Sound from Royal Theatre stage can now be broadcast to hearing aids

By Wayne Bryan Published January 26, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Fred Anderson of Saline Audiology unrolls wire to install as part of the hearing-loop system at the Royal Theatre in Benton. The system will allow sound from productions to be broadcast to the hearing aids of those in attendance.

Susan Dill, president of the Royal Players, said she has seen the same thing happen many times when she is in the audience during a performance at the Royal Theatre in Benton.

“There will be a couple sitting near me, and one of them is repeating the dialogue throughout the play,” she said. “So you know the other one can’t understand what’s being said on stage, and the repeated lines disturb the other patrons.”

When the Royal Players take the stage again with a new production of Steel Magnolias, hearing-impaired theatergoers will be able to listen directly from the Royal’s sound system now that the theater has its new hearing loop.

A hearing loop is a copper wire placed around the perimeter of an area, in this case from the Royal’s stage to behind the back row and back to the edge of the stage at the other side of the building, said Fred Anderson of Saline Audiology.

“The wire that looks like a regular telephone wire is connected to a transmitter that sends out an electromagnetic signal across the room,” he said as he ran across the floor of the theater along one wall. “That signal is picked up by a hearing aid equipped with a telecoil, and the person hears the amplified sounds directly from the theater’s sound system.”

Anderson said the technology is old, but modern audio technology makes the connection. The magnetic signal is similar to what happens in a traditional speaker, transferring the magnetic energy into sound through the coil in the hearing aid.

The sound might even be a better quality than what’s heard by the patrons who have no hearing problems.

“The microphones hang down from the ceiling of the stage,” Dill said. “We get a lot of stage sounds like people walking. In addition, the speakers will cause the sound to bounce around the walls of the theater.”

Dr. Lisa Richey, an audiologist with Saline Audiology Associates, said the coil in the hearing aid cuts out sources of background noise that can make comprehension difficult.

“In many cases, it is not that people can’t hear,” she said. “It is that they can’t understand because of what we call the noise floor, the other sounds going on in a space, and the hearing loop helps cut out the clutter.”

Saline Audiology and its Arkansas Loops division installed the hearing loop in the Royal at no charge.

“We feel it is important for people in the community to know about looping,” Richey said. “We think it is awesome, and we wanted to demonstrate the loop in town, and [to] the people who come to the Royal wear hearing aids.”

About two-thirds of the hearing aids used in the United States have telecoils, Richey said.

“If people want to see if their hearing aid has one, they can come in, and we will check it and activate it if you want to.”

She said some coils must be activated using a computer, but many do not.

“If you know that you have a telephone switch in your hearing aid,” Richey said, “all you have to do is push a button, turn it on, and you’re ready to go.”

Coils are usually programmed for an individual’s specific level of hearing loss, just like the rest of the hearing aid.

The Royal is not the first place in Benton to have a hearing loop, said Dr. Credonna Miller, an audiologist and Richey’s partner at Saline Audiology.

Benton First United Methodist Church had a loop installed early in 2013. Loops are also used at First Baptist Church of Benton and Northside Church of Christ in Benton.

In Hot Springs Village, Barcelona Road Baptist Church had a hearing loop installed by Saline Audiology in 2012.

“Numerous people have said, ‘I’m hearing the message better,’” Bruce Swihart, senior pastor, said after the loop was installed in the church. “These are members of our church who come all the time. They just love it.”

A loop was also installed around the counter of a tire store in Benton.

“Loops have been placed in pharmacies and in the offices of financial planners,” Miller said. “They are needed anyplace where it is important that people can listen and understand what they are being told.”

She said loops are useful almost anywhere, from ball parks to taxis. Richey said she has talked with city of Benton officials and hopes loops can be used at the Benton Event Center, the proposed new community center, and other public buildings.

The American With Disabilities Act requires that many public buildings offer help for their hearing-impaired patrons, and we think this is the best idea.

The first time the hearing loop will be used by audiences at the Royal Theatre will be on March 7.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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