diane rehm

I listen to NPR almost every morning on the way to work, and occasionally if I’m running late I hear the The Diane Rehm Show. It’s also common to hear her telling about the upcoming show during Morning Edition.

If you’ve heard her voice, you’ll understand my thinking here, but I thought she was at least 85, and I wondered why she wasn’t retired. I also had a sneaking suspicion that all of her vacations (she seems to have an awful lot of them) were due to health issues. If you haven’t heard her on the radio, her voice sounds frail and wavering, and she speaks rather slowly. In short, she sounds like a grandmother.

I found out from Mckay that she is not old, but suffers from a disease that makes her voice sound that way. I did some research and confirmed those claims. I also found out that her last name is not Ream like I orginally thought, nor is it Reem. I was hoping Google would correct my spelling when I searched for the other spelling but so many people have misspelled it that Google considers it a valid spelling.

Anyway, back to the issue of her voice. On her about page it explains that she suffers from spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological condition that causes strained, difficult speech. After she overcame the disorder and wrote about it, Ted Koppel had an interview with her on Nightline (the original link provided on the about page is no longer valid, so this is a link to archive.org).

So there you have it, from amidst the tangled web, I’m Dan Hersam.


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  1. I guess what’s positive about her situation is that NPR has decided that her abilities as a journalist/interviewer are more important than how her voice sounds on the radio. Personally, I would rather put up with the shaky voice than listen to a smooth-voiced talking head that you would hear on other stations.

    Comment by jason on September 9, 2004 @ 2:48 pm
  2. I had the same thought you did. I am suprised to hear that she is in fact not that old.

    Comment by Stephen on September 9, 2004 @ 3:23 pm
  3. As a lifelong listener of WAMU (where her show is produced), I’ve known for quite some time that the way her voice sounds is due to a medical condition. Unfortunately, though, that doesn’t change how I feel about listening to her. I think she’s a wonderful and intelligent woman, but I simply cannot listen to her voice, and so I rarely listen to her show. (Actually, I’m not usually near a radio when she’s on locally, which is 10am and 9pm. But I used to have the opportunity to hear her daily.) If she is out and there is a guest host, I will listen, but more often than not I will change the station. I don’t fault her for it, and I congratulate her on working through the pain (her frequent absences are usually due to surgery for the dysphonia), but her voice is just too slow and grating for my taste.

    Comment by Meredith on September 9, 2004 @ 3:57 pm
  4. Meredith: I agree. I’ve heard her do interviews where she took so long to get the next question that I switched stations.

    A half hour later I switched back and she had just finished it. (Ba da bing!)

    Comment by dan on September 9, 2004 @ 4:17 pm
  5. Personally, I like listening to her. She’s a good interviewer, and I like to try to guess what she’s going to ask while she’s getting the question out. My guesses are wrong most of the time, which I guess is a tribute to her interviewing ability…asking the questions that I didn’t know I wanted the answers to. Or maybe I’d just be a lousy interviewer. :^)

    Comment by mckay on September 9, 2004 @ 4:50 pm
  6. Mckay: I can rarely guess the questions interviewers ask. We all have our own thought processes and connect with different things, I would be surprised if I could always guess what they were going to ask.

    I listen to her on occasion because of the impressive people she has on her show. She must have plenty of listeners or else the show would be cancelled.

    Comment by dan on September 9, 2004 @ 4:58 pm
  7. Huh … in the past I would sometimes hear her show begin after the news, and rush to change the station, I think for kind of the same reasons — I don’t think I inherently have a problem listening to an older person interview or do a show, but by her voice and what little I heard of the show, I also thought it was a little old lady doing a “sweet little show”. But looking at the subjects/titles of some recent shows, they sound rather interesting. Another example of not judging too quickly, or a book by its cover, I guess.

    Comment by DaveH on September 10, 2004 @ 9:23 am
  8. The other assumption I had about her, was that she had a local show (ie. this was just a show for the DC area). I guess I see now that I was wrong about that as well.

    Comment by Stephen on September 10, 2004 @ 12:29 pm
  9. Okay…I have to say it…..

    “The Diane Rhems Show” was quite recently taken on by our local NPR station. I can’t bear it, and I certainly can’t stand her—-both the VOICE (and, yes, I know she’s sick, but I don’t think I would pay yearly-dues to watch Nadia Comenici perform if she developed MS, nor would I be likely to hire a blind tour guide at the Louvre.) or her interviewing style/”skills”.

