In the decade or so I’ve been writing about local media, I’ve met most of the people in local TV and radio, at least in passing. But until December, Nat Lauzon wasn’t one of those people. She has worked weekends since 2011, so that has a lot to do with it. In fact, the only photo I had of her was this one taken of her while she was on the Virgin float at the St. Patrick’s Parade in 2011.
Nevertheless, I’ve wanted to write about her for a bit, because of the ironic situation she faces, being a person who deals with audio for a living but is losing her hearing.
It didn’t take long to convince my newspaper that this was a good story, and the result is this article that appears in Thursday’s paper. It focuses almost exclusively on an area in Lauzon’s head that’s smaller than a grape (or, well, two grapes since there’s one on each side), but since I had the chance to sit down with her, we talked about a bunch of other stuff, too.
The ears, in short
Lauzon has several related conditions affecting her inner ear. She gets something called BPPV, which is a form of vertigo caused when stuff gets into the semicircular ducts and disrupts the flow of fluid that the brain uses to figure out how the head is oriented. She’s figured out how to minimize those attacks through diet and her position while she sleeps, and she can self-diagnose and treat when those attacks do occur. She also has progressive hearing loss, for which she wears a hearing aid when needed (it’s genetic and her mother has the same issue), and she has permanent tinnitus, which has no treatment or cure, and she can only find ways to ignore it.
She’s very open about all of this, posting about it on Facebook. She also wrote a guest blog post for the Stanford Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss in 2013. And she jumped at the chance to talk to me about it, because she wants to get the word out there.
Four our first ever face-to-face meeting, Lauzon picked a small café in Pointe-Claire Village, which was very nice but louder than I expected (a planned short video had to be scrapped because the audio was unusable). But with her hearing aid in place, she had no trouble communicating with me.
I didn’t get any heartbreaking quotes about the immense personal struggles Lauzon deals with. Not because it isn’t tough having to build your life around dealing with your ears, avoiding food that causes part of your head to stop working, or occasionally calling in sick to work because you’re so disoriented you can barely move. But Lauzon is too busy to sit there and pout. She’s learned all she can about her conditions, deals with them as best she can, and is very clinical about explaining it.
“My earballs are a challenge but I do not let them rule my life,” she wrote in a Facebook post that went up as I was writing this post. “In fact, I never want sympathy. I understand it, but it’s counter-productive. There are so many people dealing with so many things that are MUCH worse, so to be on the receiving end of sympathy just feels ….unwarranted?”
I learned quite a bit about the inner ear from our discussion (and lots of subsequent Googling).
Lauzon also wants to help others, whether it’s making them feel less self-conscious about getting a hearing aid (even if they’re young like her), pushing for more research into vestibular diseases and better training for general practitioners, or encouraging people to get a proper diagnosis if they get vertigo on a regular basis.
But, she stresses, what works for her won’t work for everyone. Don’t diagnose yourself based on reading a newspaper article, and don’t try diagnosing her either. The article has been online for a day and I’ve already gotten two people contacting me who think they can cure her. Lauzon gets a lot of that too, and though she knows everyone is well-meaning, she’s being seen by experts (Alain Godbout is her vestibular therapist and Dr. Tamara Mijovic of the MUHC is her ENT) and has read everything on the internet.
I’ve also been getting emails from some people about hearing loss, so it’s nice to see that it’s doing some emotional good as well.
I asked Lauzon what people should do if they have a similar condition. Unsurprisingly, she recommends finding an expert. If you’re looking for a solution for vertigo, find a vestibular therapist. “Most physiotherapy places will have a vestibular therapist on site,” she says. “People need only to call and ask. You generally don’t need a referral to see one. And some insurance plans may cover it. Many times, one session is all that is needed to diagnose where the problem is, perform some maneuvers, and send the patient home with a sheet which details how to continue at home.”
And if the expert you find doesn’t have answers, find another. Lauzon herself changed her ENT doctor because she wasn’t satisfied.
Then, it’s important to follow the exercises prescribed, even if they might seem to make the problem worse at first. “The key is to COMMIT TO DOING THE EXERCISES AT HOME until dizziness has fully resolved,” Lauzon explained in all-caps emphasis in an email. The exercise can increase the dizziness because “this dizziness is the otoliths moving in the inner ear canal — we WANT and NEED them to move, so we can get them back to where they belong. So being temporarily dizzy is fact essential to healing the dizziness.”
