Radio personality and talk show host
Best known as controversial radio host Howard Stern's "straight woman," Robin Quivers has carved out a unique place for herself in the world of talk radio. Her accomplishments as co-host of Stern's radio talk show have led to television and film roles, a published autobiography, and a cable network agreement to create her own syndicated television show.
Endured Difficult Childhood
Quivers' high profile media career is one she could never have envisioned as a young girl surviving a painful childhood in Baltimore, Maryland. Robin Ophelia Quivers was born on August 8, 1952, into a working class family in the East Coast port city of Baltimore, Maryland. Her father, Charles Quivers Sr., labored as a steelworker, while her mother worked at home, taking care of young Robin and her three brothers. Neither of Quivers' parents had attended school beyond seventh grade, and, perhaps because of this, they understood the value of education. They encouraged their children to improve their lives and urged them at least to finish high school.
Growing up as a black girl in a racially mixed neighborhood in Baltimore, Quivers learned first hand about the
painful effects that racism and sexism could have on individual lives. One of the most puzzling things she discovered as a child was the difference in the ways that the white people and the black people that she knew talked about their lives. While white friends seemed to expect a bright future that included college and the job of their choice, her black friends seemed to take for granted that they would never be able have these things. Quivers became determined not to limit her dreams.
Quivers' childhood was often painful and difficult. Her parents fought frequently and their unhappiness led them to be angry and abusive toward their children. Quivers' mother was frequently cruel both physically and emotionally, and her father sexually abused her until, around the age of twelve, she began to fight back. As an angry and depressed teenager, Quivers eagerly awaited the day she could leave home.
Trained to Become a Nurse
While still in high school, Quivers learned about a pre-nursing program for high school students at Maryland General Hospital. Though she was fearful about leaving her neighborhood to take on such an unfamiliar challenge, Quivers applied and was accepted for the program. She was one of only two black girls in a class of more than 40, but she soon forgot her fears and was consumed by fascination with the challenge of nursing.
In 1970 she entered college at the University of Maryland, where she earned a nursing degree in 1974. Her first nursing job was in the shock and trauma unit at Maryland University Hospital, where she had worked during much of her senior year of college. She enjoyed the challenge of emergency medicine and the comradeship that the staff developed working together under pressure. Even more, she enjoyed living alone in her first apartment, away from the tension of life with her parents. However, she felt something was missing in her life, and she began to experiment with new directions.
First, she changed jobs, taking an intensive care nursing job at Maryland General Hospital, where she had trained in high school. While working there, she began to explore the possibility of military service. She was aggressively recruited by all branches of the military, but it was the U.S. Air Force recruiter who was most persuasive, promising her benefits and career advancement and pressuring her to make a quick decision. Though she later regretted her decision, Quivers enlisted in the Air Force and served two and a half years. Instead of being sent to an exotic location like Hawaii or California, as the recruiter had promised, she was stationed in a hospital in Ohio, where she worked in intensive care and pediatrics.
Though Quivers liked getting to know her patients and performed her work well, she did not enjoy many aspects of the military. Especially painful was the system of rank, where officers held power and enlisted personnel did not. As a nurse, Quivers was given the rank of lieutenant upon entering the Air Force, but it made her uncomfortable when enlisted people deferred to her because of her rank. As a black woman, she had too often been at the bottom of social power structures, and she felt that the military system too often allowed officers to abuse the power they had over others. Even so, she was promoted quickly, becoming a first lieutenant within six months and rising to captain by the end of her service in 1978.
Started a Career in Radio
Not having found the new life she sought in the military, and realizing that she did not want to spend her life as a nurse, Quivers headed to California to look for something different. While she worked various jobs there, her most important experience in California was attending a number of personal growth workshops in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where she explored her own needs and desires. In these workshops, she spoke for the first time about her childhood sexual abuse, allowing her to begin a healing process. After almost a year in California, she returned to Maryland, inspired to seek a career in radio broadcasting.
Quivers studied radio work at the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland in Baltimore. After earning her diploma of broadcasting in 1980, she sought a job as a radio newscaster. Her first job, in the news department of W100 radio in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, only lasted one week before she was offered a better job—reading news on WCMB in the larger city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. After six months in Harrisburg, she was once more hired away, this time by a radio station in her hometown, Baltimore's WFBR.
Quivers had worked less than a year at WFBR when she received another promising job offer. WWDC in Washington, D.C., was starting a new morning show and needed a news anchor. Quivers was reluctant to consider the offer at first. She did not want to move again so quickly, and she had begun to set her sights on a television career instead of continuing in radio. However, an old friend and mentor in the radio business, Denise Oliver, was program director at WWDC, so Quivers agreed to listen to a tape of the talk show host she would be working with.
