THROUGH Jay Crawford’s open bedroom window at night come the soothing sounds of the Water of Leith rushing by on its ceaseless journey to the Firth of Forth.
The noise of its unpredictable gush and flow is a welcome relief to the former DJ and radio boss as he tries to sleep. For without it, all he can hear are the noises in his head.
Noises which have ended his near 40-year career as one of the biggest names in Scottish broadcasting.
Crawford has lost all the hearing in his right ear after a deep vein thrombosis clot exploded his eardrum. It also left him suffering with acute tinnitus – a constant humming and ringing noise in his head – and severe balance problems.
Ultimately, the 58-year-old has been left unable to work in his beloved radio and unable to enjoy his greatest passion – music.
“I try,” he says. “I keep hoping things will have improved and I put it on, but it’s like listening under water. After about ten minutes I can’t bear it and have to press stop.”
Today, Jay’s story will be broadcast, perhaps ironically, on one of the few stations he never worked for, Radio Scotland. The half-hour documentary is an emotional tale of how the Scottish radio legend, at the height of his career and with a glittering social life and new wife, has seen his life shrink to revolve around his Juniper Green home, walking his dog and facing up to a life without being able to drive, to listen to music or ever attend a rock concert again.
“It could have been worse, though,” he says in his usual upbeat manner. “The clot could have gone to my heart, or my brain, or my lungs. It could have killed me. It didn’t and I’m still here.”
It was on a birthday holiday treat to Mauritius with his wife Dawn, right, in November 2010 when Jay collapsed as a result of DVT, the event which he says “shattered his world”.
“We’d been on a flight for eight hours to Dubai then another six to Mauritius. It was a really long flight. Two days after we got there I woke up at 6am and I knew right away something was wrong,” he says. “As soon as I stood up I fell over and the whole room started to spin. At the time I thought I was having a heart attack or a stroke or something. Then every time I tried to lift my head I was sick. I said to Dawn to get a doctor. She was in a bit of a panic.”
Within half an hour the doctor had arrived and initially suggested it was food poisoning and gave him an injection.
Dawn says: “But Jay kept saying he couldn’t hear anything in his right ear. The doctor took a look but the ear was completely closed up, he couldn’t see anything. He just gave him some eardrops.”
The next day the doctor was back and this time diagnosed labyrinthitis, an infection of the inner ear which affects balance and causes vertigo. He referred Jay to a specialist.
“I couldn’t stand or walk without help,” recalls Jay. “It wasn’t exactly the most romantic of holidays. The doctor came to see me every day for ten days and called Dawn every evening, yet it only cost us 75 dollars. Even the specialist I saw there only charged 50 dollars. They were amazing.
“He said there was a five per cent chance it was a tumour. As soon as I heard that I just wanted to get home, though coming back in a wheelchair was a very surreal experience.”
On his return, Jay attended the Murrayfield Hospital where he received an MRI scan. The consultant ENT surgeon, David Sim, was blunt.
“He told me it wasn’t a tumour but the damage to my inner ear was permanent. As a broadcaster it wasn’t the best news I’d ever had. I felt as if my life had been taken away.”
Dawn is more direct: “It was a huge shock. I looked at his face and his jaw had hit the floor. My worry was how he was going to feel. I thought there must be some sort of operation or hearing aid, but he was blunt in saying ‘that’s it, it’s gone, it won’t come back’.”
Jay admits that his hearing had not been perfect prior to the clot. “Through my work I was given annual hearing tests and I knew that I’d already lost about 30 per cent of my hearing. Now I’ve got 60 per cent left in my left ear and the right is just tinnitus. I have to be careful with it. I don’t want to lose what I’ve got left.
“Nothing sounds the same to me now. I can’t hear in stereo. Instead, I have a constant ringing and hissing that most people who have ever been to a loud rock concert will have experienced afterwards when it’s quieter.
