Sines and Cosines

Mara Davis
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Mara's Top 5
Rock Albums

Across the fiber-optic network he strides, a rock-and-roll cowboy advancing on the woman who has encouraged him with nothing more than her husky voice. Time is running out for him, so he tosses the line that made millions for Rod Stewart. "Do you think I'm sexy?" he offers.

We might be inclined to leave the two of alone, except that Davis is working in a fishbowl of a broadcast booth, where everyone can see her from the boss to the receptionist to the guy delivering lunch. And Cowboy’s ardor seems only tentative. He sounds like a guy on the phone. And, besides, the commercials are ready to end.

Such is the daily noon hour ritual inside the inner sanctum of the high priestess of classic rock. Davis, a New York native who was raised in Miami, was ordained WZGC-FM’s midday deejay last September after two years on the evening shift.

And it’s during "Out To Lunch Hour" that she makes her presence really felt, seducing Atlantans using radio waves, talking tough and running callers like Cowboy through the Marathon. At that moment, the 27-year-old Davis (this article was written in 1997) is the girl you never got in high school. The one way tougher than you. Or maybe you did get her, and are still smiling about it.

"I'm the chick that can sit and rock and roll with you -- ‘Let's have a beer,’ " she says. "I've always been the girl who can be one of the guys."

"Out To Lunch" is a workout. She only stops moving when she’s on the air. Her job is to sound like she's having fun, while watching the clock, gathering CDs and carts -- the tapes containing commercials -- logging what she plays, and taking those calls during every spare second. Davis records her conversations with listeners on a computer, and edits the best of them to play on the air as an intro to the songs they request.

"I try to use the people with the best personality, because it might be entertaining," she says. "You've got to rely on the callers. Anytime you do sex, it's great."

"Why Don't We Get Drunk And Screw?" This is the fifth request for the Jimmy Buffet party favorite.

She turns from the microphone to the computer screen and the smile that propels her sultry rasp fades. She’s editing the phone conversation with such intensity, she looks like she could be sending up the space shuttle. It's 12:02 and the Doors' "Touch Me" is playing.

She takes another call. "I've got the ultimate pick-up line," a male voice says. "Why don't we get drunk and screw?"

Davis smiles. You'd think he'd had a brainstorm.

Dazed and Confused

"What caller am I?"

Davis is genuinely perplexed.

"For what?"

"The 'Batman' thing."

"You called the wrong station." Bing. She hits the banker's bell that she uses to tell long-winded callers their time is up, and the "Batman" contestant is dispatched to radio purgatory.

"Sometimes I have to be short. But what's important to me is to have a good show," Davis says. "Answering those phone lines, they suck the life out of you. You want to make everybody happy -- they're essentially a customer."

Z-93's target audience is 25-54 years old, the people who were growing up when the giants of classic rock were in their prime, or the kid brothers and sisters fed on the stuff with their formula.

"We do real well with older men," Davis says. "But more and more women have been calling."

When listeners call, they’re likely to be asked to sing the percussion riff to the Zombies’ "Time Of The Season" -- ba-ba-bum-chick-a-ahhh -- or follow Davis into some other corner of her sanctuary.

"There are people who are just Mara fanatics and there are people who would hang her in effigy," says Gary Lewis, WZGC's general manager. "The worst would be if she was boring. And she's definately not that."

Davis is evolving, according to Lewis. And Davis says as much, explaining that she's honing her tough chick style to where the most sensitive of her listeners will be entertained by her rather than intimidated.

"I'm trying to work on it," she says, shrugging. "I'm a tough person."

She'll stick by that, too, with one modification. "I'm tough, but I'm mush on the inside. You have to be tough in this business, because not everyone is going to like you. Being tough is also part of being a career woman."

Davis grew up in Miami. Her high school years included a trip to Israel. She went to college in Boston and started in radio in the promotions department. "My dad is a typical Jewish father -- 'Do you know what you're up against?' " she says.

But the summer after she graduated high school and announced she wanted to get into radio, "My mother said, 'Call every station in town and get an internship.' "

Her first break was in Rochester, New York. "They hired me on a whim because they liked my voice. The manager described me as a diamond in the rough."

Still, she says, "I was making no money. My parents supported me."

After a year she answered an ad in Radio and Records, a trade publication. "[Z-93] flew me in for an interview and the rest is history," Davis says.

"I moved from the 49th market to the 12th. It still blows my mind that I made it. I don't want to say that it's the prime of my career. But I'm getting there."

If Davis has a beacon showing her the way into the future, it's in the person of another outspoken Jewish radio personality. "I would be the female Howard Stern," she says. "I listen to him religiously."

When she was still in Rochester, she spoke with Stern on the phone. "He was the nicest guy. I was looking for a new job. He was like, 'Don't worry. Be persistent.' I love that he says what he wants and he doesn't care. He has no remorse."

"I'm the chick
that can sit and
rock and roll with

More Mara Madness

Dream On

Davis looks up. Someone has wandered into the control room. He wants to say hi. He wants concert tickets. Davis glances through the studio's picture window into the lobby, which is eerily empty. When she worked nights, there was no traffic through the station and she didn’t have to work to keep her focus. Looking out at people looking in still rattles her.

The guy is making his request and she’s escorting him out of the control room. Now he’s gone and Davis is shaken.

"He just walked right in," she says. "That's not kosh. You see what I mean about rattled."

It's the downside of showbiz. The other stuff -- playing music she loves and making a name for herself -- that's the payoff.

"I get the biggest rush when I answer the phones and my name is the first thing they say."

In the classic rock community, Davis is the eager kid sister. "The thing about classic rock music is people are so passionate about it," she says. "I don't like to remind people about how old they are. I don't mean that in a bad way. But the music is old. I'm 27. Half of our music is older than me."

Davis says her on-air persona is just a hyper version of her real self. "When I get into this room I'm more obnoxious, more outgoing." And she's no breathy sexpot, or a fast-talking bass-rumbling boss jock. "If you stutter or you stumble, people like to hear it, because it's real."

Given the chance to meet some of the rock dinosaurs, Davis says she'd pass. "I like them in an idol fashion. I don't want to meet Mick Jagger. It would just ruin it."

No, Mara Davis isn't ready to sell her soul for rock and roll. "If I wanted to sit and hang with someone, it would be Barbara Walters. Interviewing her, you'd find out about everyone else."

Maybe Davis hasn't sold her soul, but radio is definitely her addiction. "When you're so passionate about radio, you'd do anything," she says.

Pop. Davis hits the phone line.

"Jimmy Buffett describes it as a love song..." a male voice says.

Davis jumps in before he has a chance to make his request. "Why don't we get drunk and screw?" she says indifferently. "I'm going to play that next."

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