From Potholes To Politics, Marr Airs It Out On Radio

Gamber Residentrelishes Give-and-take With Callers

April 14, 1991|By Mike Nortrup | Mike Nortrup,Contributing writer

Montgomery County high-schooler Tom Marr probably didn't know he wasmaking a career decision when he agreed to help a chum broadcast on a local radio station years ago.

But he was quickly hooked for life.

"I said, 'This is for me,' " Marr recalled.

Since then, the 48-year-old Marr has been a versatile performer as news broadcaster, reporter, Orioles play-by-play man, and now, co-host with Frank Luber on a weekday morning call-in talk show on WCBM Radio.

In 1989, Marrmoved to Gamber, where he lives with his wife, Sharon, and youngest son, Brendan, 18.

Sons Tom Jr. and Christopher, and daughters Allison and Erin, have grown and moved away.

His early radio years, beginning in 1963 after high school and a Marine Corps hitch, were spent as a news and sports broadcaster.

"I was interested in the news.I (ultimately) wanted to do network news or sports," Marr remembers.

He began work at WFBR in 1967 as a news broadcaster, reporter andpanelist on "Conference Call," a call-in show on current events.

But Marr's world changed dramatically when he was assigned to do play-by-play after WFBR began broadcasting Oriole games in 1979.

He remembers that experience as bittersweet, with lonely days on the road away from his family and uneasiness over working with seasoned announcers Chuck Thompson and Bill O'Donnell when he had little play-by-play experience.

Marr likens the assignment to being "in the deep endof the pool with no life preserver."

But he treasures the friendship of former Orioles Jim Palmer and John Lowenstein and considers the memories of working in the relaxed atmosphere of spring training asthe most enjoyable of his career.

Marr became a WFBR talk show host in January 1987 after that station stopped broadcasting Oriole games, and moved to WCBM after WFBR's new ownership discontinued its talk format later that year.

He began in the afternoon slot before moving to mornings in January.

As host, Marr confronts an array of callers varying from the bland to the bizarre, talking on almost everyconceivable subject.

Strongly conservative in his political views, Marr relishes airwaves debate.

"I enjoy the challenge. Those calls are the steak on my plate," he said.

Those calls may become firefights, with either Marr or his opponent hanging up angrily.

Yet those same opponents almost invariably call again and again.

Marr says he isn't sure why people call talk shows.

"They probably wantthe challenge and to make their feelings heard on the issues," he surmised.

Marr says talk radio, where everyone can have a say withinthe bounds of decency, is a valuable alternative to the print and television media.

He considers most of the media to have a politically liberal bias. In his view, this bias often precludes dissenting views -- although he won't deny that elements of the political left (hesays, "the extreme elements") also criticize it.

Political confrontation, though, is not all that Tom Marr is about.

To callers discussing potholes, consumer rip-offs, bureaucratic red tape and other relatively non-political issues, he lends a sympathetic ear or a bit of advice. He occasionally has listeners call him when he's off the air so he can address their problem personally.

"We get a lot of calls for help, and it's rewarding to be able to help people as a talk show host," Marr said.

His morning callers are generally less serious than their afternoon counterparts.

Mornings often find a laid-back Marr bantering with callers over whether dresses or slacks are more appropriate for work, singing "Happy Birthday" for listeners, or,as happened recently, leading renditions of Irish ballads to honor St. Patrick's Day.

While morning fare is lighter, Marr neverthelessprepares extensively. He reads five newspapers daily, takes notes onnumerous TV news broadcasts, and frequently contacts public officials to gather other newsworthy morsels for his radio commentaries.

Marr says he would like to be syndicated nationally some day.

But after he retires, Marr wants to indulge another of his loves -- travel.

"I'd like to travel and relax and make up for all the times I couldn't. My dream is to cruise around the world," he said.

But he says he will always come home to Carroll County, whose rural atmosphere he has quickly grown to love.

"I could go to another market butI'd commute. I'm committed to Carroll County for the duration," he said.

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