Featuring Robert Briskey, M.A., following this Introduction.
I was told recently that one of the major hearing aid manufacturers had over 300 audiologists working for them. How many audiologists are currently working throughout the industry for manufacturers would only be an estimate – and most likely not very accurate.
Regardless, such a position for audiologists today is commonplace, and in most cases, is considered to be premium employment. However, this was not always the case. The first audiologists employed in the hearing aid industry encountered substantial difficulties and encounters – unlike those today. But, in doing so they set the stage for roles audiologists hold today in hearing aid manufacturing.
There is no written record of these pioneers – who they were, how they became involved, what they did as the first audiologists with manufacturers, and what they experienced. This is history that should be recorded. And as a result, I have contacted what we might call “The Magnificent Seven” (the first audiologists employed by hearing aid manufacturers, and who remained in those positions long enough to affect the future roles of audiologists in manufacturing), and asked them to share their experiences. However, as you will read later, they actually had another less flattering name: “SCABS.”
Ideally, this historical information should be presented in a single document. However, contributions from these pioneers come in fragmented spurts as they recall various events, and if one waited until all the information was available to print, it may never be done.
Because these are emerging background stories, the information will not be presented in consecutive weeks, and not necessarily in chronological order, but will be sprinkled in future blogs. Some of the contributions are longer than others, reflecting the enthusiasm of the writer to share information, but length is not meant to minimize any contributions.
Who Were These Pioneers?
So, who were these individuals? Listed alphabetically, they are: Robert Briskey, Bill Carver, Jim Curran, James Delk (deceased), Terry Griffing, Richard Scott, and Wayne Staab.
A couple of other audiologist names have been identified as having some involvement in the hearing aid history at the manufacturing end prior to the above-listed names, but they appear to have been involved for only a very short time and any history on them is missing. However, they were with manufacturers for such a short time that they had little or no influence on the role of audiologists in industry. It seems fair to say that they were individuals who were contracted by manufacturers for specific purposes. Two names of such contact were Paul LaBenz, Ed.D. (1959 with Maico, but living in Silver Springs, MD), and Charlotte Dempsey with Zenith Corporation who was making some dealer calls in 1960. Regardless, she left Zenith in 1960 or early 1961 to return to school and work on her Ph.D.
Of those who joined hearing aid manufacturing and remained to influence the directions for future audiologists, the first was Robert (Bob) Briskey. Bob’s first blog follows.
Wayne J. Staab, Ph.D.
The Early Years in Audiology
Robert J. Briskey, M.A.
(Note: The first 8 paragraphs of the following history from Bob Briskey were adapted from a previous blog in the Hearing Journal in 2010 under the heading “Wayne Staab’s World.” It was necessary to provide the appropriate transition to that in this blog).
After finishing my degree in speech pathology at Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, and receiving a M.A. (1947), I remained on the faculty until 1952. When a job as Director of a fledgling new audiology clinic opened at Wisconsin State College in Milwaukee, I took the position because working in audiology was my ultimate goal.
This audiology clinic grew out of the college’s already established deaf education program. Soon thereafter the school was renamed the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. My initial task was to purchase an adequate two-suite hearing test facility from Industrial Acoustics Corp. (IAC). The clinical program initially served the hearing-impaired population in the City of Milwaukee. This process was slow and difficult to get started. Eventually, we obtained a rather steady number of children referred to our clinic for hearing testing. This was then followed by having some adults using the service. While in Wisconsin I did as much as I could to let the community know about our services, including giving presentations wherever and whenever I could get on a program. Our hearing testing program gradually caught on.
I was not alone as an audiologist in Wisconsin. There were others who were employed in medical clinics, others in deaf schools or deaf education facilities and even one at that time testing hearing with a private practice otologist. So, because of this core of audiologists, I decided to start a “Wisconsin audiology” group, which met once a year. The purpose of the group was to share the growing knowledge in the field of audiology. Originally, as I recall at the first meeting, three people attended. We held a two-day meeting and decided “nothing.”
Hearing testing, and audiology as a profession was beginning to be recognized. Following hearing testing, and finding hearing losses, we would send patients to a hearing aid “dealer” to be fitted with a hearing aid. Over time, more hearing aid “dealer” offices opened in the community, and as the sales offices grew in number, I developed the idea of a training program for hearing aid dealers to be held in Milwaukee. The idea seemed great.
While in Milwaukee at the clinic, I had been invited several times to join the hearing aid division of Zenith Corporation, which was located in Chicago. So, after 10 years, I left the Clinic and moved to the Chicago area as Director of Rehabilitation Services for Zenith.