Treating the issue as quickly as possible is the best case, and will have better long-term implications.
Lauzon also believes diet plays a big role in controlling the attacks, and she takes vitamin supplements (magnesium, vitamin B2, coenzyme Q10 and vitamin D) that help with migraines. And she has a long list of foods that she tries to avoid.
For those experiencing hearing loss, get a hearing test done. It’s easy and simple, and the only downside is to your ego. But only then, it’s not that bad.
“No one has ever judged me or made fun of me for wearing a hearing aid and I will talk about it to anyone who wants to listen,” Lauzon tells me. “Hearing aids will not damage your hearing, make your ears ‘lazy’ or any of the other misconceptions. They are individually programmed to your own hearing limits.”
Though Lauzon’s hearing loss is genetic, it’s more common to lose hearing because of exposure to noise. So protect them with ear buds during concerts or in loud work environments.
The tinnitus generally goes with the hearing loss, so helping one helps the other.
Since we’re not voicemail system industry experts, we mostly know Lauzon for her work on the radio. She’s been on the air since she was a 13-year-old in Timmins, Ont., working for CKGB and CFTI while still in high school. The late 90s were spent in Toronto, until she got a job at Mix 96 in Montreal in 1999.
(For more about her early career, I’d recommend this episode of the Sound Off Podcast she did in October with Matt Cundill)
She stayed at Mix 96, briefly doing the morning show with the late great Andre Maisonneuve, until 2011, when she moved “across the street” (actually several blocks away) to The Beat shortly after it launched.
I asked her about that move, since it seemed to be a simple case of poaching (Cat Spencer and Vinny Barrucco also made the same move when The Beat launched). But it’s a bit more complicated than that, she said.
Her plan was actually to leave broadcasting entirely. It was about the time that staff were told that Virgin Radio, CHOM and CJAD, whose owner Standard Radio had been bought by Astral Media in 2007, were going to move into the Astral-owned building at Papineau Ave. and René-Lévesque Blvd., with the French stations already housed there (Rock Détente, now Rouge, and NRJ, now Énergie).
As the radio environment became more corporate (Astral Media itself would be eventually bought by Bell in 2013), it became “too volatile” with takeovers and subsequent layoffs.
“I didn’t like the feeling of going to work and suddenly there would be a memo saying five people are being laid off,” Lauzon said.
So she started building something on the side, her voiceover radio business Speakable. Having your own business isn’t necessarily more secure, but you have more control over it. By 2011, two years after Mix 96 became Virgin Radio and about a year before the move away from Fort St., she was ready to leave.
“Especially on Fort St., it was magic,” she said, making particular note of her colleagues. “That was such a special, amazing place to work. You never realize it when you’re in it. But times change and businesses get bought up and people get fired and you just got to roll with it.”
When she left Virgin, Lauzon was hosting the top-rated daytime show. So when word got out of her departure, the competition came calling. They talked, and the station let her choose what she wanted to do. She decided on weekend afternoons, which would allow her to keep her radio feet wet but still spend her weekdays on her business.
“I was really lucky that I got to design what I needed from The Beat,” Lauzon said.
Seven years later, she’s still at it, hosting Feel Good Weekends from noon to 5pm Saturdays and Sundays. Tuesday to Friday she’s at home working on voiceovers (though her hours are pretty flexible), and Monday is her day off.
She’s happy there, and has nothing but good things to say about The Beat. But she’s a bit … let’s say dismayed by how radio has changed in general, putting more emphasis on the jukebox element and less on the human voices. Announcer breaks have gotten much shorter than they used to be, and that leaves less space for creativity.
“I just think radio in general is changing,” she said. “I hope there’s a swing back. I don’t know if there will be.”
The word machine
Lauzon’s business is run out of her Beaconsfield home, in what she describes as a closet. You can see a portfolio of her stuff on her website, but mostly it’s things like radio and TV advertisements, voicemail and voice menu systems, and corporate and instructional videos. She has several regular clients that keep her occupied, including Nuance Communications, which has made her their North American voice. Her work for them involves reading a lot of names into a microphone that can then be input into a computer and used for automated phone systems.
Her voice, upbeat and friendly, is well suited to that kind of use.
I asked her about some of her more unusual jobs. Being the voice of an Australian airline (they specifically wanted someone who didn’t have an Australian accent). Or that time she played a zombie in a video game (there was just a lot of grunting).
