From the archives: ‘DeafGeoff’ in The Post-Standard, 2006

From The Post-Standard archives: Feb. 27, 2006, by William LaRue

‘DEAF GEOFF’
HOT 107.9 SIDEKICK EMBRACES HIS HEARING LOSS, AND SO DO HIS FANS

deafgeoff_2006

WWHT-FM (Hot 107.9) morning producer Geoff Herbert has trouble taking calls from listeners. Sometimes, he misunderstands what hosts Marty and Shannon are saying to him.

“Recently, Marty said something about Duke University and I thought he said something about Jewish people, ” Herbert says. “Sometimes, it’s so off-base, it’s funny.”

Even if he didn’t call himself “DeafGeoff” on the air, there would be little doubt that Herbert is bringing something quite exceptional to Syracuse morning radio.

Herbert, 21, was born with a hearing loss so severe that music often sounds to him like his head is under water. Some notes he can’t hear at all.

And yet, despite a speech impediment caused by his severe hearing loss, he is finding early success in a broadcast profession that usually values people with a good ear for hit songs or with a clear voice for announcing.

Herbert has become a listener favorite on the Top-40 station’s morning show, where he regularly joins the hosts in on-air banter and comedy bits. The station in the fall gave away 250 copies of a Christmas album, “Deaf the Halls, ” in which Herbert sang holiday tunes, including off-key versions of “Do You Hear What I Hear” and “Silent Night.”

Allowing the hearing-loss humor to flow easily on the morning show is something Herbert says he encourages.

That, plus asking people to call him “DeafGeoff, ” are his ways to let others know he embraces his hearing loss and wants others to do the same.

“It’s a good characterization of who I am. My name is Geoff and I’m partially deaf, ” Herbert says. “Of course, with the disability, being hearing-impaired, the least likely job is probably radio. But that’s one of the things I love about it. It excites me to be able to do something people don’t expect. And if I can do it well, people can kind of go, “Wow!”‘

He also embraces the local fame that goes with it.

A few weeks ago, at the drive-up window of a fast-food restaurant, some employees inside recognized his voice.

“They were like, “Are you DeafGeoff?’ And they go, “Ah, man, I love the show. You’re so awesome. You’re so funny, “‘ Herbert says. “I’ve even been asked for my autograph.”

Technically diagnosed as “hard of hearing, ” Herbert says, he was born with the ability to pick up only about 10 percent of what an average person hears. He uses lip-reading, two hearing aids and an eye for visual cues to understand most of the time what people are saying, although over the phone he often has to ask callers to repeat themselves.

Herbert began working at Hot 107.9 two years ago as an intern while he was studying communications at Syracuse University.

He performed so well as a volunteer that he was hired in fall 2004 to become Hot’s morning producer. It’s a job that involves getting to the station by 5 a.m. to edit audio clips and coordinate that day’s music, comedy bits, contests, games and other content.

On a recent Tuesday morning, shortly after 8:30, Herbert is carrying on a long chat about TV with Marty, who, like Shannon, doesn’t reveal his last name publicly.

Marty asks Herbert if he heard about “American Idol” auditions in Boston last summer, hinting that he should have considered trying out for the Fox talent series.

Herbert tells Marty he “heard about it plenty.” Then he adds, “Let’s be honest. My singing was not going to get me very far.” They both laugh.

Marty and Shannon often make references to his hearing loss, Herbert says, although they draw the line at doing anything smacking of ridicule.

When one listener called up to ask why the show didn’t “just get that retarded guy off the air, ” Herbert says, Marty and Shannon quickly “ripped into him.”

“They are very protective, ” Herbert says with a smile.

Interviewed off the air, Marty says Herbert is a talented morning producer who does his job well.

“I think it’s cool he puts his disability aside and says, “I’m going to do this, ‘ instead of being embarrassed by it, ” Marty says.

In addition to his part-time job at Hot, Herbert works nights and weekends at a Blockbuster video store, and is also a disc jockey for private parties and dances.

Herbert, who grew up in Acton, Mass., was manager of his high school radio station for 2 years. He was also general manager at WJPZ-FM (Z89), the student station at SU, where he already has met requirements to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in radio, television and film.

He says his dream is to eventually get a job in radio in Boston or another big city.

For what he has done already, Herbert can be seen as an inspiration, especially by young people with a disability who worry some occupations are closed to them, says Anne Costa, director of communications for Aurora of Central New York, an organization that serves people with hearing and visual impairments.

Although he’s a rarity, Herbert isn’t the only one with hearing loss working in Syracuse radio. Aurora in November presented an excellence award to WVOA-FM and WSIV-AM general manager Jim Wall, 68, who still does occasional on-air work, despite losing most of his hearing in the mid-1980s due to disease.