“Then there’s a second noise, a low-level hum. For a long time I thought it was something electrical in the house – we even got rid of the tropical fish tank. Or I’d go to the window expecting to see a taxi waiting outside with the engine running. I even unplugged the electric toothbrush then I realised it was in my ear, as if my eardrum had started to vibrate and couldn’t stop.
“Now if I’m in a restaurant with a lot of people and there’s background music on I can’t hear the conversations of the people sitting at my table. It’s very difficult. I don’t hold a phone to my ear anymore, I just use the speaker. I can’t bear the noise of the dishes clanking together and the vacuum cleaner means I have to get out the house.
“But not being able to drive restricts me. On good days I will get on a bus and go and meet friends for a coffee. I admit though that on Princes Street when it’s busy with lots of people walking towards me, I start to feel dizzy.”
He adds: “It has changed my life. I was watching a film of the Rolling Stones playing the O2 and I would have loved to have been there, but I don’t think I’ll go to a concert again and that’s heartbreaking.”
Music was Jay’s life. He talks fondly of the first record he bought – The Kinks, All Day and All of the Night – and the first he played on air at Radio Forth in 1975 – Led Zeppelin’s Communication Breakdown.
“I loved James Taylor and Simon and Garfunkel, Carol King . . . now it all sounds like I’m listening under water. As it gets worse it’s like a helicopter overhead.”
Jay has also had to give up a lot of his charity work as he can’t attend functions or events. He’s also just resigned as chair of the Scottish branch of the Radio Academy. “But I’m still President of the Dog Aid Society of Scotland and it’s got its Christmas Fair in Edinburgh on December 8.
“I’ve had lots of visitors and GMG Radio has been a great support – without that I would definitely have been depressed.
“I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve had a long career and had some great experiences, but this condition is much more common in the radio and music industries than you might imagine. People are damaging their ears all the time without being aware, especially wearing inner ear headphones to listen to music. My consultant told me his youngest patient was 12.”
Despite a new regime to take care of his remaining hearing, which includes dietary restrictions – “too much salt is terrible for your inner ear fluids, I have to make sure I drink three litres of water a day” – Jay remains upbeat and has even grown a moustache for Movember.
He says: “You know, music was my life, radio was my life. Now I’m getting used to life without either. It is hard but I won’t give up. There might be a cure – maybe a bionic one. I won’t mind as long as The Kinks sound like they did when I first heard them in 1964.”
n When Bossman Jay Lost His Ears, Radio Scotland today, 2pm.
ON THE RIGHT WAVELENGTH
IT was January 22 1975 when the airwaves of Edinburgh first reverberated to the sound of Jay Crawford’s voice. Radio Forth was launched and with it the career of the man who, at the time, was the youngest commercial radio DJ in Britain.
In the last 37 years Crawford has become one of the biggest names in local radio, working on Forth and Clyde, MAX AM and Scot FM and ultimately Real Radio, though to many he still remains “the voice of Edinburgh”.
He was at Forth for 25 years – rubbing shoulders with countless rock and pop stars – before making a shock departure in 1999. He then went on to help launch Scot FM, becoming group programme controller, before Real Radio hit the airwaves in 2002 where again he was programme controller and presenter.
TINNITUS, which comes from the Latin word for ringing, is the term for noises heard ‘in the ear or ears’ or ‘in the head’ when no obvious source of sound is apparent. The noises are usually described as ringing, whistling, hissing, buzzing or humming. The noise may be in one ear, both or even in the middle of the head and it can be difficult to pinpoint its location.
The noise may be low, medium or high‑pitched. There may be a single noise or two or more components. The noise may be continuous or it may come and go.
The precise cause of tinnitus is still not fully understood. It can be experienced at any age following exposure to loud noise, though it’s unusual for it to be a major problem.
Mild tinnitus affects about ten per cent of the population and approximately five per cent of the adult population in the UK experience persistent or troublesome tinnitus.
For more information visit www.tinnitus.org.uk or call 0800 018 0527.