She blazed trails, spoke her mind

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - Martin Fen­nelly

Nanci Don­nel­lan, bet­ter known as the Fab­u­lous Sports Babe, will be in­ducted into the Na­tional Ra­dio Hall of Fame. Even though her show was on 300 sta­tions across the na­tion with 200,000 call­ers a week, she never for­got Tampa Bay.

ST. PETERS­BURG — The Fab­u­lous Sports Babe, the one and only, sat in a restau­rant booth Thurs­day. She was on a rant, just like old times, a dock riot go­ing on in her head be­fore com­ing out of her mouth. The Babe can still bring it.

Topic: Fash­ion.

“What the hell am I go­ing to wear?” Nanci Don­nel­lan asked. “This is a fancy deal. What the hell am I go­ing to wear? … I’m go­ing to have to go shop­ping. T-shirts and shorts. That’s me. What the hell am I go­ing to do?”

The Babe smiled.

“I’m com­pletely hon­ored. It’s pretty flab­ber­gast­ing, re­ally. … Is there no one else? Did they run out of peo­ple? I still loved do­ing it, all of it.”

In Novem­ber in New York City, Don­nel­lan (age: ageless) will be in­ducted into the Na­tional Ra­dio Hall of Fame. Among her fel­low in­ductees: Dr. Laura, Mike and Mike. Among pre­vi­ous in­ductees: Jack Benny, Alan Freed, Paul Har­vey, Or­son Welles.

You be­long, Babe.

Don­nel­lan has made St. Pete Beach her on-off home

for 30 years.

“I al­ways felt this was my place,” said the Babe, who de­cided on her work­ing name in 1989 while do­ing her show from there for WFNS-AM 910. She had wrenched her back.

“Spend the day with … the Fab­u­lous Sports Babe.”

It stuck. The Babe stuck. Don­nel­lan was a true pi­o­neer, one of the first women to do sport­stalk ra­dio and the first one to go na­tional. She blazed trails that still need blaz­ing.

“Oh, God, yes, Nanci mat­tered,” said Don­nel­lan’s friend Suzyn Wald­man, a long­time New York broad­caster and Yan­kees ra­dio an­a­lyst. “She was one of the first, and as far I’m con­cerned, the best. She had that mag­nif­i­cent voice, low, gor­geous. Even when she was yelling, it didn’t leave her. Be­fore or since, there’s not been any­one like the Babe. None of us are do­ing what we do without her.”

To­day’s scream­ers have noth­ing on the Babe, whether she was in Tampa Bay, at any num­ber of sta­tions, na­tion­ally syn­di­cated out of Seattle, or dur­ing her show­time at ESPN, 1994-2001.

“I ranted and raged,” Don­nel­lan said.

If she didn’t like a caller, BANG, she’d hit a but­ton and it was on to the next one. The Babe had the fastest fin­gers in ra­dio. Her catch phrases re­main hers alone.

“Talk to me, Bubba.”

“Doo­fus alert!”

“Get a job, get a hair­cut, get a life!”

The Babe was a phe­nom­e­non, a rock star. She is a lit­tle more than 5 feet tall, but back then, they stacked dy­na­mite that high. No one else sounded like her. The Babe went off. She had at­ti­tude. The Babe had the best guests, stars. The Babe, in some of her ESPN days, earned a salary near seven fig­ures and lived in a Man­hat­tan high-rise over­look­ing Cen­tral Park.

Her show was on 300 sta­tions across the na­tion, 200,000 call­ers a week, all dy­ing to get through to the Babe’s rat-a-tat-tat. Al­ways she car­ried the ban­ner for women.

“I was about the only woman out there, so I couldn’t screw up,” Don­nel­lan said.

She didn’t.

“I loved the ex­cite­ment of be­ing there, talk­ing back and forth, bam, bam, bam. I loved lis­ten­ing to what peo­ple said. But I’ve al­ways been a talker. I’m com­ing at you.”

The Babe al­ways gave as good as she got. I’d take the Babe over Pres­i­dent Trump, two out of the three calls.

And the Babe never for­got Tampa Bay. She is back on St. Pete Beach, still at it af­ter health scares and fights. She does two pod­casts a week, reach­ing about 30,000 sub­scribers, and some­times does ra­dio lo­cally and na­tion­ally on week­ends. She en­joys her cof­fee in the morn­ing and her sun­sets at night.

To those of us who grew up in this town and in the me­dia, the Babe was al­ways kind, nur­tur­ing, a li­on­ess pro­tect­ing her cubs. She was the Babe and Nanci at once. To­day, the Babe is Nanci al­most all the time.

“I think this is maybe the Babe at rest,” Don­nel­lan said. “I’m not that person any­more.”

A fight with can­cer 20 years ago turned her on to her mor­tal­ity. Then there was a stroke in 2012. The Babe had to learn to walk again. She had to learn to — wait for it — talk again.

“Me not be­ing able to talk. Can you imag­ine?” Don­nel­lan said, laugh­ing.

Her Hall in­duc­tion has made her think all the way back to grow­ing up in New Eng­land, when as a 5- or 6-year-old, she would tell her par­ents ex­actly what was wrong with the Celtics.

“They were one hun­dred per­cent not in­ter­ested,” Don­nel­lan said. “I sure think they wanted me to be a sec­re­tary some­where. That re­ally wasn’t me.”

She spent a life do­ing what she wanted to do, pushing against the ra­dio glass ceil­ing as she did, fight­ing for women without voices, and jobs, even if she didn’t know it at the time. That’s the les­son she now shares with as­pir­ing broad­cast tal­ents. She re­mem­bers when ev­ery­one at her sports sta­tions thought they (and their best friends) were bet­ter than the Babe.

“What I tell peo­ple is that any­where you go in life, there are go­ing to be peo­ple who don’t want you there,” Don­nel­lan said. “I al­ways be­lieved in myself.”

It won’t be a long in­duc­tion speech in New York, two min­utes tops. The Babe can do that in her sleep. But Nanci Don­nel­lan has no idea where she’ll find something to wear. Nanci at rest. Loves her cof­fee and sun­sets. But don’t be fooled. The Babe is still there. Don’t men­tion the World Cup, be­cause the Babe still hates soc­cer. Don’t dare bring up the Rays’ pro­posed Ybor City sta­dium.

Move over, Nanci.

“Do you be­lieve that thing ever gets built. NO WAY. I will jump off the roof of that thing if it ever opens. They’re crazy! They’re dream­ing! I mean it! I’ll jump right off!”

The Babe can still bring it.

Times (1998)

Nanci Don­nel­lan, do­ing a Fab­u­lous Sports Babe broad­cast in 1998, will en­ter the Na­tional Ra­dio Hall of Fame in Novem­ber.

MARTIN FEN­NELLY mfen­nelly@ tam­


Nanci Don­nel­lan to­day: “I think this is maybe the Babe at rest. I’m not that person any­more.” She lives low key in St. Pete Beach, her on-off home for 30 years, and does a pod­cast twice a week.

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