Ian O’Malley is a noted Westporter. A 30-year New York radio personality (currently on Q-104.3) and a realtor with Compass Group, he’s on the board of directors of Homes with Hope. Many “06880” readers remember him for raffling off a bottle of single malt for Experience Camps.
Ian speaks frankly about his hearing loss. Yesterday was World Hearing Day. To celebrate, he sends along these thoughts:
If I can positively affect even one person by writing this, it will be worth it.
An old adage about music is: “If it’s too loud, you’re too old!” That’s a bunch of nonsense.
During my long tenure in radio and TV, I’ve been exposed to “loud” a lot. It’s primarily from the constant use of headphones, whether for radio shows, voiceovers, or privately listening of music.
Yet without question the real culprit for me is concerts. I’ve never counted how many I’ve attended, but it has to be north of 1,000.
Much of the music I love doesn’t have excessive volume, such as big band/swing, classical or even blues. But my love of rock, and even more so heavy metal, definitely does.
Until I met Debbie, I had never worn ear plugs to a concert. I now realize that was pure insanity, with a price to pay: significant hearing loss.
Lack of proper hearing is something I’ve dealt with forever. My go-to relief was simply to turn things up. When I couldn’t do that, I suffered through whatever situation I was in.
I got adept at reading lips, leaning in during conversations to try and hear what was being said, and/or frequently asking someone to repeat themselves.
This could be especially nerve-wracking when meeting with potential real estate clients. Retaining information during an interview is our number one priority.
Yet especially in a restaurant or setting with plenty of background noise, I might as well have been trying to listen Charlie Brown’s teacher. It got to where I just made a point of laughing when the person speaking across from me did. They could have been saying “Ian, you are such an idiot.” I would have replied “Yup!’ and laughed along, completely clueless and not hearing a word.
My wife Deb finally got me to bite the bullet and get my hearing tested. She had repeatedly urged me to. Half was genuine concern for my well being. The other half was for her sanity.
Even though husbands are genetically predisposed to tuning out their better half on occasion, clearly I was not hearing her much of the time.
I finally got tested at the Audiology & Hearing Center in Fairfield. Though not as bad as Brian Johnson of AC/DC — whose doctors told him he could never be near concert amplification again unless he wanted to go completely deaf — my own hearing was very damaged.
Brian Johnson of ACDC, rocking on (and loudly).
Was I a candidate for hearing aids? I asked.
Like the vast majority of folks, I always associated hearing aids with the elderly. I’m no spring chicken at 56 years old, and knew I would have to pony up for all those Van Halen concerts eventually.
Still, I was guessing more along the lines of 75 when I would have to come to terms with things.
Linda, a lovely and smart audiologist, suggested I try on a demo pair, use them for a week and get back to her with my thoughts. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I said sure. She put the hearing aids on me (which are all but invisible) and pressed the “on” button.
There was a wonderful video on social media a few years back. It shows a deaf baby getting fitted with hearing aids for the first time, and the reaction when they are turned on. The kid’s eyes go as wide as pie plates, and he smiles. The same happened to me.
(Another analogy: It’s like the first time watching your favorite TV show or sport on HDTV.)
Back home, I walked into the kitchen where Deb was standing. She talked to me without knowing I had the hearing aids in (unless you’re inches from my head you can’t see them). I immediately got weepy. I’d honestly never heard her voice properly before.
She could tell they were tears of joy and relief. Realizing my hearing was now assisted, she said, “You idiot, I told you to get these years ago!”
Deb and Ian O’Malley, with their sons. (Photo/Xenia Gross)
For the next 10 minutes I stood on our porch, listening to the true sound of wind rustling through the leaves and birds chirping. It was like living in a whole new world. Not an hour goes by still without a “Wow!” moment.
My ego, pride and fear got in the way of something that clearly needed to be addressed. I’m so glad I did.
I probably could have said nothing about wearing hearing aids, and no one would have noticed. But I know that someone reading this is either like me, or knows someone suffering like I was for so long.
