Editor’s Note: In a departure from our regular Hearing Disruptions series, we bring readers a special post today, penned by Barry Freeman, PhD, on the passing of Michael Nehr– a person whose story everyone in the hearing industry should know.
By Barry Freeman, PhD
Audiology lost a dear friend and colleague last week with the passing of Michael Nehr. Most audiologists didn’t know Michael because he didn’t publish extensively or give presentations at national meetings. However, Michael made his contribution in other ways. To some he was “the sweetest guy you ever met” while to others he was described as an entrepreneur, disruptor, marketing genius, and pariah!
You see, Michael was the first person to sell PSAPs which cost him his business, his freedom, and nearly $10m in legal fees before being vindicated in a court of law.
After graduating with his Audiology degree from University of Wisconsin and working clinically, Michael was recruited by a national optometry and eyewear retail chain to develop Audiology practices in the offices of optometrists. After establishing more than 100 offices, employing hundreds of audiologists, Michael saw the value of inexpensive over-the-counter ‘readers’ and their acceptance as an entry-level to eye care.
He had a vision to do the same for Audiology.
He opened his own company and sold the original non-hearing aid PSAP, Crystal Ear. Although he always wanted to sell these through the professional channel, he met the resistance of the hearing care community. Therefore, he initially sold the Crystal Ear through the mail. Even Michael admitted the surprising response of the public to an amplifier sold through ads in publications like Reader’s Digest and Smithsonian Magazine. Never were these sold as hearing aids and there was enough interest for the company to sell 20,000 per month in the late 1990s and early into 2000. This was at a time when only 1.5-1.8m hearing aids were sold in the U.S. and an additional 240,000 Crystal Ear’s were being sold.
Unfortunately, Michael paid a price for innovation in the hearing industry. He was reported to State and Federal authorities for selling “hearing aids through the mail”.
While the rest of the world watched the tragedy of the Twin Towers on 9/11, Michael was arrested, charged with multiple felony counts dealing with inter-state commerce, and then taken to jail. His story, his acquittal, and the apologies by the judge for what was described as a “malicious prosecution” are detailed on the company’s website.
After a decade, 47 court appearances, and $10m in legal fees, Michael won the PSAP battle and was rebuilding his company, Neutronic Ear. When I last saw him at ADA in November, he was meeting with audiologists to discuss the role of PSAPs in clinical practices.
Unfortunately, he lost his battle for life just when PSAPs were finally becoming accepted—a true vindication of his life-long battle to make a difference in the lives of individuals with hearing loss.