By David H. Kirkwood
ORLANDO, FL—The American Academy of Audiology (AAA) had advised convention-goers that Gus Mueller and Jerry Northern were “sure to have some tricks up their sleeves” for the 25th annual Audiology Trivia Bowl, which was held here today (Saturday, March 29) at AudiologyNOW! 2014. However, until a few days ago not even the Academy knew about the really big surprise that Drs. Mueller and Northern had in store for them.
Mueller and Northern, two of the world’s best known audiologists, decided some time ago to make the 2014 Trivia Bowl their last, but their decision remained a closely held secret until they revealed it in a video that was shown during the General Assembly on Thursday morning.
What led them to bring the curtain down on this most popular of AAA traditions? Mueller, who for 25 years wrote all the trivia questions, the answers, and the often-hilarious foils, told Hearing News Watch:
“For the past 25 years the annual Trivia Bowl has been the event on my calendar that I most looked forward to. Where else can you combine audiology, friendly competition, and lots of laughs and free beer? But when the attendees start telling you that you remind them of their grandfather, maybe it’s time to step down.”
Gus added, “Jerry and I started talking a year ago about making the 2014 Trivia Bowl our last. Twenty-five seemed like a good number to end with. When we learned that AAA had moved it from a ‘Happy Hour’ time slot to a luncheon event, that made our decision easy. We’re really not at our best before dusk!”
Northern, whose wit and style make him the emcee of choice for pretty much any event in audiology, said, “Sometimes you just know when the time has come to draw the curtain and close the show.”
The former AAA president continued, “I hope we’ve brought lots of laughs and enjoyment to Trivia Bowl players over the past 25 years, but I can guarantee you that no one has had more fun than we did putting the game together each year. Who would ever have thought that a goofy idea like an Audiology Trivia Bowl would become an annual fixture at a national professional and scientific meeting?
“Now that we’ve ‘retired,'” he added, “we’re free to set off on a World Tour to promote our new CD and t-shirts.”
GOING OUT WITH A BANG
The veteran trivia meisters added some extra features this year to make sure that the final Trivia Bowl would be truly unforgettable for the 1000 or so attendees.
In appreciation of the countless audiologists who have loyally followed them for a quarter century, Jerry and Gus gave every participant a CD containing their selection of the “Greatest Hits”–the top 100 questions from past Trivia Bowls dating back to its 1990 in New Orleans.
They also supplied Thunderstix for all tables so they would get the roaring ovation they said they had always longed for. Printed on the Stix was the caption: “Gus and Jerry–Still doing it after 25 years.”
IN THE BEGINNING
Although memories dim over time, to the founders’ best recollection the saga of the Trivia Bowl begins in summer 1987 at a bar (where else!) in the Des Moines Holiday Inn. It’s happy hour and Gus Mueller and two audiologist friends–Tom Powers and Brad Stach—have joined in a trivia contest taking place there. This learned trio of PhD audiologists expects to win, of course, but as it turns out they prove no match for a team of young female clerical workers. Drowning their disappointment in one last round, Gus, Tom, and Brad groan, “If only they had asked questions about audiology.” Therein lay the germ of an idea whose time had not yet come.
Flash forward to Redstone, CO in the summer of 1989. There, in his Rocky Mountain retreat, Jerry Northern is hosting a meeting with his colleagues on the ASHA convention committee–Mueller, Stach, Fred Bess, and Linda Hood. Late that evening, after many hours of reviewing potential presentations at ASHA’s Convention scientific program, eyes glaze over and the conversation turns to a lighter topic: audiology trivia.
Gus begins firing off a stream of questions from his seemingly inexhaustible supply of names, numbers, data and random facts related in some way to audiology. The group has so much fun trying to answer them that it occurs to them that maybe other audiologists would also enjoy a trivia contest.
At breakfast the next day, a passing thought turns into a plan. Since the gang of five gathered in Redstone are all among the founders of the American Academy of Audiology, which held its first convention earlier that year, they agree that the next AAA meeting is the logical venue to launch such an event.
As the “trivia expert,” Gus will come up with 25 questions and join with Jerry in presenting the program at its 1990 convention in New Orleans. By good fortune, Linda is program chair for that meeting, plus Brad is treasurer of the Academy. That doesn’t mean he can just write a check out of its treasury, but he can call Tom Powers, head of audiology at Siemens Hearing, to see if his company will sponsor the Trivia Bowl. Tom, who had liked the idea of an audiology trivia contest when it was raised in Des Moines, persuades Siemens to come on board—where they remained until the end.
AN INSTANT TRADITION
Trivia Bowl I was a huge hit. Enticed by a free lunch, courtesy of Siemens, more than 200 audiologists came to play. Informal teams were created around each table, and the members invented imaginative team names. For each multiple-choice question, team members would agree on one answer and the team with the most right answers at the end would be champions.
The unexpectedly large turnout was far more than would fit in the assigned space, so many contestants had to sit in adjacent rooms and follow the proceedings on tiny television monitors. Despite that hassle, audiologists of all ages loved the event and it was clear the Trivia Bowl was here to stay.
The next year in Denver, attendance doubled, even though it was a Saturday breakfast event, coming on the heels of a host of company-sponsored late night parties. Participation and spirits rose every year, especially after the Trivia Bowl moved to a late afternoon time slot where, with encouragement from Gus and Jerry, “beer runs” became a popular feature, perhaps especially for the teams that harbored no hope of winning.
For the more serious contestants, however, winning was what it was all about. Many of them formed permanent teams, and invited only the most knowledgeable audiologists to join them. Some held practice sessions and wore team T-shirts.
No team enjoyed more success over the years than the Phonemic Regressives, which won six of the first 24 Trivia Bowls, including last year’s. Other multiple winners included two three-time champions: the Seren-Dips and the FLAC PAC.
Even if team members didn’t know much audiology trivia, they could win recognition for best name. Among the winners were My Big Fat Hairy Tragus, the Ossicular Cheneys, the Auditory Stimulus Package, and the Pinna-Up Girls.
WHAT ABOUT NEXT YEAR?
Will this unique event continue without Mueller and Northern? Well, anything’s possible, but theirs would be a very tough act to follow.
To use a pop music analogy, there are Beatles “tribute bands” still singing I Want to Hold Your Hand and Hey, Jude, and in every corner of the world you can watch Elvis imitators swiveling their hips as they sing Jail House Rock. But, let’s face it, these guys are not the real thing. And, the fact is, when it comes to the Trivia Bowl, Gus and Jerry have left the building.