearing aid show streaming, and particularly with those Seventies hitmakers. Austin maintains a large hearing impaired population and two Styx members, drummer Todd Sucherman and bassist Ricky Phillips, who live in the area. Their manager, Charlie Brusco, reports that, comparatively, only one member still lives in Chicago.

In other words, Styx kinda, sorta, qualifies as a local band.

Dr. Sabrina Olivia, Director of Audiology at Capital Otolaryngology, explains that Oticon’s Opn system does the job of a small computer, processing sound it in way that makes it more audible for individuals with hearing loss. The technology is usable for people with mild, moderate, severe, and even profound hearing loss – as long as they have a certain amount of speech understanding.

What’s revolutionary about Opn, she says, is its Internet and Bluetooth connectivity. Applications range from writing codes that allow the user to know when someone’s at their front door to pure entertainment.

“For a long time, there’s been no ‘cool factor’ to hearing aids,” explains Dr. Olivia. “That’s been the stigma: ‘I’m old’ or ‘I’m broken’ or whatever. This is doing something fun for the people who use them. You can stream this Styx concert, in stereo and corrected for your hearing loss, from anywhere at the touch of a button.”

Brusco, a close friend and protégé of late, local ZZ Top manager Bill Ham, explains that Styx became interested in the live stream because it’s the first of its kind and also because of the product’s emphasis on audio quality. His camp executed a trial run of the concert stream on July 31, when the group played the H-E-B Center in Cedar Park. Reports were that it sounded like what the audience in the first 25-30 rows heard since it was mixed from the soundboard.

During the test, Brusco wanted to hear the feed the way hearing aid users will, so he went to an audiologist to be fitted for ear buds. First, however, he needed to get his hearing checked, which he hadn’t had done in so long he couldn’t recall the previous check-up.

“They ran a test and found that I have hearing loss in both ears – one more that the other,” he recounts. “I’ve been doing this for 42 years, managing the Outlaws, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Styx, Peter Frampton, and Bad Company. I’ve been on the road a lot, because I’m hands-on, so I’ve been around loud music all the time.”

Now he’s becoming an advocate for people in the industry to get their hearing tested and is excited that tonight’s concert will raise awareness about hearing loss and potentially decrease the stigma that prevents people from seeing an audiologist and taking measures to correct their hearing.

“Music always sounds better if you can hear it,” he muses.

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Styx, Oticon, Oticon Opn, Charlie Brusco, Dr. Sabrina Olivia, Bill Ham, ZZ Top, Todd Sucherman, Ricky Phillips, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Peter Frampton, The Outlaws, Bad Company, Capital Otolaryngology

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