    For the past ten minutes, I’ve been listening, with distinctly unattractive (I know) irritation to her show on Lee Smith’s “Fair and Tender Ladies.” She’s THREE times, already, asked a loaded question, such as “Do you think the MALE characters are fully in flesh?”. Now, I’ve got four degrees in literary criticism, and I don’t got me a single idea what “fully in the flesh” means. Just as I was irritatedly (once again) wondering what that phrase meant, she interrupted the interviewee to ask whether he DIDN’t agree with her that the male characters weren’t as fully “developed” as the female characters.

    And I thought…why doesn’t she just do the whole show herself and forget about having anyone else on?

    My question…..am I the only person who’s noticed that (as far as I know) hers is the only NPR show which is named after the host? It’s rather strange. She mentions her own name about fifteen times per show….and two days ago, she closed her interview with her guest by saying “Thank you for calling in.” He wasn’t one of the callers-in; he was her guest. Just how Old IS she?…..

    Is there something I’m missing? A local friend called yesterday to ask if I’d heard THAT NEW SHOW, and he said “Did her husband give a boatload of money to NPR or something? Why do they let her be on the air?”…particularly when Dick Gordon’s “The Connection” gets booted and terminated for no apparent reason?

    Oh well, I’ve already switched channels…

    Level Best as Ever,
    David Terry

    Comment by David Terry on August 17, 2005 @ 9:54 am
  10. Wow, I bet persons in wheelchairs REALLY get on your nerves!…and persons with hearing problems?! I can only hope for all of you who can’t handle Diane Rehm’s voice, that it’s your biggest life crisis. As a person with many disabilities, I’d sure like to change places with any of you! —Nancy

    Comment by Nancy on October 3, 2005 @ 12:37 pm
  11. Dear Diane: What a wonderful soothing voice Obama has! He is
    articulate, thoughts well-organized, and when he stumbles he quickly gathers his thoughts. The timbre of his voice is soothing and calming like Barry White’s. I love to hear him talk. He doesn’t give me that “fingernails on the blackboard feeling” like the President’s. Thank you for the interview. I, also, saw him on Oprah and was totally impressed. BTW, I’m white/caucasian
    from the south!

    Johnie B. Matthews

    Comment by Johnie Beth Matthews on October 20, 2006 @ 9:07 am
  12. Madam:
    As much as I commend your show for its’ insightful interviews and fascinating guests, I must say that any interview with an entrenched, honorably retired, breaucratic crony of the new Secretary of Defence was, predicably, a waste of time. these guys are trained to disseminate and distort. You will get nothing of value out of them. In fact, I suspect that the book itself was an exercise in disinformation.

    However patriotic the individual, there continues to be a mindset in the covert world that is at odds with our democratic ideals. How can it not be?

    The ony saving grace in our intelligence community(and, alas, it’s bane) is the inherent nature of beauracracy: it is the risk aversion, “don’t rock the boat”, “cover your _ss” mentality that keeps me confident that a conspiracy of the diabolical and deranged will and cannot originate from those quarters. Are you kidding? Ever see how much these guys and gals earn? They are generally good people, but not the “tear up the world’ “Alpha plus” types.

    In the future please tell your scheduler not to entertain such a forlorn hope as obtaining a meaningful and informative interview with Intelligence Folks (bureaucrats or otherwise).

    r/ted gaffney

    Comment by ted gaffney on December 19, 2006 @ 8:08 am
  13. Hey there is always the baboons on cable TV with their opinionated shows lets see what are the talking points handed down from the paloozy office or the winner of the half bright scholarship from Yale.

    Have you heard the El Toro poo poo disseminated by some of her guests? Seems like she does her home work amazing, a woman who asks questions expects the answers and isn’t a Hardball talk over the guest host or a softball braces wearing kiss up host or even a megalomaniac like fair and obnoxious on Fox, and then there are the right winged left wing blow hearted talking heads inside and outside the beltway to no where.

    Anyone ever work in Radio? Know how long it takes to create study and run a 30 minute show? Or even a two hour one and a new topic or two each day? Takes bright, eloquent, inquisitive, dedicated and as little testosterone as possible to allow for the interview to be about the subject and not the host, so what if its in her name or her misspelled name or her husbands name or her nom de plum.