“I would certainly congratulate the young man, ” Wall says when asked about Herbert. “I encourage him 100 percent.”

Costa says Herbert probably has strong support in the deaf community, although she says some might be offended if they thought on-air bits were making fun of him for his hearing loss.

Herbert says some aspects of living with his disability are funny. He says he’s not afraid to share this or to show that, like anyone else, he excels at some things and struggles with others.

“I want to let people know my hearing disability is part of who I am. I’m comfortable with it and you should be as well, ” he says.

Note: This article appeared in The Post-Standard in 2006, years before Herbert started working at the Syracuse newspaper.

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Watch: Geoff ‘DeafGeoff’ Herbert speaks at TEDxBuffalo about being a deaf DJ

Geoff 'DeafGeoff' Herbert talks at TEDxBuffalo on Oct. 9, 2012

Geoff ‘DeafGeoff’ Herbert talks at TEDxBuffalo on Oct. 9, 2012 about being a deaf DJ and the importance of listening over hearing.

I was humbled and honored to be invited to speak at TEDxBuffalo, my first TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) event, about being a deaf DJ and the challenges I’ve faced in my life growing up mostly deaf. The event was held Tuesday, October 9, at Canisius College in Buffalo to an invite-only crowd and was also live-streamed online and recorded for future events.

In a speech titled “Listening Is More Important Than Hearing,” I shared how I was born with a profound binaural hearing loss and learned how to communicate through years of speech therapy. I demonstrated some of the challenges that come from lipreading, such as how “V” and “F” look identical but the sound is different by how much air comes out of your mouth and whether your voice box vibrates when saying it. I then talked about falling in love with music, and its transformative power that led me to pursuing a career in radio — and never once letting my “disability” stand in the way. I learned to appreciate music by listening to it, not just hearing it, and worked hard at radio stations in high school and college before landing a job at Clear Channel’s HOT 107.9 in Syracuse as a morning show producer and sidekick known as “DeafGeoff.” I worked with “Marty & Shannon in the Morning” for six years as possibly the only mostly deaf on-air personality in the country and our show was rated No. 1 in its target 18-34 demographic.

I’m now a producer/entertainment reporter at syracuse.com, the online affiliate of The Post-Standard newspaper but the challenges I face today are the same. At a radio station disc jockey (or as a club DJ), you have to listen to what your audience wants and respond to it. Social media users and website readers will often comment and/or share stories, and it’s the same thing — listening to the audience, responding to them, and continuing to inform and/or entertain.

I’m also still a DJ for parties, dances, weddings, events, etc. and I’m constantly listening to music and studying it, watching audiences to see how they react to songs. It’s amazing how hearing a favorite tune can change a person’s mood — or force them to start moonwalking (or shuffling or Gangnam-Styling or whatever) because the music is that infectious.

You can watch video of me speaking at TEDxBuffalo here, but please check out the other speakers as well. All had great, unique thoughts to bring to the event and I was happy to be a part of it.

Thank you to all who watched and tweeted me their thoughts afterwards, and thank you to Kevin Purdy for inviting me to speak at TEDxBuffalo. If anyone has any follow-up questions or would like to know more, please feel free to email me.

Deaf The Halls: DeafGeoff’s hilarious album of Christmas songs and holiday parodies, revisited

Deaf The Halls, DeafGeoff's holiday parody album

'Deaf The Halls' is a holiday album featuring Christmas and Hanukkah songs, plus parodies sung and rapped (badly) by DeafGeoff. Be careful when listening in the car, you may drive off the road laughing.


In my radio days at HOT 107.9, I recorded songs as DeafGeoff on my own holiday albums called “Deaf The Halls.” I sang and rapped so badly that everyone seemed to get a kick out of it (and I enjoyed having fun with it), so I couldn’t resist doing it for four years straight. I did my own versions of some Christmas classics, a couple tunes for the Hanukkah crowd, and even wrote a few parodies of popular songs by Kanye West, Mystikal, and Bing Crosby. I put together a sort of “greatest hits” in 2008, and for those that would like to hear it again — or have never heard it! — here’s the track listing, a free .zip download of the mp3 files, and four music videos from Deaf The Halls. Enjoy!

