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Radio AM to FM: October 12, 2001

Limbaugh Announces Sudden, Unexpected Hearing Loss

What do you do when you are the most popular talk show host in the country, but you can't hear your callers?

That's the question KFI (640 AM) syndicated personality Rush Limbaugh is wrestling with due to a sudden unexpected loss of hearing that has rendered him effectively deaf: 100% loss in his left ear; 80% loss in his right. The loss is so severe that he can no longer have a normal conversation.

In a statement given on his program this past Monday, Limbaugh explained that the loss began on May 29th. "I'll never forget the date," he said of the day he noticed that he could not hear anything in his left ear. Doctors first thought it was ear wax, then thought it was related to genetic hearing loss that runs in his family. "The bottom line is, from May 29th up until about ten days ago, I lost hearing about every five days to the point, ladies and gentlemen, that I'm now totally deaf in my left ear," he said on the air.

Hearing aids compensated somewhat for the loss in his right ear for a time. But since July he has been unable to listen to music, which he described as a "mass of noise" in his current condition. "I have the ability to recognize sound but not identify it in my right ear," he said. "Hearing aids, the most powerful made, mean nothing."

"I cannot communicate with people. I can occasionally talk to people in person one on one if their voice frequency happens to fit the range that I can still hear. But I cannot hear radio, I cannot hear television, I cannot hear music. I am, for all practical purposes, deaf. And it's happened in three months."

The cause of his sudden deafness is currently unknown, but he is on medication in an attempt to at least stem the loss of the remaining 20 percent of his hearing in his right ear, and hopefully reverse the condition. No success has been noted yet on either stabilization or reversal, however.

Limbaugh was off the air last week testing out ways to continue his daily program, including having his staff write what callers are saying on cards that he can read. He has no current plans to alter the style of his show which traditionally has included no interviews, just monologues and listener calls. For its part, Premiere Radio Networks, which distributes the show, says it is committed to airing the program through the year 2009.

It is unknown -- but likely -- that his hearing loss is related to the change in his voice that seemed to begin during the Summer, a change that previously was blamed on a cold. Many listeners, myself included, noted that his voice seemed lower in pitch and that he was talking a bit slower, as if his show was being broadcast from a tape that was running slow.

"It could well be that my voice is changing," he admitted. "I don't know. I can't hear myself well enough to know."

Referring to his program, Limbaugh said, "My challenge is ... I want to do this. I want to keep doing this. So the challenge is to find a way, and there are a number of ways of doing it.

"All I've lost is my ability to hear ... not my ability to communicate. Those are two different things," he concluded.

Limbaugh assured his audience that he would continue to update them on his condition. Some experts say that his condition may be reversed, but there are no guarantees.

Limbaugh's show airs weekdays from 9 am to 12 noon on KFI.

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Copyright © 2001 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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