Flashback Friday: An Ode to Clunky FM Systems

Posted by: Staff Writer on April 25, 2014

For many mainstreamed deaf and hard of hearing students, an FM system is a rite of passage. When you most want to fit in, nothing screams “I’m different!” like a Walkie-Talkie look-a-like clipped to your hip and around your ears.

But just how many students can say they listened to the radio in class and got away with it? Because in a nutshell, that’s exactly what they are: “Personal Frequency Modulation Systems.”

If you were born before the mid-80s, your FM System likely looked like the photo to the right. Luckily, FM systems got more sleek and these days look like the photo below. 

FM systems aren’t for everyone. Some argue that they are tools of audists, and that signing is the way to go. Others complain that mobility is challenged: Remember how much time it took to take these things off - and on - as we got ready for recess or lunch?  

But for mainstreamed students, FM systems do have advantages. The teacher isn’t limited to standing close by, and the background noise (of, say, 25 other 8-year-olds) is muted. Of course, this throws the baby out with the bathwater: We missed much of our peers’ dialogue.

Such is the Catch-22: FM systems can be intimate … or invasive. Intimate because the transmitter (clipped to teacher’s shirt) gives the receiver (worn by you) a relatively clear, direct one-on-one signal. Invasive, because sometimes teachers forget to take their transmitter off. How many of us have overheard distorted bathroom noises, and the munch-munch-crackle sound of chips and carrots for lunch?

Chalk this up as yet another unique experience that our hearing peers never had. Did you ever wear an FM system, and did you love it or hate it?


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