Q&A with Russ Gentner, President and CEO of Listen Technologies
In December 2017, Listen Technologies announced its acquisition of the Audio Everywhere brand and products from ExXothermic, Inc., a global technology leader in Wi-Fi streaming technology. Technologies for Worship recently caught up with Russ Gentner, president and CEO of Listen Technologies, and inquired about the significance of this announcement.
TFWM: Why did Listen Technologies acquire the Audio Everywhere brand and products?
Russ: Listen Technologies has partnered with Dr. Lance Glasser and his team at ExXothermic, Inc., the developer of Audio Everywhere, over the years because they share our passion for designing technology and solutions that deliver clear sound to everyone, regardless of setting or acoustics. Audio Everywhere technology has become the go-to solution for affordable, plug and play streaming of wireless audio over existing Wi-Fi networks and is the perfect complement to our existing portfolio of innovative assistive listening products.
TFWM: What does this acquisition mean for your customers?
Russ: Listen Technologies has been offering best-in-class assistive listening systems for more than 18 years. We continue to do that, now with best-in-class Wi-Fi audio streaming under the Audio Everywhere from Listen Technologies brand. What was our ListenWiFi product is now Audio Everywhere from Listen Technologies, a new offering that provides customers an affordable plug and play, low latency solution for assistive listening that can operate on a venue’s existing wireless network. Current ListenWiFi customers will receive a free upgrade to Audio Everywhere from Listen Technologies software and the transition should be seamless. There is no change in hardware.
TFWM: Can you explain how audio over Wi-Fi works as an assistive listening solution?
Russ: Sure. Assistive listening technology that utilizes Wi-Fi is really exciting because of the ubiquity of smart phones. These personal mobile devices can help users hear better and experience sound more clearly. Users are able to stream sound over wireless networks onto their smart phones and mobile devices. Imagine a crowded, loud environment such as a house of worship, fellowship hall or classroom featuring multiple screens or media walls, where ambient noise and distance make it difficult to hear TV, a speaker or venue audio. In these environments, congregants and guests can easily stream sound to their smart phones and hear clearly using headphones or ear buds. Consider also that many of today’s hearing aids are Bluetooth-enabled. A smart phone or smart device could now potentially stream Wi-Fi audio directly to a person’s hearing aid(s), thereby eliminating the need to wear any other headset.
TFWM: What sets Audio Everywhere from Listen Technologies apart from other Wi-Fi assistive listening solutions?
Russ: Audio Everywhere from Listen Technologies is universal, and can easily be added to a house of worship’s existing wireless network and accommodate thousands of users and over 50 channels. This gives congregants and guests more choices and an enhanced experience. And, it’s truly plug and play for venues – there is no complicated installation or learning curve.
However, it’s important to note that to be compliant with ADA requirements, venues must carry a certain number of receivers based on seating capacity. For example, assembly areas with a seating capacity of 50 or less must have at least two receivers available to guests. And, two receivers must be hearing aid compatible.
Wi-Fi really expands the options available to houses of worship and makes it easy and affordable to offer assistive listening technology to visitors and guests. A house of worship could purchase smart devices (iPods, smart phones, tablets, etc.) or participate in a sponsored donation program where congregants and friends of the church or house of worship donate their old phones for others to use as Wi-Fi receivers at services. Congregants also can choose to listen from their own personal devices, without calling attention to their need for an assistive listening receiver (no equipment to request or check out).
TFWM: How does Audio Everywhere from Listen Technologies work for end users? Is there a learning curve for congregants who may not be familiar with assistive listening technology?
Russ: Venues and facilities that offer Audio Everywhere from Listen Technologies typically will make this known to guests through signage and/or announcements and will help guests find the Audio Everywhere from Listen Technologies app. Guests simply download the free app on their mobile device (they only need to do this one time), connect to the venue’s Wi-Fi network and tune into the channel displayed on the TV screen of their choice. It’s very easy, but your question raises the bigger issue of increasing awareness of assistive listening technology among congregants in general.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, approximately 17 percent of American adults experience some degree of hearing loss. Think about that statistic. Tens of millions of people throughout the U.S. are unable to hear the spoken word as completely as they should. Now imagine attending services, but being unable to clearly hear the speaker’s messages of hope and strength or discern the inspiring words of songs because of hearing loss. The experience can be extremely frustrating and isolating. Congregants with hearing loss may stop attending worship services altogether because they feel disengaged or unfulfilled due to their inability to hear. Those who wear hearing aids or are familiar with assistive listening devices may be hesitant to ask for them or feel left out because of the stigma associated with hearing impairment.
TFWM: Is audio over Wi-Fi a good assistive listening option for houses of worship?
Russ: Yes! Audio over Wi-Fi promotes inclusivity and can help houses of worship reach and engage with congregants suffering from hearing loss, the “invisible disability.” Congregants who have stopped attending services because of the frustration and loneliness they experience when they are unable to clearly hear and engage in worship and fellowship may be encouraged to return because of the simplicity and discretion Wi-Fi based assistive listening solutions offer.
TFWM: What other assistive listening technology options are there for houses of worship?
Russ: Other types of assistive listening technologies include Radio Frequency, Infrared and Induction Loop.
Radio Frequency: RF assistive listening systems work similarly to radios and use a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter transmits sound to the receiver, which a person wears with headphones or ear buds to listen to what sound is being broadcast.
Infrared (IR): An IR assistive listening system uses infrared technology to wirelessly transmit sound to a receiver. The difference between IR and RF systems is that an IR system offers more privacy because the infrared signal is contained within a space.
Induction Loop (often called Hearing Loop): Hearing loops create discreet listening experiences to those who use telecoil (t-coil) equipped hearing aids. If a venue has a hearing loop installed, this is indicated with assistive listening signage that has a “T” on it.
Some churches and houses of worship that have an existing assistive listening system are seeing Wi-Fi as an add-on technology. While it can completely stand-alone, when used with an existing assistive listening system, congregants have even more options.
TFWM: What would you recommend to churches, synagogues and houses of worship looking to implement assistive listening technology?
Determine your congregation’s needs.
Understand ADA requirements.
Evaluate the different assistive listening technologies to determine which is right for your house of worship.
Promote the assistive listening technology among your congregation; help worshipers benefit from the technology.