At Zenith, we put together a first dealer meeting dedicated entirely to testing and fitting hearing aids. The response was amazing. Zenith dealers from all over the U.S. attended the two-day meeting which was held at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, IL. This meeting was extremely well received and was designed to include every aspect of a dealer’s business. The educational outline included the following subjects:
- Testing Techniques
- Dealer Concerns
- Pure Tone Masking
- Case Histories
- Masking Office Layout
- Speech Testing
- Office Management
- Ear Impression Techniques
- Consumer Conversations
- B & K Hearing Aid Technology
- Questions and Answers
- Audiogram Interpretation
The training handbook included a sample test or example of each of these subjects. Also included were specification sheets of each of the company’s current hearing aids. That meeting attendance and response was a clear indication that the dealers in the offices around the country wanted to know how to better serve the hearing-impaired population.
The meeting pointed out several things that we at Zenith felt we needed to do in order to better meet dealer needs. The first thing was to establish a hearing clinic, so we could test and experiment with new ideas and products using hearing-impaired adults as test subjects. The second point was to maintain some continual contact with the dealer offices providing educational materials and explaining new ideas to be considered for the deaf and hearing impaired in the form of different hearing aid applications. Each of these objectives was extensively pursued. To supplement these educational sessions, we developed a 20-unit training course reviewed by Aram Glorig, M.D., covering many subjects.
The Vocalizer was one of the hearing instruments designed expressly for the profoundly impaired. It was an instrument with a higher power and a much wider bandwidth. Zenith had a fine staff of engineers; one I worked with frequently was Kenneth Wruk. The Vocalizer proved to be a very successful product and performed as predicted for the people with profound losses. While at Zenith, I was interested in hearing aids and I developed three. They didn’t all turn out to be big winners, but the idea of receiving patents was an interesting experience.
We wanted to know what the dealer’s concerns were, from the day-to-day operations of the business to how to fit the different hearing aid products, so we tried various techniques. We would solicit comments from dealers on a topic, and then distribute a complete file of the material to everyone who submitted an idea. It was really great to see the ideas each individual dealer office would suggest.
Working with the dealers on a day-to-day schedule gave me an opportunity to experiment with ideas.
Regional training sessions throughout the year were immensely valuable. We worked to establish two new techniques for the training of a tolerance threshold for output, for example. This was the perfect time to discuss techniques for introducing new products. We maintained an open door policy with the dealers. If they had a problem related to a fitting, we would shift our attention to that problem.
When “all in the ear” products were first introduced, dealers needed more experience with how to take ear impressions. While behind-the-ear hearing aids had required ear impressions to make earmolds, the fit was not as critical as it became with the all-in-the-ear products. It was a bump in the road that was easily solved.
A major change was occurring at Zenith and the organization was changing. It didn’t seem to be the best work environment for me, so I started looking around. Beltone was here in Chicago and several dealers encouraged me to see if Beltone was interested. I knew some of the people at Beltone, so I talked to them.
My Move to Beltone
In 1975 I was hired by Beltone as Director of Training. The job was similar to Zenith with a few minor changes. The dealer organization was strong and extremely receptive to learning and advancing in fitting techniques. We took a few months to develop a new training program. At Zenith creativity was important, but not as much with Beltone. My job finally settled out as a regular “trainer.” I developed a general program consisting of two-day dealer training sessions in the field.
One of Beltone’s engineers, Peter Mercola, was interested in teaching dealers more about the products and was very capable. We worked out a training program for the “road.” Because Peter was an engineer, we were able to set a segment of the meeting around “the hearing aid.” Along with the “bread and butter” subjects related to a hearing aid office, including testing and fitting hearing aids, we added the assembly of an aid. We put together the components of a simple “behind the ear” aid and organized an assembly procedure to take into the field and have the dealers assemble the hearing aid. It was interesting and successful. No, the aids were not sold, but a majority at least were put together enough to be workable. That was a back breaker of a training program. At this time hotels with a large enough facility to accommodate us were hard to find. We ran the program in the field until all of the Beltone dealers had the opportunity to attend.
After this initial training program, I started running one-day training programs covering more in-depth education on physiology of the ear, testing techniques, knowledge of the circuitry being developed by Beltone engineers and new products as they rapidly evolved. Each session was current with the products or advances being made in the field of hearing. Many of the same dealers attended the meetings in their region, so we were able to see them accelerate their current knowledge as we went along. These sessions were very valuable to the dealers.
At Beltone I wrote an informative colloquy every once in awhile about various subjects. These mini newsletter style lectures became an extension of the dealer training program. Of the 22 colloquies some of the subjects were: Rationale for Binaural Hearing Aid Fittings, AGC and Its Application, and A Consumer Evaluation of Binaural Hearing Aids.
I made several overseas trips during my years with manufacturers. While at Zenith I lectured in Buenos Aries, South America about the latest developments in Zenith hearing aids. While I was at Beltone, I made two trips to Japan. These trips were not just to lecture, but also to train dealers in three cities. It was very informative to me to learn that while dealers in Japan and Wisconsin had similar concerns, the way they learned about fitting problems was quite different. There will be more on this in my next blog.