WJHU public affairs host has "street cred": Yakety-yak, Steiner's Talking Back Mike Field -------------------- Staff Writer "Please excuse the mess," says radio talk show host Marc Steiner as he pads through WJHU's muffled corridors en route to the warren of office space and cubby holes that serves as the command center for the Marc Steiner Show. The apology is mere small talk, a strange introduction to the man who prides himself on bringing serious conversation to the Baltimore airwaves. It can be nothing else. Within Steiner s domain hardly a scrap seems out of order. Local and national newspapers--The Wall Street Journal, The Sun, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Baltimore Business Journal--are lined in careful stacks on a counter running along one wall. Each stack is precisely identified with a tag along the counter's edge. On the wall opposite, a huge chart maps out shows planned or considered for the next six weeks. Beneath it Roger Sorkin, the show's 23-year-old producer, is busily creating a publications list on a MacIntosh computer. Everything in the office bespeaks of ordered purposefulness. "How about Science magazine?" Sorkin asks from the computer as Steiner enters the area. "Science is good. And there's the British one Nature," says Steiner as he glances at the list. "And don't forget the news weeklies--Time, Newsweek, U.S. News." "What about the local publications, do you want all of them?" asks Sorkin without looking up from his task. Already the list runs most of the way down the screen. "Definitely. And don't forget the law one. The Daily Record. We'll want that. Sorkin and Steiner are spending part of Friday morning making a get list of background publications to have on hand. Steiner's talk show is scheduled to move from a 90-minute, four times weekly format to a two-hour midday time slot beginning Sept. 11. The change will mean Sorkin and Steiner will be creating 10 one-hour shows each week, one of which each day will be rebroadcast in the evening at 7:30 p.m. That's a lot of topics and so Steiner hopes to have a lot of resources at hand. "Hopes" here is the operative word, for, as is so often the case in the realm of public broadcasting, while the need may be great the resources are small. The "get" list is really more of a "wish" list. It will be left to the imaginative and persuasive powers of Sorkin to beg, borrow and plead as many of the subscriptions as he can for publications that run the gamut from science and technology to sports, entertainment, politics and current events. "Marc s strength is he s a generalist," says WJHU station manager Dennis Kita of the man he helped bring to the air. "He can talk with poets as easily as pundits and you never know the direction the conversations are going to take." Now slightly more than two years old, the genesis of The Marc Steiner Show has already become the stuff of local broadcast legend. In 1993, when the show first aired on a twice weekly schedule, Steiner, then 46, was a well-known community activist with a varied career that included helping to establish health clinics, food co-ops and even a theater company in the city. He taught acting part time at the Baltimore School for the Arts, and produced radio commercials with a local advertising agency. Kita approached him because of his wide knowledge of the city. "I was interested in bringing more local programming to WJHU, and so I called Marc and asked him to help me identify local issues we could focus on," recalls Kita. "Later that day, Marc called back and said that it wa a great idea to do a local program, and he d like to be the host." It was an unusual suggestion, coming from someone with essentially no experience in the field. But Kita thought it just might work. "I think it was [Baltimore Sun editorial cartoonist] Kevin Kallaugher who said that Marc has 'street cred' and credibility is more important than credits," he said. "We tried a couple of special programs, and it just sort of went from there." When Steiner moves from evening to daytime programming Sept. 11 he will have come a long way indeed: from occasional late-evening dabbler to established talk show presence going head-to-head with ratings powerhouse Rush Limbaugh, a challenge Steiner relishes. "I want to bring real thought and discussion to the air, as opposed to just hyperbole," says Steiner, who dismisses Limbaugh as "a one-note Johnny. I think people are fed up with simplistic answers on the right and left. The long list of potential independent presidential candidates from across the political spectrum indicates to me that the usual answers are not working. We try to provide a thoughtful show that looks for real answers." A hallmark of the Steiner show since the day it premiered has been the wide range of guests and subject matter the program has addressed. Although sometimes described as talk radio for liberals--a categorization Steiner detests--the show in fact tends to offer a little of something for almost everyone. One of our most popular shows ever was devoted to the Hubble Space Telescope, Steiner says. "Dinosaurs, outer space, archaeology--people love talking about science. We're working with Hopkins Press science editor Robert Harington on developing lots of new science programs for the show." Ask him what subjects are suitable for his show and Steiner reacts like some hyper-charged power loom, spinning off ideas in rapid-fire order and sending subjects and guests and questions ricocheting around the room. "Sports. We definitely want to do more sports. I'm a CFL fanatic. And authors: there are a ton of authors we want to interview. And the environment. And we want to do a lot more stuff in the counties. And our shows when we interview the governor are always very popular. Public leaders in general." The list goes on and on. The wonderful thing about radio is that it can really help bring different forces together for thoughtful dialogue," says Steiner at the end of his discourse on future subjects. "It's important to keep in mind that although many of these issues are national problems we deal with them on a local level and we need to address them locally as well. I would like this show to act as a catalyst to bring together thoughtful people to find thoughtful solutions."
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