    Lots of people with ailments are more successful then 95% of the rest of us lazy a–es who cant think have no education because we are wanting to be fed th line of the day, be entertained by the drama of the moment, and made to feel as if we are important until they got what they wanted. Think before you write

    Comment by Nate Fried on August 8, 2007 @ 9:06 am
  14. ‘Wow, I bet persons in wheelchairs REALLY get on your nerves!…and persons with hearing problems?! I can only hope for all of you who can’t handle Diane Rehm’s voice, that it’s your biggest life crisis. As a person with many disabilities, I’d sure like to change places with any of you! —Nancy’

    In response to Nancy’s comment I would like to state that my impression is not that anyone here is criticizing Rehm for her disability. However, they are calling into question whether it impairs her ability to do her job. Clearly it does. She is a broadcast journalist; a very intelligent broadcast journalist. Perhaps at this stage of her life, she may be better suited as a print journalist. After all, I would not expect an athlete to continue in his former capacity after losing a leg. I can recognize her skill and intelligence, but I cannot bear to listen to her show. Her affliction is tragic and I commend her commitment and determination, but there comes a time when you are no longer best suited to do your job.

    Comment by Paul F Franklin on October 12, 2007 @ 5:57 am
  15. Well if she was 37 in 1973 when she started that makes her 71 give or take a few months in my adding machine.
    Gee bet you would hate me in my wheel chair. I do not like it very welll either but the option is not doing anything.
    Diane – you go girl. I like the way you think and you ask questions I would love to ask. I listen a lot.

    Comment by Quinta Wilkinson on November 13, 2007 @ 10:29 am
  16. I love listening to her voice. In fact, after listening to her show in the mornings, it’s harder than ever to listen to so many of the radio hosts loudly go on and on without really saying anything of interest and at a speed that suggests they’re competing for jobs in advertising. My concern is that she is absent so often and I hope she will host more often in future. Her interviewing skills are the best.

    Comment by Jennie Pitt on September 22, 2008 @ 9:33 am
  17. I actually like her voice also, and think that she sounds like my elderly and wise aunt with a slightly-Southern accent, a model of a very polite and refined lady. I think she spoke fairly slowly throughout her radio career, even before her medical problems, but she probably needs to speak even more slowly now. Note that Diane’s voice gets better when she’s just had a Botox treatment and gets progressively worse until it’s time for her next shot a few months later.

    I went to hear her speak went she came to my city (and paid for the privilege) and it was a standing-room-only crowd at the auditorium. In spite of her old-sounding and slow voice, there is something really special about listening to Diane and she is my favorite radio personality. Terry Gross has a really gorgeous voice for example, and she asks good questions, but I don’t enjoy listening to her nearly as much for some reason. Diane’s questions and comments are very thoughtful and are worth the wait. Diane doesn’t often speak in long paragraphs (and never did), she mostly asks brief questions and lets her guests talk, but is a gentle but very skillful moderator when people go off topic or interrupt each other. In spite of her slow speech, her mind is very quick and she will immediately and politely correct someone who misstates a fact or gets a name wrong.

    Can you name one individual radio or TV show or individual journalist which offers us more quality information on U.S. political affairs than Diane and her show (especially given it is 10 hours/week with no commercials)? I can’t think of any and that’s greatly due to Diane and the way she’s designed her show, the topics she chooses, and the guests she invites. Why hasn’t anyone else been able to match her accomplishment in this area? If it is past time for her to retire, then why do millions of fans still love her show in spite of her vocal faults?

    Besides, I like some variety in voices on the radio. Most of the women in radio or TV news have the identical, nondistinctive, accent free, somewhat nasal broadcaster voice (except we do get the British version of it on the BBC Newshour). Male radio personalities are slightly more varied vocally, and I like hearing different dialects such as the Car Talk guys east coast accents. While I like Diane’s replacement host Steve Roberts, he is somewhat bland and lacking in personality compared to Diane – he just lacks her undefinable ‘star power’. The ‘Diane Rehm’ show is the way it is and so named because of her personality and skill in developing and conducting the show. Sometime in the not distant future she will retire and I will greatly miss her, but I hope her staff is able to carry it on in the the same format and quality after she is gone.

    I loved the comment above where someone said, “I would rather put up with the shaky voice than listen to a smooth-voiced talking head that you would hear on other stations.” That’s exactly it – when I listen to Diane’s show, my mind/intellect feels ‘activated’ and I’m always learning new and interesting things. When I listen to the journalists with attractive faces and melodious voices on the early shows, nightly shows, or CNN or most other TV shows, especially on commercial TV, I usually feel bored and my mind feels passive. Diane’s show is a level above most other shows.

    Comment by Lynn on October 3, 2008 @ 11:36 am
  18. I’m sorry to hear that Ms. Rehm suffers from spasmodic dysphonia; I was unaware of that. All I know is that I could not, and still cannot, stand listening to that slow, whiny voice that makes me think of a million blackboards being simultaneously scratched. It is utterly distracting from what is being said.

