She had always gotten compliments on her speaking voice, even from patients, but had never thought much of it. "I didn't think it sounded so much different than anyone else's voice until I got to the broadcasting school, and I raised my hand to ask a question of the school president, and he said, 'See me after class.' And the rest is history." She found work as a newscaster, before being lured away for a gig at a Washington, D.C., rock station with a longhaired young DJ named Howard.
Even as the show moved to New York and her professional life prospered, she was an emotional mess, fighting with Stern and her co-workers, barely holding it together in her off hours. She needed to make the real-life Robin Quivers as confident and grounded as she was on air. She went into therapy, took up Transcendental Meditation (Stern does it too) and, for a while, cut her family out of her life before cautiously resuming contact.
When her dad died in 2005, Quivers wept for 24 straight hours, without feeling anything. "Then I was back in Baltimore, and I felt this incredible sense of ease and freedom in that home that I had grown up in," she says. "All of a sudden it wasn't scary. It was done. The monster was gone. I remember saying to Howard, 'You know, the best thing my dad ever did for me was leave, because now I feel whole.'"
But she was still looking for spiritual answers. A few years back, she went to Peru and took the hallucinogen ayahuasca with a shaman on three separate nights, vomiting in a bucket each time. The first night brought harrowing visions of all the misery suffered by womankind the world over; the second night yielded a bunch of pretty colors – and the shaman yelled at her for doing it wrong. On the third night, she learned the meaning of life. "What I learned is very simple: that your life belongs to you. And it really doesn't matter what you do with it, but it should be what you want to do with it. Not what your mother or father or friends or society want. It should be 'I'-directed. And that's the only purpose for being here." She also did a form of "breath work" that induces natural hallucinations and had another revelation: "There is so much love that you don't have to worry about it, it's always there." That feeling of being surrounded by endless love kept her from fearing death. "It was, like, perfectly OK to say this might be it," she says.
Just after 5 a.m. on a chilly morning in early October, a black SUV pulls up at the deserted corner of 48th Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. Quivers is in the back seat, waiting for security to take her into the studio. "I haven't seen the streets like this since May 22nd," she says. She's about to return to the studio for the first time in a year and a half, but she's not feeling any nerves: "What would I be nervous about? I'm not in any pain – this is how it used to be!" Ronnie the Limo Driver, who runs the show's security, arrives to escort us. Upstairs, Dell'Abate greets her with a hug, and shows her that he's covered her booth in rose petals. Hapless media producer JD Harmeyer spots her: "Now you can laugh at me in person," he says.
Trailed by a Howard TV cameraman, Stern arrives, looking tall and thin, almost fragile, with unexpectedly kind eyes. "Robin looks better than me, and I wasn't even sick," he says on his way into the studio, which has the neon look of an upscale strip club.
When the show was first set to move to satellite radio, Quivers wondered whether it might be time to leave. "I was like, 'Maybe this is a time to peel off and go do something else,'" she says. "I played with that idea for a while, and I said to myself, 'But Robin, if something incredible happens and you're not there, you are going to be miserable.' It's home. I don't know about life without it."
Now safely inside her booth, Quivers puts on her headphones, settles back in her Aeron chair and takes a breath. It's 6 a.m., and once more, it's time to do a show.
This story is from the November 7th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.
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