WASHINGTON – Diane Rehm, the host of one of public radio's longest-running and most popular news discussion programs, will retire next year, ending nearly 40 years on the air, according to people involved with her program.
A retirement date has not been firmly established, but Rehm, who is 79, is likely to end her eponymous program after the presidential election next November, said people at WAMU-FM, the Washington public station that produces her show.
“The Diane Rehm Show” has been one of the staples of news-oriented public radio stations nationwide for the past two decades. The two-hour program is carried on 197 stations and attracts an audience of around 2.5 million weekly.
The show features discussions with newsmakers in the first hour and interviews with authors and artists in the second. Rehm has often been praised for maintaining a civil tone and a non-partisan orientation in a medium that has grown increasingly shrill and polarized over the past two decades.
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Rehm has been in discussions with WAMU management about her future for the past several months.
The station would like her to continue, but Rehm has occasionally expressed weariness with the daily routine of preparing her program, said people briefed on the discussion, who spoke anonymously because no announcements or firm decisions have been made.
They said that the decision about leaving the air is up to Rehm.
Nevertheless, WAMU has begun preparing for Rehm's departure. During her periodic absences – Rehm receives treatment three times a year for a voice condition called spasmodic dysphonia – the station has used guest hosts who are being considered to succeed her.
Among others, these have included Melissa Block, the former host of NPR's “All Things Considered,” and Indira Lakshmanan, the guest host of “Here and Now,” another NPR newsmagazine program. Melissa Ross, the host of a Jacksonville, Florida, public-radio program, will substitute for Rehm later this week.
Rehm did not respond to a request for comment. Station manager J.J. Yore declined to comment.
A former secretary and stay-at-home mother who never attended college, Rehm first joined WAMU as a volunteer in 1973, booking guests for a program called “The Home Show.”
She became the host of the station's morning talk show, “Kaleidoscope,” in 1979. The show was renamed “The Diane Rehm Show” in 1984. It went into national syndication through NPR in 1995 after Rehm helped raise the money for distribution.
“I never thought I'd have a career of any kind, much less a career in radio,” she once said.
Over the decades, Rehm has interviewed many of the nation's leading political figures, including presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and such cultural luminaries as Toni Morrison and Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
Rehm has discussed staying with the station in some capacity after retiring from broadcasting. Among the options discussed are a role in fundraising and a speaker series, in which she would interview a panel or an important guest before an audience.
She has also been active in the “death with dignity” movement, or medically assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, a role that has occasionally conflicted with her journalistic obligation to remain neutral on public issues.
Rehm's involvement grew out of her 54-year marriage to John Rehm, a former State Department official, who died of Parkinson's disease last year.