Deaf The Halls: The Deaf-initive Collection
1. Toy Lockdown (parody of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown”)
2. Deaf The Halls, Part 1
3. Deaf In A Box
4. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
5. Party Like Santa Claus (parody of Shop Boyz’ “Party Like A Rock Star”)
6. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree
7. I Have A Little Dreidel
8. Ho Ho Ho f/ Marty & Sugarcane Chris (parody of Hurricane Chris’ “A Bay Bay”)
9. Jingle Bell Rock
10. Deaf The Halls, Part Deux (parody of Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Ass”)
11. The Chipmunk Song f/ Marty & Shannon
12. Deaf Christmas
13. Santa Baby
14. Do You Hear What I Hear?
15. Cholla At Ya Boy (Happy Chanukah) f/ Jus Mic
16. Baby It’s Cold Outside w/ Marty the One Man Party
17. The Christmas Song
18. Last Christmas
19. Silent Night
20. Auld Lang Syne

» Click here to download the “Deaf The Halls” collection in mp3 format [.zip file]

Deaf The Halls, the music videos:




Merry Chrismukkah and Happy Festivus (for the rest of us)!

Remembering 9/11: Am I the only person who read what happened first, before watching?

On September 11, 2001, I was 17 years old and working in my high school radio station. I was the general manager of WHAB, a 10-watt station heard in a mile-radius on 89.1 FM in Acton, Massachusetts. That morning, I was working in the station during one of my free periods, gathering news for us to include in our broadcasts throughout the day. We had a continuous paper feed from the Associated Press that came out on a dot matrix printer, an old model that printed paper with holes on both sides, and all the pages were attached with perforations.

At 8:46 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower, I was alone in the station with no television or Internet. The only computer in the studio was used primarily for audio editing. Sponsorship identifications were printed on index cards, and daily news reports were either hand-written or literally cut-and-pasted from the AP news feed.

Around 8:50 a.m. a one-sentence “breaking news” blurb said a plane had collided with one of the twin towers in New York City, believed to be an accident — no mention of terrorists, victims or anything that would indicate what would come next. It wasn’t a local news story (Acton is a suburb of Boston, about 25 miles west) but I thought it was at least significant enough to include in the morning’s first newscasts. (At the time, the student-run station was only on the air from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) So I cut. And pasted. I’m not even sure if I had chosen it to be the lead story.

Someone then walked by and waved at me, indicating that I should follow them to the A/V room. We joined a small huddle of people staring at a TV showing a live news feed of the World Trade Center. It was now 9:03 a.m. and we all witnessed, live on television, United Airlines Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower. Everyone reacted with horror and disbelief — two planes was clearly not an accident. Many began panicking, worrying if they knew anyone working in the towers at the time.

The rest of the school day was a blur as teachers played the role of counselors instead of sticking to lesson plans. As the facts developed, and two more hijacked planes crashed — Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA and Flight 77 into the Pentagon — September 11th quickly became a day we would never forget. My peers lost whatever innocence they had left as we all realized that the world is a dangerous place and no one is ever truly safe.

While the previous generation recalls exactly where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot, 9/11 became our shared moment in grief and we will always remember where we were and what we were doing that day.

I was alone in a radio station with a stack of printer paper. Was I the only person who read what happened first, before watching?

Today, on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I pause to remember the many lives we lost that day and the countless volunteers and respondents who did everything possible to help. We will never forget.

‘Deaf The Halls’ – holiday songs performed (badly) by yours truly

From 2005-2008, I recorded three holiday albums titled Deaf The Halls for HOT 107.9’s Marty & Shannon in the Morning, plus a best-of collection with bonus tracks. Best of? Despite shout-outs from Dr. Elmo (“Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”) and Weird Al Yankovic (the king of parodies), it was truly some terrible music. But it was funny.

I can’t sing. I can barely rap. Yes, I’m hard-of-hearing, and sometimes I can’t tell just how off-pitch, off-key and off-beat I am… but I know it’s bad. So bad it’s funny. I’m well aware of how ridiculous this is/was, but I thought it’d be fun to revisit and share with anyone in the mood for a chuckle this holiday season:

DEAF THE HALLS, REVISITED: Holiday Songs by DeafGeoff
1. “Deaf The Halls, Part Deux” (parody of Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Ass”)
2. “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
3. “Ho Ho Ho” feat. Marty & Sugarcane (parody of Hurricane Chris’ “Ay Bay Bay”)
4. “Jingle Bell Rock”
5. “Last Christmas”
6. “Party Like Santa Claus” (parody of Shop Boyz’ “Party Like A Rockstar”)
7. “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”
8. “Silent Night”
9. “The Chipmunk Song” feat. Marty & Shannon
10. “Toy Lockdown” (parody of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown”)
[ Click here to download all 10 songs in mp3 format ]

Oh, and there were also a few music videos: Continue reading

Radio Daze #3: Camping in the Mall

I spent May 29th – June 1st of 2009 living in the Carousel Center.  That’s right, I set up an RV/tent campsite and literally lived in the mall for 76 hours.  No shower.  Lots of unhealthy food.  LOTS OF FUN.  And the best part was, I did it to raise over $5,000 for the AIDS Walk/Run in Central New York.

Continue reading