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Life after 98 Rock: Sarah Fleischer, Matt Davis set out on different paths

Sarah Fleischer, long-time DJ for Baltimore radio station 98 Rock, retired this year after 38 years. Fleischer relaxes in the backyard of her Millersville home.
Sarah Fleischer, long-time DJ for Baltimore radio station 98 Rock, retired this year after 38 years. Fleischer relaxes in the backyard of her Millersville home. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore radio station 98 Rock was recently reminded of just how swiftly change can take place.

In less than three months, WIYY-FM (97.9) saw two familiar on-air personalities exit for good, along with their 57 years of combined service. First, midday host Sarah Fleischer, known by loyal fans as Baltimore's Queen of Rock, retired in June. Then Matt Davis, the Sunday host and founder of the show "Noise in the Basement," which spotlights local music, resigned last week.

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Fleischer and Davis are set to embark on the next phases of their lives. While their paths are different — he will pursue a full-time career as a hypnotist, while she finally relaxes — the two are walking away from their radio careers proud of what they accomplished on the air.

Each described the decision to leave 98 Rock as very difficult.

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"My listeners kept saying, 'Say it ain't so,'" Fleischer said on the phone from Millersville recently. "There were real tears. I had so many people come up to me, crying and saying, 'Sarah, you can't go.'"

Davis "lost a lot of sleep over the decision," he said, but was determined to switch careers.

"There was a part of me going, 'I can't believe you're walking in here to hand over your resignation,' but it was something that I knew I had to do," Davis said on the phone from his Parkville home.

For Fleischer, who spent 27 of her 38 years as the station's weekday personality working a 10 a.m.-3 p.m. shift, recent personal changes led to her retirement. She quietly married her boyfriend of seven years in May, and the two built their dream home in Millersville. The relocation from Reisterstown to Anne Arundel County more than doubled her commute, which she said was "becoming quite a grind."

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After evaluating her pension and Social Security income, Fleischer — who said she had worked since 16 —- realized, to her surprise, that retirement was a viable option.

"It just seemed to make sense," she said. "I wanted to go out on top, and I was able to do that. I didn't want it to get to the point where somebody came to me and said, 'You know, you've been here a long time, but maybe it's time for somebody younger to do this.' I left on my own terms."

On June 5, Fleischer — an East Baltimore native who began working at 98 Rock the day the station debuted its rock format in 1977 — signed off for the final time. She said she left with great memories, including milestone anniversary parties and broadcasting live from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

The perks were fun, but Fleischer said what she will miss most is the listeners. She takes pride in the connections she built on the air.

"Being a Baltimore girl has a lot to do with it, I think. I was just automatically accepted as a hometown girl," said Fleischer, 64. "I always made time for our listeners. They were like family. Let's face it, a radio station is nothing without its listeners."

While Fleischer was ready to spend more time at home, Davis was given an opportunity to take his other passion, hypnosis entertainment, on the road. After 19 years at 98 Rock — most recently in the Sunday 4 p.m.-10 p.m. slot, and as the host of "Noise in the Basement" — Davis was offered an apprenticeship with veteran hypnotist Jim Wand.

Intrigued by hypnosis since he was a child growing up in Perry Hall, Davis considered the chance to focus on his other passion too great to pass up. This week, he will temporarily relocate to Illinois and will perform with Wand at private events across the country for the next 10 months.

"It's 75 shows in 60 days," said Davis, 43.

Davis realizes the career shift might confound outsiders, but he has studied and honed his hypnosis skills for the past decade.

"I would say 95 percent of what I've seen has been incredibly supportive, and there's about 5 percent going, 'What the hell is he doing?'" Davis said laughingly about reactions to the decision. "It's not the usual next step from a broadcaster."

Baltimore's music scene will always matter to Davis, a champion of many rock acts born here. He hopes he's remembered for his "Noise in the Basement" show and its Monday night concert series, which finished an 11-year run last week at the Ottobar.

"Somebody from the station called me the ambassador to the local music scene, and I take it as a huge compliment," he said.

Cary Pahigian, president and general manager of 98 Rock, said Davis and Fleischer are leaving on high notes. A Nielsen survey in July ranked Fleischer's time slot seventh-highest out of 29 stations in the market, while Davis' Sunday shift ranked 11th.

"You could feel how much both are so respected, and how happy everyone is for them," Pahigian said of reactions around the station.

Whatever happens next, Davis and Fleischer said they were confident that it was time to hang up their microphones.

"I haven't had time to process everything, but ... I will miss the people," Fleischer said. "I will miss not being on the radio everyday. I have to get over it, because I made that decision."

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