At a Glance …
Born Robin Ophelia Quivers on August 8, 1952, in Baltimore, MD. Education: University of Maryland, RN, 1974; Broadcasting Institute of Maryland, diploma in broadcasting, 1980. Military: United States Air Force, 1976-79, captain.
W100, Carlyle, Pennsylvania, news reader, 1980; WCMB, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, news reader; 1980; WFBR, Baltimore, Maryland, news reader, 1980-81; The Howard Stern Show, co-host, 1981-; actor, 1993-97.
The Howard Stern Show, c/o Tracey Millman, Sirius Satellite Radio, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
Found Fame with Howard Stern
As soon as Quivers heard Howard Stern's taped radio program, she knew she wanted to work with him. Stern was a young disc jockey who had a reputation for confrontational and controversial radio. He had developed his unique style and personality working on the Boston University radio station as a student and at subsequent jobs in Hartford, Connecticut, and Detroit, Michigan. Stern's shows mixed music with outrageous commentary, interviews, and telephone conversations with listeners who were encouraged to call in. His challenging and often offensive manner, combined with plentiful sexual, racial, and raunchy humor, made him one of the first of the so-called "shock jocks."
Quivers was delighted with Stern's irreverent sense of humor and what she called in an April 1993 interview in People Weekly, his "wonderful obnoxiousness." She was also excited by his innovative approach, which she believed could breathe new life into the medium of radio. She joined Stern's show in 1981. The two developed an immediate on-air chemistry that attracted a huge audience of loyal listeners.
Quivers and Stern continued to work together as his show moved to New York's WNBC in 1982. WNBC fired Stern for obscenity in 1985, claiming that a comedy piece about sex with animals had gone too far. However, the show was picked up immediately by another New York station, WXRK FM. From 1990 through 1992, WOR TV, New York's channel 9, began airing videotapes of The Howard Stern Show, and, in 1995, video of the show was picked up by E! cable network. In 2005, cable's On Demand TV network began airing Stern.
Through all the changes, Quivers remained at Stern's news desk, reading news and playing straight woman to his unique brand of X-rated adolescent humor. Frequently showing her appreciation of Stern's crude jokes, Quivers' laugh, a distinctive cackle, has become one of the trademarks of the show. In addition to her role as indulgent audience, Quivers has also become a sort of conscience for the show, arguing with Stern when she does not agree with his opinions.
Once The Howard Stern Show began to air on television and audiences became aware that Quivers was black, many began to question how an African-American woman could work with Stern, who was frequently both racist and sexist on the air. Quivers dismissed criticisms, stating that Stern himself is not a bigot, but a performer, who in real life is a kind and generous employer. She has often stated her opinion that Stern's show is not meant to be social commentary, but entertainment, and regularly describes Stern as a "little boy." The controversial humor, she insists, is what keeps audiences coming back for more. As she told Phyllis Stark in a May 15, 1993 interview in Billboard magazine, "We are the high wire act. We're working without the net so you have to tune in every day just to see what will happen. We are there to purely entertain."
Quivers success on The Howard Stern Show has led to television roles, such as a 1993 appearance on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and a 1996 made-for-television movie called Deadly Web. In 1997 she played herself in a film of Stern's autobiography, Private Parts, and in 1995, she told her own story in her autobiography Quivers: A Life. In 2004, Sony Entertainment signed a contract with Quivers to produce her own television talk show. Unlike Stern's giddy obscenity, Quivers planned a show that would cover a wide range of issues, from family to current events, topics friends might discuss with earnestness and humor. However, Sony has continued to postpone the project, and, as of 2007, it had still not been produced.
Along with her professional work, Quivers has also volunteered her time for many years at Big Brothers/Big Sisters and works with groups that aid survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Quivers, Robin, and Caroline Fireside. Quivers: A Life. Regan Books, 1995.
Billboard, May 15, 1993, pp. 80-1.
Broadcasting & Cable, January 17, 2005, p. 58.
Entertainment Weekly, April 14, 1995, pp. 58-60.
Interview, January 1994, pp. 50-3.
New Yorker, April 17, 1995, pp. 35-7.
People Weekly, April 5, 1993, pp. 103-6; April 10, 1995, pp. 81-3.
Philadelphia Tribune, April 11, 1997, p. 9E.
"Robin Ophelia Quivers: News Anchor," Howard Stern Show, www.howardstern.com/bio.hs (March 1, 2007).
"Robin Quivers," Biography Resource Center,http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC (March 1, 2007).
"Robin Quivers," Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com/name/nm0704472/bio (March 1, 2007).
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