'Ah, Zoh' Talk-show host airs on the side of hot issues

April 18, 1993|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Staff Writer

In the studio of a shabby Owings Mills radio station, Zohar M. Hieronimus adjusts her earphones and prepares for launch into talk-radio hyperspace.

After a tinkly musical cue, she begins a bewildering monologue -- a "Late Morning Show with Zoh" trademark -- that leapfrogs from Passover's celebration of freedom to whether the Red Sea's parting was a natural or supernatural occurrence to a savage attack on Oliver North, who is a guest host on Rush Limbaugh's national radio talk show for a few days.

"How do you feel about deceiving the American people? How do you feel about others going behind Congress' back and dealing in weapons or drugs or whatever with covert money?" she rhetorically asks Mr. North.

She demands further, "While your cute little statement 'broadcasting from a bunker in Washington' went across the airwaves yesterday, why don't American citizens have any bunkers?"

Ms. Hieronimus careens from one hot-button topic to another with syntax-murdering zeal. Pelting listeners with opinions, she follows her own script and refers to highlighted passages from five newspapers she reads daily in preparation for the show.

In a vitriolic news recap, Ms. Hieronimus takes on New York Times commentator Leslie Gelb's waffling position on the Bosnian war, Zbigniew Brzezinski's new book, violations of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, germ warfare and President Clinton's plan to ensure that all American children are vaccinated.

"At 2 months old, let's shoot our babies full of poison," she modestly proposes, oozing sarcasm and sublimated fury.

"Ah, Zoh," she answers herself, with weary wonder at the world's follies. The control panel blinks with calls.

On WCBM (AM 680), a local talk-radio station known for its conservative, masculine focus, Ms. Hieronimus -- feminist, founder of a holistic health center, heiress, libertarian, advocate for the death penalty, one-world-government-conspiracy theoretician, humanist, earth being, bunker builder -- has found her voice.

"She feels like she's found her life's work in radio," says Lee M. Hendler, one of Ms. Hieronimus' two older sisters. Talk radio is "where all of her talents come to bear. She has one of those wonderful minds. If she cares about it, she retains it."

As a female talk show host, Ms. Hieronimus, 39, is a rarity, although her ranks are growing, according to the National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts. In November, she was hired to take over the troubled 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. time slot occupied in the past by Rudy Miller, among others. This week, the winter Arbitron ratings book will rule for the first time on Ms. Hieronimus' sonorous voice, slippery segues and unfettered politics.

The granddaughter of philanthropist Joseph Meyerhoff, and the third daughter of Harvey M. and the late Lyn Meyerhoff, Ms. Hieronimus has always understood that public service was a birthright.

But while her family builds temples of mainstream civilization -- a symphony hall, hospital research centers, the Holocaust Museum -- Ms. Hieronimus' philanthropic activism exhibits a fiercely independent interpretation of the public good.

Nearly 10 years ago, she founded the Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center, which houses offices for practitioners acupuncture, rolfing, massage, homeopathy, as well as the Institute for the Study of the Imagination.

New Paradigm

With husband Robert R. Hieronimus, a syndicated radio talk show host, she runs a pro bono production company that offers unsolicited ideas and research about the New Paradigm (a term she prefers to New Age) movement to the mass media.

Last month, the Hieronimuses launched a program to establish four Little League teams in honor of Baltimore Negro League players. The program was funded through a $15,000 grant provided by the Children of Lenore P. and Harvey M. Meyerhoff Philanthropic Fund of the Associated Jewish Community Federation.

Since childhood, Ms. Hieronimus, a tiny woman with penetrating green eyes and close-cropped hair going to gray, has always taken the wayward path.

She was an athletic, shrill, stubborn child. If she didn't want to eat, she didn't eat, her father says. He named her Jill and called her Beans, short for string bean. Later, she would change her name to Zohara, "soul of life," a name derived from the cabbala, the Jewish system of the occult. Mr. Meyerhoff still calls her Beans.

Ms. Hieronimus has always expressed righteous anger at social inequities and an innate distrust of authority, her family says.

She was also a "clairvoyant" child, who routinely saw ghosts, angels and frightening astral creatures, Ms. Hieronimus says. She does not dismiss the possibility that she was once abducted by a UFO.

"Jill was always playing with the edge of life, that was my sense," says her sister Mrs. Hendler.

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