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RADIO PERSONALITY TELLS OF RISE, FEARS AND EARLY HITS -- FROM HER MOTHER

Her family came from Lebanon to earn a living in the shoe factories of Auburn.

But it would be little Diane Aed who would take a giant step toward the American dream, becoming a popular radio talk show host known to Buffalo public-broadcasting listeners and almost a million others.

Despite the attention, Diane Aed Rehm, now 63, admits that she "still felt like a little Arab girl who really didn't belong. There's still a core of 'Wow, I can't believe it.' "

Rehm says she was emotionally and physically abused as a child by her frustrated mother. "A lifetime of self-disparagement was constantly at work in me," she says, "being countered every step of the way by my stubborn refusal to accept anything less than whatever accomplishment I'd set out to achieve." One part of her "was constantly saying: 'You can't do this! You're stupid! You have no talent! You don't belong here! You're a fraud.' "

The voice is the vehicle in radio, and Rehm's voice, in top form, hummed like a well-tuned roadster. Her comments are witty, her insights are crisp, and her interviews are searching. She's not afraid to ask the big question. Buffalo AM public radio listeners tuned into "The Diane Rehm Show." Then she got sick.

She almost lost her voice five years ago. "I didn't want to answer the telephone," she says. One Buffalo radio worker says: "After a while her voice was painful to listen to. It's a shame."

When her voice went, it was as if her abusive mother, with a voice coming from the grave, "was right all the time."

The abuse "was far more than spanking," says Rehm, a mother of two. "My mother hit me with wire hangers, anything available." She recalls one beating, at age 8 when she was late for lunch, in her new memoir, "Finding My Voice." Young Diane "crumpled to the floor, trying to hold on to myself, hoping she'd stop. But the beatings intensified as she struck blow after blow to my head, shoulders and arms, to the point where, out of fear, I lost control of my bladder.

"If the dishes weren't dried or I'd accidentally torn a piece of clothing or had uttered some word of frustration, I knew instinctively that I was in for it.

"It's strange that I didn't defend myself, and I wonder about that even now. Why didn't I run? Presumably I knew that if I did, the punishment would be even worse." It wasn't until she graduated from high school that she raised her arm "to protect myself."

Those blows echoed throughout the years. Even when she earned praise -- Newsweek called her show one of the most interesting in the country -- she "still felt like something of a fraud. When 'The Cinderella Complex' was published, a book talking about the number of women who thought of themselves as a great pretenders, I could identify with those feelings."

When you grow up being beaten, Rehm says, you can believe that it would "short-circuit careers." At the height of her success -- she has interviewed everyone from Newt Gingrich to Salman Rushdie -- her voice started cracking. "The cracks became so pronounced, I-couldn't-get-the-words-out," she demonstrates. Rehm was later diagnosed with a mysterious neurological disorder called spasmodic dysphonia, which strangled her voice.

One woman's salvation is another's poison. Botox, the botulinum toxin (a bacterial toxin that paralyzes muscles) -- which contains a form of a neurotoxin that causes food poisoning -- was injected directly into her neck. It brought her voice to a whisper, "which seemed like a bad joke for someone who'd spent the last 20 years as a radio host. There was some discomfort with the injection, but it was not unbearable."

And it's putting her back on air, now that she's rebuilding her career.

"Botox is what's working for me and many others," says the Washington, D.C.-based broadcaster. In addition, she still receives speech therapy, attempting to correct many of the bad speaking habits she "developed as a result of acquiring SD, such as not breathing frequently enough. I'm also learning to counter negative thoughts more successfully."

She has to continue the Botox injections, and her voice is "not perfect."

"But I can still talk. I'm not retiring. What I have to say is still worthwhile."

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