2018-05-23 / Home

After more than 3 decades, Dan Gottlieb is retiring WHYY’s “Voices in the Family”


Voice staff

When psychologist Dan Gottlieb was asked to host a radio show on WHYY-FM some 32 years ago, he knew it could be a big career break -- but he was hesitant to accept.

It was less than five years after a tragic car accident had rendered him a quadriplegic at age 33. Gottlieb felt “worthless and insecure,” questioning if anyone would take him seriously. Worse than that, he worried that any fans he’d win over the airwaves might turn on him if they found out about his paralyzing condition.

“I’m in the depth of my depression, and beating myself up like any good depressive would, when Marty (the radio producer) invites me to do this show,” recalled Gottlieb with his characteristic candor. “In that moment, I channeled my mother and said ‘yes.’”

The Cherry Hill resident, who recently announced that his popular “Voices in the Family” will come to an end this summer, waxed nostalgic about the weekly show during an interview with the Voice.

Despite channeling his mother, his first time hosting was terrifying. “Marty puts me in the studio, closes the door and I felt like I was trapped in prison,” he said. “I thought everyone in the world would hear my panic.”

On the contrary, Gottlieb’s pioneering approach to problemsolving and his soothing voice won over radio listeners from the getgo. He didn’t merely provide quick-fix answers as was customary at the time. He probed family dynamics, asking questions that would often lead listeners to insights about their lives.

And as much his audience valued the show, it also helped the psychologist come to terms with his own issues of inadequacy, which he shared like an open book.

“It was like a beautiful, intimate relationship that developed between me and my audience,” said the M’kor Shalom congregant.

Early on, Gottlieb noted, he revealed his lifelong struggle with reading comprehension and academic failures during a show focused on learning disabilities. Although worried that revealing this on air would result in negative consequences, he decided to take the risk.

“The response was overwhelmingly positive as people thanked me for making it safer for them to acknowledge their own vulnerabilities,” he wrote on his website.

It was also over the airwaves that he outed himself for his physical disabilities. It was during a show in which R&B icon Teddy Pendergrass, who had also become a quadriplegic, was a guest. The audience reaction, again, was one of gratitude for the reveal, support and compassion.

Richard Address, a former M’kor Shalom senior rabbi who is founder and director of Jewish Sacred Aging, observed that Gottlieb is inspirational not only due to his pioneering work but also by the life he leads.  

“He had an existential moment in the hospital that set the pattern for the rest of his life,” said Address, referring to his close friend’s car accident in 1979 that left him paralyzed. “When he tells the story about it, people understand, they get it.

“He made that choice to say ‘I’m choosing life, I’m not choosing to sit in a room, curl up and play the victim.’ Because of those choices, he is a role model without standing on the pulpit and saying ‘I’m a role model.’ He is a successful therapist, author and radio host who travels all over the world to lecture.”

Two years ago, Gottlieb retired from the weekly radio grind, downsizing to six specials annually which he produces and hosts while continuing his work as a practicing psychologist. But even that started to feel like too much, he said, noting that each hour-long show requires dozens of hours of assiduous preparation.

He said reaction from fans of his impending radio retirement has been gratifying, but also heartbreaking. 

“It’s almost like what you would hear at your own funeral,” he said. “People have expressed how much love they have for me and what impact I have had on their lives. They’ve offered heartfelt wishes for my happiness.”

 He said he will continue practicing, writing and teaching meditation and hopefully will still be sought after to lecture on various topics. With more free time, he started practicing Tai Chi and hopes to spend more time with family.

Even as the decision feels right, Gottlieb admitted he is nervous about the future. “I’m a little scared and curious about what I’m going to do, how I’m going to react and if I’m going to have a tough transition,” he said.

No matter were life leads, he said, he intends to continue striving for tikkun olam.

“My whole career has been about making it safe for people to open their hearts, and teaching them how to love more deeply, more easily, more often and with more people,” he said. “I do have this talent and I don’t want that to languish. I think that would be irresponsible. I want to give away everything I have before I go.” 

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