NPR host Diane Rehm rounds out Speakers Series

Thursday, April 17, 2014
Diane Rehm, the Peabody Award winning host of "The Diane Rehm Show," speaks about growing up in Washington D.C., as the daughter of Arab immigrants during "A Conversation with Diane Rehm," Wednesday, April 16, at the Bedell Performance Hall. Rehm is the final speaker of Southeast Missouri State University's 2013-2014 Speakers Series. (Adam Vogler)

National Public Radio talk show host Diane Rehm visited Cape Girardeau for the first time Wednesday for the final event of Southeast Missouri State University's 2013-2014 Speakers Series.

Rehm, host of "The Diane Rehm Show," presented "A Conversation With Diane Rehm" in the Bedell Performance Hall at the River Campus.

Applause welcomed her on stage as Southeast Missouri State University president Kenneth Dobbins went over her career, reminding everyone of the success of her show, and introduced retired Southeast professor Tom Harte as the host of the discussion.

Harte started by asking Rehm to talk about her origins. She explained how she was born and raised in Washington, D.C., and has been there all her life. Her Lebanese father came to the United States with his entire family in 1907 while her mother came all alone from Egypt.

"In my home my parents spoke Arabic to me and I spoke English back to them," Rehm explained.

She said her parents thought her future would be as a homemaker, married to an Arab man. She did marry one at the age of 18, as it was the wish of her dying mother. Her mother died two months after Diane's wedding and her dad 10 months after that.

"When they died I had the first breath of freedom that I ever had in my life," said Rehm, "and the first thing I did was to get a divorce.

"I needed to leave that community because I was being smothered," she added.

Harte asked her details about her mother, and Rehm told the audience she realized later in her life how courageous it was for her mother to come to the U.S. alone.

"I think she was missing her family and felt very alone in this country," she said.

Moving on to her career in broadcasting, Harte talked with Rehm about her earlier years in the business.

She said that after staying at home for 14 years after getting remarried in 1959, she began to feel "itchy."

She looked for volunteer work and ended up in radio out of chance. Rehm volunteered at Washington, D.C., radio station WAMU and became a producer. Her first day on the job, the host didn't show up, leaving Rehm to co-host her first radio show with her manager.

"I understood how to ask questions, which I was not allowed to do as a child," Rehm said.

Harte then mentioned her short-lived career on television. Rehm explained that to her, radio is mind to mind, while with television, pictures get in the way and distract.

"When you hear people on the air, you hear undistracted information. It's not filtered," she said.

Rehm has been a radio host for 35 years and has never suffered any "stage fright." She even said she is now performing in a play all around the country called "Surviving Grace", which is about Alzheimer's disease.

Rehm said the play is the most enriching experience she has ever had in addition to radio because it demonstrates what an entire family experiences when dealing with someone who has a form of dementia -- a subject very dear to her as her husband suffers from Parkinson's disease and Parkinson's dementia.

Harte also asked Rehm to explain how her job works.

"I'm juggling," she said. She explained that during her show she tries to work every email, call, tweet and Facebook post she receives into the conversation.

In the last segment of the conversation, Rehm talked to the audience about her spasmodic dysphonia, which causes strained, difficult speech. She explained how her treatment works, and that it forces her to stay off the air for a few weeks once she has received it to give her voice time to come back.

Pertinent address:

518 N Fountain St, Cape Girardeau, MO 63701

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