Hear and There
On location and on set, a sound pro copes with a personal challenge.
After 15 seasons as an audio mixer for CBS’s The Amazing Race, Bruce Beacom shucked his traveling shoes in 2014, choosing to stay closer to his L.A. home after the birth of his son.
Working on the go can be challenging for any crewmember, but Beacom had another consideration — an unusual one for a sound man — he is hearing impaired and has only 80 percent hearing with hearing aids.
Beacom has otosclerosis, a hereditary condition that causes an overgrowth of bone in the middle ear, obstructing the hearing process. He was unaware of the condition until 2000, when at age 30 he began experiencing a siren-like ringing in his ears that escalated to a 95 percent hearing loss. Nevertheless, he kept working, on the Fox reality show Paradise Hotel and on corporate events.
“Being a location television sound mixer, I was moving around wearing gear that picked up sound on set — I was a walking hearing aid,” says Beacom, who is also a singer-guitarist-composer fronting his own acoustic-funk band. “I would amplify the sound through the mixer into my headphones. I also watched the visual readings on my VU [volume units] meter like a hawk — I relied on those to tell me if I had good sound.”
Determined to save his hearing, Beacom spent three years enduring inadequate hearing aids, tests and misdiagnoses before an audiologist detected otosclerosis. Between 2004 and 2007 he underwent four surgeries, two on each ear, which restored his hearing to 80 percent with aids. He takes a fluoride calcium supplement daily to prevent the condition from progressing further.
He also wears digital hearing aids with three channels, one custom-designed for sound mixing. “In the jungles on The Amazing Race, I had to make sure to keep my hearing aids dry, because of the humidity,” he says. “Los Angeles is perfect, because it’s so dry here.” Hayma Washington, chairman of the Television Academy and a former executive producer of The Amazing Race, met Beacom when the sound man joined the show in 2006.
“He is one of the finest sound mixers we’ve had,” Washington says. “It was exciting to work with him and to see how he never let his challenge inhibit him.” It was also exciting for Washington to watch Beacom’s band perform at L.A.’s House of Blues, where the sound pro swapped his usual equipment for an Australian didgeridoo.
At Washington’s invitation, in 2014 Beacom attended the Academy’s “Dynamic & Diverse” pre-Emmys reception, an annual recognition of the diversity within the television community.
Since leaving The Amazing Race, Beacom, who is married to actress Holly Reiser, has worked on such series as HGTV’s House Hunters Renovation, Bravo’s Top Chef and A&E’s Intervention. Now an advocate for hearing loss education, he’s grateful to his doctors for enabling him to keep working — as well as to hear the sweetest sound of all.
“To be able to hear my son’s voice every day,” he says, “is a blessing.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 1, 2017