“I was a gas pump,” she said after thinking of more answers to my question. “In the states somewhere, I was the voice of a talking gas pump at a gas station.”
She’s never been to it.
The zombie role is about as close as she’s come to voice acting. “One thing I would love to do that I’ve never done is cartoons,” she said. “You need acting chops to do cartoons.”
Considering how many children’s programs are produced in Canada, I think we should make that happen.
I asked her what sets her apart from the rest. Just about everyone in radio can be hired to do voice work. She doesn’t really know, but she offers this one point about herself: “I’m really good at taking direction.” Want something read faster, slower, more upbeat, less upbeat, more or less emphasis, she’s happy to make whatever changes you need. “I can do different styles of read and turn it around fast.”
Being an anglophone, even one who’s worked in Montreal for 20 years, she’s not comfortable enough in French to work in that language. She’ll sometimes get clients to send her pronunciations for names she has to say (which becomes more common as the population becomes more diverse and names less familiar to North American audiences appear more often). But that’s good practice regardless. You never want to mispronounce a name.
Asked what she won’t do for moral reasons, she pointed to stuff related to animals. Don’t try getting her to voice an ad for fur, or for a pet shop that sells animals. She’s big on protecting animals. Which brings us to…
The dog blog
Lauzon is the founder of Montreal Dog Blog, a website where … do I really need to explain it? OK fine, it’s a website with information and bloggers about dogs.
It was born in 2010, out of a frustration that she was feeling getting information for local dog owners like herself.
“I noticed that whenever i looked online to find something for (her dogs) that I needed, a veterinarian or pet store or whatever, I had to go searching high and low everywhere for something. And I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if there was one space where I could just find everything that I needed in one space as a Montrealer?’ So I went ‘okay I’m going to make it then.’ So I decided to create it.”
And because pets are a pretty big industry, the website has attracted a lot of attention from advertisers. It has several ads already.
“Initially I thought maybe it could maybe be a Plan B where I generated some income for myself,” Lauzon said, “but then it evolved into ‘let’s make this just something that we can give back to animal rescues’.”
So the advertising revenue goes to a good cause.
“It’s purely philanthropic, which feels awesome to be able to do.”
Various pet-based businesses have done things like offered giveaways, but recently Lauzon has decided to take up the idea of (clearly labelled) sponsored posts, with some caution.
“We just started doing sponsored posts, which is something I didn’t want to do for a long time because I wanted to keep the content purely Montreal-based, but then I realized if we do sponsored posts it’s that much more money we can give to rescues, right, and we can also reserve the right to refuse a sponsored post.”
It’s just more money to save more dogs.
I feel like I can’t overstate how much this woman likes dogs, particularly her personal companion, the tiny derpy geezer Arty.
“I just like helping dogs,” she said. “Very simply, I just want to help animals. They’re people. Dogs are awesome, we don’t deserve them. They’re too good for us.”
She doesn’t have any big plans for the blog in the future, just to keep going.
“I think I just want it to keep doing what it does,” she said. “My ultimate dream is that it just makes more and more money.”
Recently, Lauzon has started a new venture, as a partner in a gym called Paradigm Fitness. As the video (voiced by her, obviously) explains, it’s a gym that provides a personal trainer to small groups of up to four people. Small enough that people get personal training, but can still share the cost with others.
One of its main partners, Dane Gilmore, was her trainer, and got her involved.
Her role with it, besides the financial investment, is mainly as an “influencer,” as the cool kids put it.
“My role was to be a part of it financially, but then because of where I work and media and all that, give it a push,” she said. “But it’s not needed. We’re pretty much at capacity.”
Unfortunately, Lauzon herself only occasionally gets to use the gym, because it’s in N.D.G.
“I moved here a month before it opened and it was a block from where I used to live,” she said, laughing at the irony.
Lauzon watches Netflix. She watches TV generally with captions open, so she can give her ears a rest and not have to put in her hearing aid.
“I prefer to read my stories,” she said.
She also has a boyfriend (Chad something?). But he’s not a dog.
Anyway, it’s time to feed Arty, so she’s gotta go.
Thanks to Nat Lauzon for the interview, and for the Kinder Surprise she brought to it as a gift. (I’ve made a donation for its value to the Gazette Christmas Fund.)
Nat Lauzon hosts Feel Good Weekends with Nat Lauzon from noon to 5pm weekends on The Beat 92.5. Her voice talent business is at natlauzon.com. And if you have magical vertigo cures, consider publishing them in a medical journal.