You don’t have to suffer. If your sight was headed south you’d go get glasses, right?
Maybe the term “hearing aids” has a stigma. Kind of like suggesting that if it’s too loud, you’re too old….
Meanwhile, if anyone has any questions, please reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org; 646-709-4332).
In his 4 decades in radio — 3 of them as one of New York’s most popular DJs — Ian O’Malley has broadcast from many venues: the top of an Alaska mountain. The Maritime Provinces. A blimp.
Until last weekend though, he’d never done a show from his basement.
The cornoavirus has upended even Q104.3.
O’Malley usually works weekends. The commute from Westport to the Tribeca studio is not hard.
It’s a happy place. Besides the classic rock station, the 6th Avenue building is home to Z100, Hot 97, Power 105.1, Lite FM and WKTU.
But when a worker on the floor below fell ill with COVID-19, the decision came quickly: All shows would now be done from DJs’ homes.
While some colleagues broadcast from closets, O’Malley was lucky. He had already set up his Greens Farms basement for voice-over work. (You’ve heard his voice. Plenty.)
It’s well soundproofed — but not perfect. Last Sunday afternoon, he heard his young sons racing around upstairs.
His many listeners were probably unaware of the noise. Even if they heard it, they would not care. O’Malley was on the air, a familiar presence playing classic rock and telling classic stories.
Ian O’Malley did not have to dress up for last weekend’s shift.
He works mostly weekends now. The rest of the time he’s a very successful real estate agent with the Higgins Group.
He adapted to home broadcasting more easily than some colleagues. “DJs like routine,” O’Malley notes. “This was out of their element. They were nervous.”
He was too — for the first 10 minutes. Then he realized he was doing fine. He and his listeners were having fun. He was back in his groove, easily mixing music and conversation: stories about Van Halen, shout-outs, birthday greetings. “Sitting around the campfire,” he calls it.
Just as in New York, all the songs were pre-loaded into a computer. His laptop showed exactly what he would have seen in the iHeart studio.
Still, he says, this time he was completely in charge. He constantly checked his mic and sound levels.
“I really had to be on top of my game,” he says. “That makes it interesting and exciting.”
Ian O’Malley’s home studio.
Another difference: Usually, he gives away concert tickets. Those have all been postponed.
At any rate, he could not have done it from home. O’Malley did miss taking listeners’ calls.
Many listeners had no idea he was broadcasting from his basement. Those who did, appreciated hearing his familiar voice.
“They said it was calming. It makes you realize that music is important,” he says.
Ian O’Malley tells stories about many famous musicians — including Fairfield native John Mayer.
O’Malley has always enjoyed working in New York. But, he admits, “It was pretty nice to hop downstairs. During long sets, I could grab something to eat. And when I finished my show, I was done. No train. I just headed upstairs.”
He heads down to his basement again this weekend (10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday). For those 5 hours — as Huey Lewis sings — the heart of rock and roll is still beating.
He’s a realtor. He’s a longtime New York radio DJ. He and his wife Debbie have 2 young children.
So he can be forgiven — maybe — for forgetting that he owned a very special bottle of 1978 Macallan single malt whisky, worth thousands of dollars.
Ian bought it years ago. When his son was 2, he moved it to a top shelf because — well, you know kids. Over time he placed a couple of other bottles in front of it.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Last year, as the O’Malleys moved from Wilton to Westport, Ian discovered the bottle. He was thrilled, but had the same idea as when he first bought it: Save it for a special occasion.
That special occasion is now. But Ian won’t be drinking.
Not long ago, he told Debbie about a friend who works for Edrington — Macallan’s parent company. He raffled off a bottle; the proceeds went to charity.
And his bottle wasn’t nearly as exclusive as Ian’s. (The cheapest price Ian could find for his 1978 was $3,300 — from an Italian retailer who won’t ship to the US. For $4,600, you can buy it from a store in the UK that will.)
Ian volunteers for a number of non-profit groups, here and in New York. He did not want to choose one to benefit, and alienate the others.
