First Person Singular: 'Diane Rehm Show' phone manager Dorie Anisman

First Things First
(Benjamin C. Tankersley)
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Sunday, November 22, 2009

I refuse to be called a screener. Screener makes it sound like I'm trying to keep you off the air, that I'm screening for a point of view. I want to get as many people on as I can. I see the calls come in on a screen -- if I had to listen to phones ring all day, I'd go crazy -- I ask for your first name, where you're calling from and for a brief idea of what you'd like to say. Some people start pontificating before I even ask their name, but I try to slow them down and help them make one point. That's where my teaching background comes in handy: Give me your topic sentence, please.

I've called into only one radio show in my life, about 20 years ago. The topic was stupid things people do in traffic, and I had plenty to say. When I got on, my husband was in the background trying to tell me what to say the whole time. I hear that all the time. I hear babies, dogs, houses being built ... a parrot once. If I hear an engine, though, I tell people to pull over. Cellphone calls get dropped all the time, but I can't help but worry that they've been in an accident when I lose the call.

Not everyone can be calmed down, but that's my goal. I don't like to give up. This one man called in during a show on Iraq, who had lost family members. It was just raw anger I heard. He wouldn't let me get a word in. When he finally paused, I asked, "Can I just say a few words? I know you're angry. I understand why you're angry. But if [you] go on the air like this, people will only hear the yelling, they won't hear your story." It worked, but I was wiped out.

I think there's something about radio -- that it comes into your house, into your car -- that makes it so intimate that people just open up. When I hear it, I can't help but feel it. I'll always remember this man who called during a show on pets. He told me, "I've just gone through a divorce, lost my job and have been dealing with a sick child. My dog was the only good thing. He was killed in a car accident last week." He was crying. I was crying. When he told his story on the air, the host was quiet. Sometimes, there's just nothing to say.

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