    Comment by James on November 22, 2008 @ 8:57 am
  19. I’m another person who can’t stand listening to The Diane Rehm show. I first heard it years ago on Raleigh/Durham’s public radio. Time to shut off the radio. Now it has reappeared on WNYC’s new night time AM line up Ugh! Time to change to their FM station. I’m thankful thatNY public radio gives us this choice.
    Yes, it’s too bad and all that Ms. Rehm has this disease. A person of her intelligence and experience could surely find media work not behind the microphone.

    Comment by Francyne on November 19, 2009 @ 11:37 am
  20. I’ve begun listening to the Diane Rhem show only in the last year. At first, I was irritated by the halting, shaky voice. Then I soon came to realize that the substance of her questions and her dialogue-guiding skills were impressive enough to overcome the voice issue. More recently I’ve come to realize that her slowness in delivery actually gets me to listen more carefully to each of those words. So, in some sense, I’ve benefited from her physical challenges. Thank you, Diane.

    Comment by Richard Frechette on November 19, 2009 @ 12:01 pm
  21. The problem with Diane Rehm’s voice is that it creates a subliminal link with Susan Collins, who sounds substantially like her. Except that Collins talks rubbish.

    Comment by squashrot on February 4, 2010 @ 5:07 am
  22. I can’t understand with all the potential talent in radio why they let this lady continue to mangle each of her shows. I can’t listen to her and only tune in when she has a guest host. Would you hire a blind pilot or a pianist with one hand? Why hire a radio talkshow host who can’t talk??

    Comment by Fred Friendly on April 21, 2010 @ 6:57 pm
  23. Diane Rehm’s voice disorder imposes a burden on many (most, I would guess) listeners who are willing or able to listen to her show despite her voice disorder (which, as would be expected in a prime NPR time slot, includes outstanding guests), but prevents many people (myself included) from listening, because her voice disorder makes
    listening just too frustrating.

    My question is, why does NPR choose to continue to impose such a burden on thousands of listeners, and provide such a powerful deterrent to others who would love to listen to wonderful content in a great time slot, but are simply unable to tolerate the frustration involved in listening to the host as she continuously struggles to slowly enunciate her words? It’s not only frustrating to listeners (& a powerful deterrent to would-be listeners), but it also compromises the host’s (& NPR’s) effectiveness during this time slot. When conducting more controversial & adversarial interviews, a host with a
    weak and uncertain-sounding voice is less able to firmly and unequivocally exert control during heated discussions, and hold guests “accountable” for unfair &/or incorrect assertions.

    Comment by James on March 8, 2011 @ 11:08 am
  24. Unlike conservative radio, NPR is not interested in employing a smooth talking pundit host who is capable of influencing uninformed people. That is why Diane Rehm has a job.

    Comment by dave on April 6, 2011 @ 8:04 pm
  25. Like many of these commenters, I just don’t get it. I come across her on Sirius all day long when I tune into NPR to see what is being played. 99% of the time I tune to another channel when she is on. She gets a lot of air time on Sirius. There must be other talent in radio that can do what she does. I could see giving her a small amount of air time but on Sirius it is all day long. Her voice is highly distracting. I don’t see why her disability should be overlooked. I feel for her, but there are just some job requirements that trump the desire to be inclusive.

    Comment by Matt on May 19, 2011 @ 4:47 pm
  26. it’s very hard to listen to her, I turn her off immediately. It’s sad she has a disability,but I just can’t listen to her

    Comment by Orlando on May 24, 2011 @ 9:36 am
  27. i don’t think she is that interesting. i think she has the job due to sympathy and the need to be inclusive of others not her skill. why not let blind people direct traffic while we are at it. come on people. i’m liberal but not ridiculous.

    Comment by nealnbob on May 26, 2011 @ 12:04 pm
  28. Sheesh. Diane Rehm is a great interviewer, and yes her voice is unusual, but really these people who “can’t stand” her voice are a little over the top. And she doesn’t speak THAT slowly for heaven’s sake. And yes I agree with the person who is dsiabled who questions the comments that seem to want her to get off the air. How intolerant can you get? Leave Diane the heck alone and go listen to someone else if you don’t like her.

    Comment by Deborah on September 20, 2011 @ 8:18 am
  29. I love listening to Diane Team’s voice. It is very soothing. She is an intelligent woman and has many remarkable people on her show and interesting topics. I listen to her show every chance I get.

    Comment by Sharon McQueen on December 1, 2016 @ 1:49 pm

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