“One of her guests is always you,” is the tag line for The Diane Rehm show, and for the final hour of her final show on WAMU, it was all about that “you,” as host Diane Rehm played pre-recorded messages and took live calls from her listeners, in which they said their good-byes, talked about how the show affected them and asked questions of the show’s host.
Among the live callers were those that Rehm announced not by name but as surprises, turning out to be people like singer-songwriter Judy Collins, who ended her call with a song, the first verse of Amazing Grace, at Rehm’s request. And she wasn’t the only singer to call in, followed later in the hour by Julie Andrews.
Georgetown professor Paul Butler, who has been a guest on her show, said he was happy to have his “fan-boy moment” by calling in. “When I had the honor of being your guest I felt I had to step up my game,” he says of his pre-appearance prep. Face the Nation host John Dickerson echoed those sentiments. “I never prepared for anything as much as the Friday News Roundup,” he told her of his appearances in the roundup, going on to say how much he appreciated the types of stories she pursued and the kinds of questions she asked, both of which were more thoughtful and probing than what would get posed and covered elsewhere. “You gave us a nice frame for how to process the world,” he said.
The Warmth of Other Suns author Isabel Wilkerson called Rehm “such a national treasure,” and the two reminisced about the time they visited Petworth, the Washington neighborhood both of them had grown up in during “different eras.”
NPR president and CEO Jarl Mohn shared with Rehm conversations with fans who asked him, “What are you going to do when Diane leaves?”
Sen. Cory Booker told Rehm, “You are a patriot. You are someone who shows the love for your country by speaking truth.”
Rehm has been doing her show, as she describes it, for a “wonderful 37 years,” but it has been known officially as The Diane Rehm show since 1984. In the period in before then, beginning with the show’s debut in 1979, it was a very different kind of show, one “aimed at homemakers,” as David Folkenflik described it. But Rehm wanted the show to be more than that, and successfully fought for the vision she had for the show:
“I’m bored. I’m really bored,” Rehm remembers telling [her boss]. “Unless I can change this show and do politics, do science, do medicine, do everything that’s happening in the world, I’m outta here. … He listened, and he said ‘you’re right.'”
The show that she pushed for for is one that has kept generations of listeners tuned in. As Rehm described listeners who have told her over the years that they grew up with their parents listening to the show in the car, going from reluctant second-hand listeners to fans themselves as they got older, one listener called in with just such an anecdote.
Show fans can take heart knowing Rehm, with her distinctive voice and distinctive questions, won’t be disappearing completely from public radio. She’s working on a weekly podcast hosted on WAMU, continuing the ethos that is at the heart of her work: listening. “Listen with an open heart and try to understand views other than yours,” she said.
It’s universally applicable advice.