‘The Pub’ #55: Diane Rehm contemplates the end

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Rehm in 2012 (Photo: Anthony Washington, WAMU)

Rehm in 2012 (Photo: Anthony Washington, WAMU)

Diane Rehm acknowledges that her nearly four-decade–long reign as the queen of public radio talk is somewhat unlikely.

As she described it to me on The Pub, Rehm has “a voice that first people tune into out of curiosity. ‘What is this woman doing on the air?’”

But soon that halting, increasingly weary-sounding voice won’t be on the air. The 79-year-old Rehm plans to step away from the mic after this year’s election.

It has been a time of great changes and challenges for Rehm.

Her husband died in 2014 after denying himself food and drink so as to end his suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Her ensuing advocacy for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide ran afoul of the ethics guidelines at NPR.

These events, along with Rehm’s decision to abdicate her daily national radio slot, are the subject of her new book, On My Own.

On this week’s episode of The Pub, Rehm and I discuss all of the above and more, including who might replace her in the host chair and her feelings about her head-to-head competitor, Tom Ashbrook.

Also on the show, my thoughts on NPR’s recent controversial move to conspicuously brand its hourly newscasts as “live.”

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Adam Ragusea hosts Current’s weekly podcast The Pub and is a journalist in residence and visiting assistant professor at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.

  • MarkJeffries

    The only other instances of the word “live” used regularly in connection with a public radio program are Garrison Kellior saying at least once an episode “this live broadcast of ‘A Prairie Home Companion'” (and it is true, especially in the Eastern and Central time zones, where those stations have to carry the live feed) and Jim Packard and Stephanie Lee’s “Live from [insert town here] to [insert town here]” or “Live from [place of road show origination]” intro of “MIchael Feldman’s Whad’ya Know?”, which Feldman had put in the intro to continue to distinguish his show from that other quiz show he refers to as “Wait, Wait Don’t Bother.” (Of course, he now offers an edited one-hour repackaging of his show.) So there is a precedent for the NPR newscasts opening with “live…” The only thing is that on the radio stations still carrying network news in this country, unless it’s the Sound Exchange-enforced dwindling number of Internet hobbyist stations that pick up a feed of USA/IRN or FSN News and air it later in the hour (or those LPFMs that the Prometheus Radio Project didn’t do “barn-raisings” that run off of automation most of the time), are airing newscasts live. So what NPR is doing is not any different than CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox News Radio, Salem, USA/IRN, FSN, AP Radio or anyone else I’ve left out, except that they do it at one minute after the hour (as does the BBC World Service, to allow U.S. non-com stations to carry their newscasts instead of NPR’s). But I don’t expect Corva Coleman to begin a newscast with “one minute after everyone else…”

  • B Reynolds

    I like “Live from…” It’s show business, and NPR is still show business. And, yes, the news is on the phone before it’s on the radio, but we’re usually in the car when we’re listening!

    • photoglyph

      Well, as to a logical conclusion; what was NPR news before they started proclaiming it as ‘live’?

      • Adam Ragusea

        It was exactly the same. Always been read live, at least the newscaster copy and the spot intros.

        • photoglyph

          Sorry, Adam (hello, by the way) I was being sarcastic, the general reaction seems to be that the addition of ‘live’ to the news ID is that it’s ‘gimmicky’, based on what friends are saying. I think it would onl matter those those who are not regular NPR listeners.

          • photoglyph

            And, I’ll readily admit that part of it is because listeners are not used to hearing and it seems strange.

          • Adam Ragusea

            Derp, yeah, I should have caught the sarcasm.

  • J__o__h__n

    “Live from” is just marketing. I listen to NPR to avoid crap like this.

  • Aaron Read

    It does drive me more than a little crazy when NPR hires a lot of commercial radio people who think that NPR needs to adopt more commercial radio practices…forgetting that NPR’s success mostly dwarfs commercial radio and does so in no small part because it doesn’t sound like commercial radio.

    I keep expecting Jack Speer to scream: “LIVE FROM NPR NEWS IN WASHINGTON, IT’S SATURDAY NIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT!!!!!!”