Q&A with The Fabulous Sports Babe
She has fought off cancer. She dropped more than 100 pounds. Now she's recovering from double knee-replacement surgery. And she says she's "more fabulous than ever.'' Nanci Donnellan, a.k.a. The Fabulous Sports Babe, returns to Tampa Bay radio when she joins former Bucs linebacker and long-time radio host Scot Brantley on WHBO (ESPN Radio) 1470-AM. Brantley and the Babe debuts Friday and will run each weekday from 3 to 6 p.m.
Back in 1981, Donnellan started on sports radio right here in Tampa Bay. She moved to Seattle and then on to become what is believed to be the first (and still only) woman to host a nationally syndicated sports radio talk show when she signed on with ESPN in 1994. In 1998, Donnellan continued her national show despite going through treatment for breast cancer. She eventually moved to Sporting News radio until 2001 when her show was canceled. Shortly thereafter, she left public life by retreating to her home in Gulfport. Over the past couple of years, she has filled in as guest host on various radio shows, but today makes her full-time return. Donnellan, who never reveals her age (she’s believed to be in her early-to-mid 50s), spoke by telephone from her home as she applied ice packs to her new knees.
How is your health?
I'm okay. I've got new knees now. I'm 2 inches taller. I'm like the bionic woman.
And you're cancer free?
This fall will make 10 years. It changed my life.
I'm more fabulous than ever. (Laughs) I have a whole new perspective on things. Suddenly knowing who the backup third baseman is for the Arizona Diamondbacks, let alone his actual stats, isn't so important anymore.
Why did you walk away from radio after your last job?
It was getting tiresome. I continued to work through my treatments (for cancer). I came back here to Tampa Bay and had my treatments at Bayfront hospital. I probably would make the same decision again, but when I got sick, I never really allowed myself to heal properly. It got to the point that my immune system was so badly burned, I couldn't even drive. I was wiped out. I needed to get away when I did.
What did you do?
I was here and I love it here. I know people call it God's Waiting Room, and I feel like I have to defend this place to other people, but it really is a great area. I hung out by the pool. I'm a beach girl. I did that. I didn't pick up a newspaper for six months. I didn't watch television for a year. I didn't listen to radio for two years. I reconnected with family and friends. That was the big thing.
Well, you're not going to believe it, but I started working in fashion. We have this internet company called pjsplus.com. We make exercise clothes, yoga clothes and so forth for plus-sized women. I didn't know I had that in me. It's a mom-and-pop type of thing, but I've really enjoyed it.
When did you start getting the itch to get back into radio?
Well, I filled in for different people here and there and probably last (fall), I started thinking about it. And this opportunity came along with Scot and I thought it would be great because I worked with half the people who are there now.
Is sports talk-radio different than it was when you last did it full-time more than seven years ago?
Well, the amount of information available now to fans is so much greater than it used to be. In the old days, I'd go out to the Bucs press conference then come back and tell people what the coach had to say. Now, people know what the coach is saying as he is saying it.
What makes good talk radio?
Passion. That's the big thing. But now there's so much yelling going on. Too much of it, I think. I thought talk radio and everything would be kindlier and gentler following 9/11, but boy, was I wrong. It went the other direction. There's more yelling and screaming than ever before.
You did a little yelling, but you never came off as malicious.
Well, I don't suffer fools. I'm still not going to listen to some guy go on and on about his fantasy team. This is still an entertainment business. We can't ever forget that.
What kind of show do you want to have?
Well, Scot and I are different so there should be some fireworks. I love Scot. I covered him when he played for Bucs, so we go back. He does a great job and I look forward to coming in with him, talking about my football team here, my baseball team and my hockey team, which, by the way, better get itself straightened out.
Before we let you go, break down the teams for us. What do you think of the Rays these days?
My gut reaction is "Who are you guys? You're going to do away with 100 years of tradition and take spring training out of here? And now you want to build a $450-million stadium and I'm supposed to help you pay for this? I'm not paying for this. How about winning a few games first and then come see me.''
I gotta tell you, those two guys — Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen — come off as a couple of smart-(expletive) frat boys to me. But Gruden gets a lifetime pass from me because he brought a Super Bowl champion here and I never, ever thought I would see that in my lifetime. So Gruden is okay by me.
In the NHL, everybody makes the playoffs. If you can't make the playoffs then you pretty much (stink). Right? I mean, you, me and four guys could put together a team and get close to a playoff spot, no? But they're going to get the No. 1 pick and I really like John Tortorella. I think he's a terrific coach. So I think the Lightning is going to be okay.
So you're back. Is this the start of something big? Where are you going to be in five years?
Five years? All I know is what I'm doing five minutes from now and that’s turning over the ice bags on my knees. That's as far ahead as I think these days.