Tom Marr returns after stint in Philadelphia Radio: After 'frustrating' time up north, talk show host is back on WCBM-AM.

On the Air

October 12, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Tom Marr still thinks plenty highly of Philadelphia, but not of the radio station he signed on with full time last year.

Which is why he and the City of Brotherly Love have parted company and he's back on the airwaves in Baltimore, where he'd been a news and talk-radio fixture for nearly three decades before heading north. He can be heard on WCBM-AM (680) weekdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

"Before I worked [at WWDB-FM] full time, I used to refer to it as one of America's great radio stations," says Marr, who'd spent eight years as a part-timer doing a Saturday night show and occasionally filling in mornings at the station. "After my first week there [full time], I never said that again."

Lured to Philadelphia by a long-term deal and an annual salary he put at $120,000, Marr says that, when he started off at WWDB in March 1996, the station had enough confidence in him to hand him the crucial afternoon drive slot.

Things changed quickly, however, when new ownership took over the station. Before long, Marr says, every hour of his show included 22 minutes of commercials and promotions, nine minutes of news and traffic, five minutes of commentary from Paul Harvey. All that left precious little time for the conservative commentary Marr so loves to dispense.

"It was very frustrating," Marr notes, "but the money was good."

Things got worse when he returned from a vacation in September 1996 to learn he was being partnered with Susan Bray ("I was the conservative, she was the liberal") and that his show was being cut back to four days a week.

They hit rock bottom, he says, when programmers urged him to avoid the hot topics -- gun control, gay issues, abortion -- in favor of things like "What topping do you want on your pizza?"

"They wanted comedy and entertainment, not serious discussion," Marr says. "There was very little opportunity to do real contemporary talk radio. It was just ridiculous."

Mike Thompson, WWDB's program director, says Marr's style simply did not work with the younger audience (ages 25-54) the station was targeting. And Marr's pairing with Bray, Thompson admits, was not the best idea the station ever had. Workers headed home in the afternoon don't turn on their radio to listen to two people bickering.

"They were two people with opposite views, and their marching orders were to argue," Thompson says. "That was the premise of the show, which is just disastrous when it comes to keeping listeners tuned to the radio station."

Marr disagrees with Thompson's evaluation of his audience -- "It's as though no one between 25 and 54 wants to talk about anything serious," he says -- but he says he is glad to put the Philly experience behind him. He happily agreed when management at WWDB offered to buy out his contract, and was even happier when owner Nick Mangione Sr. at WCBM welcomed him back to Baltimore.

Listeners, Marr promises, will find little has changed during his absence.

"I'll be following Dr. Laura, so I will be bringing some lifestyle issues into the show. I'll try to hold onto those soccer moms who will be listening, although the liberal ones may jump ship."

'Nutz & Boltz' returns

Amateur auto mechanics who spent the summer feeling like they'd lost a friend, take heart: "Nutz & Boltz" is back in town.

The weekly car-repair-shop-on-the-radio, a veteran of 11 years on Baltimore's airwaves, found itself without a home when WITH-AM (1230) switched formats in July. But yesterday an hourlong version of the show debuted at 8 a.m. on WJFK-AM (1300).

Host David Solomon, an automotive master mechanic who notes, with considerable pride, his presence in the automotive Hall of Fame, says this summer's sabbatical marked the first time he'd been off the air since premiering on WFBR-AM in 1986.

Since then, as befits a show devoted to cars, "Nutz & Boltz" has been nothing if not well-traveled. From WFBR, it jumped to WBAL, then WCBM and WWLG before landing at WITH.

A mechanic for 34 years, the 49-year-old Miami native dispenses all sorts of automotive advice on the show, answers phone calls -- "I have yet to be stumped," he insists. "There's no such thing as an unfixable car" -- and drops in the occasional car trivia or humor.

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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