He’s in the “School of Rock” movie, was on the “Big Brother” TV show, and has been a mainstay of the tri-state radio scene for nearly 30 years.
Now Ian O’Malley is moving to Westport.
These days, the Q104.3 jock holds down the Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. spot. That gives him time to indulge his other interests.
And in his “other” career O’Malley is a real estate agent, with Westport’s Higgins Group.
Talking — to listeners and clients — is in his blood. His father recorded talking books for the blind. Insatiably curious, he moved his family around often. O’Malley lived — among other places — in Santa Fe, New England and the Maritime Provinces.
He started his radio career on Prince Edward Island, while still in high school. He worked nights, then headed to classes in the morning.
He asked his boss how to get better shifts. “Get better,” the man replied.
Then it was on to Alaska, for TV and radio work. At 21 he was hired in Boston. He was a DJ and — in the fledgling days of music videos — a VJ too.
In October of 1989, WNEW FM — New York’s reigning rock station — had a rare opening. O’Malley sent in a tape (actually, a cassette), and was called down to do a Saturday night audition show. He got hired Monday, to start the following weekend.
His first day at the station, Tony Bennett walked in. A few minutes later, Jerry Garcia strolled by. “I’m in a whole different radio stratosphere,” O’Malley thought to himself.
After that first day, Ian O’Malley and Tony Bennett became good friends. They often worked out at the same New York City gym.
WNEW was a great opportunity. Scott Muni, Dennis Elsas, Carol Miller and Pat St. John were already legends. Friends with many musicians, they were happy to let the “snot-nosed 25-year-old kid” represent the station at concerts.
“I had the keys to the city,” O’Malley says.
When he added work as a VH1 VJ, O’Malley got to know — professionally and socially — even more musicians. Now he’s got stories galore.
In 2000, WAXQ — classic rock Q104.3 — came calling. He’s been there ever since.
“I love the story-telling aspect,” O’Malley says. “I can communicate with people.” Though satellite radio and apps like Spotify have cut into stations like his, O’Malley says listeners still love the local touch.
He’s happy to oblige. The other day, he gave a shout-out to Westporter Bert Porzio for some great tree work, and his daughter Jennifer, a Staples High School . Both were thrilled.
Westport’s Ian O’Malley and famous Fairfield musician John Mayer.
In his long career, O’Malley has seen plenty of changes. 45s gave way to albums. CDs followed. These days the music is on computers.
When he started, fans wrote letters. Now they email or text. It’s instant feedback — and it keeps his show lively.
It also brought him love.
In 2008, a listener named Debbie emailed that she had not heard any Van Halen lately. O’Malley obliged. They wrote back and forth — longer and longer — for 3 months.
He asked her to lunch. Then he broke his own rule about dating listeners. Two years later, he married her.
They both remembered the 1st song he played on the radio for her: “Dance the Night Away.” Eddie Van Halen signed one of his guitars that way — and gave it to the couple as a wedding gift.
Eddie Van Halen’s wedding gift to Ian and Debbie O’Malley.
O’Malley clearly loves what he does. He’s never gotten jaded. He’s proud that children of his former young listeners now listen to him. “I’m very fortunate to do this for so long in New York — and in a business not known for longevity,” O’Malley says.
Like many DJs, O’Malley does plenty of side work. He’s in great demand for voice-overs. For several years he was the voice of Saab. Commercials, instructional videos — you name it, he did it.
It’s a wonderful life. And he is particularly excited to be moving with Debbie and their 2 young sons from Wilton into his new home: a beautiful house (with a basement recording studio) in Greens Farms.
In fact, real estate is another one of O’Malley’s passions. He got involved in New York City in the mid-2000s, and did well.
Now he’s joined the Higgins Group. He fits in well with Rich Higgins and crew, and has already begun selling the area.
So if Ian O’Malley drives you around to see properties in town, you’ll be treated to many intriguing stories.
While — I’m sure — Q104.3 plays on the car radio.
Ian O’Malley’s “business shot” for the Higgins Group.
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