Learning About Hearing Aids – On My Own

Learning About Audiology and Hearing Aids – On My Own

I started University teaching at the ripe old age of 24 at the University of North Dakota.  I had been offered numerous interesting jobs, partly because I was one of those rare people who had certification in both audiology and speech pathology, and because of this, some were actually for Department Chair!  However, I had determined that I wanted to complete my doctorate at some future date and felt that I would be better off learning something about clinic work and teaching rather than administrating.

North Dakota seemed a good fit.  Little did I know at the time that a previous faculty audiology member had been Dr. Bill Rintelmann.  I was “fortunate” to inherit his extensive hearing facilities and equipment.  This consisted of a Bogan amplifier, an attenuator (0 being no reduction, or the loudest sound), a Western Electric 2A audiometer, a turntable with the loudness controlled by the attenuator and sound directed to either the audiometer earphones or to a speaker on the wall, and a very small “sound-treated” room put together, I assume, by University workers.  I believe there was also a Beltone 5A audiometer as well.  Undaunted, I found a way to make this work.  We actually screened the hearing of all new students at the University with this equipment and performed hearing and hearing aid evaluations as well.

In fact, the Speech and Hearing Division had enough money for equipment, but the head of the Speech Department was hoarding all dollars for a new building to be in his name.  This came to light when I needed batteries for an Amplex personal amplifier and was told there was no money in the budget for this.  Frustrated to hear that I couldn’t purchase a couple of dollars worth of batteries, and knowing that I had been making financial contributions through hearing clinic charges, I decided to contact the business office to find out what we actually had in the clinic account.  I guess the Department Chair never thought that anyone would have the nerve to check on finances, but as luck would have it, they provided me with a complete breakdown.

It was then that the manure hit the fan, so to speak, resulting in our push for speech and hearing to become an independent division within the Speech Department.  As luck would have it, our college had a new Dean, and when we presented our petition to him, he came back saying that it did not make any sense for us to become an independent division within the Speech Department, but that we should actually become a separate Department!  From that day forward, the Speech Department Chair never said another word to me.  The building was delayed in construction and ended up not carrying his name.  I felt bad, but not that bad because I did develop a very nice audiology test facility with great equipment.


I Learn About Binaural Hearing Aids

I believe that the academic training that I had related to hearing aids was very good and I ended up having more courses related to hearing than most, primarily because I was able to take such courses for two years, rather than the single year that most audiologists were given at the time.  Additionally, I was fortunate to take courses in electronics, voice science and acoustic phonetics from Dr. Fred Minifie.  Still, on-the-job training is very difficult to beat.  

My first invitation to speak as a university faculty audiologist was to the hearing aid dealers of North Dakota, in Carrington, ND.  I drove to the meeting with a “Beltone” dealer by the name of Lee Dattelbaum (Audiologists were essentially embedded with the notion that we should question anything that a Beltone dealer did – and that none of it could be good – hence the reason for my quotation marks).  My topic title was: “A Comparison of Monaural vs. Binaural Hearing Aid Fittings.”  I gave my talk, concluding that based on the research published to date, that there was no evidence that binaural hearing aids had an advantage over a monaural fitting.  Of course, I was the expert.  I had a degree in audiology!

The drive back to Grand Forks was looooong.  But, near the end of the drive, Lee said to me:  “You know, I wear two hearing aids.  When I wear two, I can get the amplification I need before feedback occurs, meaning that I don’t have to turn the aids up as much as when I wear a monaural fitting.  I have better directionality, and my understanding is better.  Explain that to me.”  I can tell you from that day forward, I paid a lot more attention to what people, including patients and hearing aid dealers, said, and have found that quite often my preconceived ideas may not have been as well founded as I thought.  During my career working with hearing aids I have learned much by listening to the experiences of others, even when I thought I had all the answers and their explanations were unfounded.  Incidently, I did end up referring some hearing aids to Lee.  He turned out not to be an ogre.

Grand Forks turned out to be a very good learning experience – both in teaching and the clinic, even if the only thing you could do in the summer was to play golf if it came on a Sunday.


I Return to School – Again

After three years at the University of North Dakota it was time to return to school to earn a doctorate in audiology.  Michigan State University (MSU) had a good program at that time, offered me a scholarship, and, interestingly, one of the faculty members was Bill Rintelmann – the man I followed by a few years at the University of North Dakota, but had never met.  I believe that having some experience before working on a doctorate makes one a better student.  One has a better idea of what they don’t know, what they need to know, in general works harder to learn, and doesn’t mind demanding courses, rather than just putting in time to finish a degree so they could be called “Dr.”


What If We Had Acted…

I was later employed at MSU to teach and to run the hearing clinics during a time of hearing aid licensing and turmoil between the hearing aid dealers and the audiological community.  Both were positioning themselves to defend their turf (can you believe that?).  Yes, this activity would give the Hundred Years’ War a good run for its money. (It was actually 116 years so I guess the extra 16 years was considered a dividend).  Dr. Herb Oyer, our Department Chair and I met with dealer representatives at the Clinic in 1970 to discuss how this issue might best be resolved. Dr. Oyer offered a suggestion that was unexpected, bold, and certainly would have generated controversy.  But, might it have been the thing to do considering all that has transpired since then?  He suggested that on a specified day, that all traditional hearing aid dealers would become audiologists by grandfathering, and from then on, all audiologists would require academic training as recognized by accrediting institutions.

In essence, this would be an action not unlike the history of medicine, dentistry, etc.  Of course, the audiological community would not hear of it.  But, what if……..?

Next Staab Blog: From the Academic to the Independent Entrepreneurial World

About Wayne Staab

Dr. Wayne Staab is an internationally recognized authority on hearing aids. As President of Dr. Wayne J. Staab and Associates, he is engaged in consulting, research, development, manufacturing, education, and marketing projects related to hearing. Interests away from business include fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, golf, travel, tennis, softball, lecturing, sporting clays, 4-wheeling, archery, swimming, guitar, computers, and photography. Among other pursuits.


  1. Larry: I had forgotten that you were at the Rehab Center. Remind me again of the years you were there. Also, our mutual good friend Tom White was down in the Fargo/Moorehead area at the time I was in Grand Forks.

  2. I, too, knew Lee Dattelbaum. My first clinical job was the Univ. of North Dakota Rehabilitation Center which was on the campus. Grand Forks was a great place “in the summer”. I always enjoy your bits of history.

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