Not all talk

Anita Marks, Charm City's newest sports radio host, is a QB and a sports fan - and she wants to listen.

June 26, 2006|By KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG | KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG,SUN REPORTER

Each weekday, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Anita Marks is naked.

Not physically naked, mind you - although anyone with an Internet connection and a basic understanding of Google can, if he's so inclined, see pictures of Marks in little more than her birthday suit - but emotionally naked.

To be truly good at sports talk radio, you pretty much have to be. You have to share a little piece of yourself every day with your listeners, and delicately balance confidence with curiosity and vulnerability. At least that's the case when you're the new woman in town, which Marks is, and you're trying to be taken seriously in a town that's dead serious about its sports.

On sports talk radio, credibility with the listening audience matters. It's like oxygen. If you don't have it, you won't be around very long. And the way Marks sees it, the quickest path to on-air credibility isn't overconfidence, nor is it a catchy, playground nickname like Mad Dog, Nasty or The Brick. It's honesty. So - unlike some radio hosts who boast an encyclopedic knowledge of local sports history and occasionally wield that knowledge like a blunt object - Marks has been upfront during her first month on the air at WJFK (1300 AM). After living most of her life in South Florida, she doesn't know a lot about the Orioles, the Ravens or the Terps, and so she's not going to pretend that she does.

But Marks does know sports, and if you dismiss her outright simply because she's a woman trying to succeed in a format dominated by men, you may be in for a shock. What she does want to make clear is that she is willing to listen, to learn and hopefully, she says, help stimulate the sports arguments that ripple across this city each day.

"My biggest challenge, I think, is not having the history," says Marks, a thin, athletic 36-year-old with sandy blond hair. "In Florida, I grew up with it. I was at the first-ever Heat draft when they drafted Rony Seikaly. I went to dinner with Joe DiMaggio at Joe's Stone Crab the night he threw out the first pitch for the Florida Marlins. I was at the inaugural Florida Panthers game.

"All the things like that here, I haven't been a part of. But I'm not going to pretend that I'm someone I'm not. So when people call in to talk about something like the 20th anniversary of the death of Len Bias, my attitude is, educate me. I want to know what happened."

An athlete herself

Marks is no rookie when it comes to sports. She plays in multiple fantasy leagues (as many as five at one time during football season), she obsessively reads the sports pages, she likes to gamble, play golf and shoot hoops, quarterbacks a men's league flag football team in Hunt Valley each weekend and isn't afraid to speak her mind on just about anything. Topics on her show can range from the Orioles' role in the human growth hormone controversy to whether Anna Kournikova may have recently had breast implants.

"I'm a person who strongly believes that sports talk radio isn't all about what you know and the history of what you know," Marks says. "To me, it's about who you are, your personality, the way you come across on the radio, how you relate to people and can you present your topic in a way that's entertaining and possibly controversial."

She also has been a jock her entire life, and she has the scars (and muscles) to prove it. Her father, a former University of Miami football player, would let her stay up late to watch Monday Night Football when she was just a kid, and the game became her first real crush.

"I live, die, eat and breathe football," Marks says. "I wanted to be that kid in the Coke commercial that goes up to Mean Joe Greene and gets his jersey. What kid didn't?"

That love, and a cannon for a right arm, eventually led to a stint as a quarterback in the Women's Professional Football League. Marks became one of the league's best players, regularly throwing for 300 yards when healthy and leading her team, the Florida Stingrays, to the 2003 championship game. But numerous injuries - she has had major reconstructive surgery on both her knees - helped her decide to reluctantly give it up in 2005.

Luckily, by the time her body started to break down, Marks already had a blossoming media career to fall back on. Before radio came along, she spent 10 years as a television producer and on-air reporter and tackled numerous tough, hot-button issues such as Hurricane Andrew, O.J. Simpson and Elian Gonzalez.

"I can remember way back when she started, she was interning in sports at the local CBS affiliate," says Marks' mother, Mildred Meyerson. "She called me and said, `Mom, all they want me to do is empty the trash cans and put coffee in the coffeepot.' I kept saying to her, `Your time will come.'"

It came when Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in August 1992 and the TV station was short on reporters and decided to send Marks out into the field.

"She called me and said, `Mom, it's really bad out here,'" Meyerson says. "I said, `Anita, this is your big chance.'"

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