As an airborne traffic reporter for WQSR radio, Joy Pons is accustomed to being in a plane -- but she's not accustomed to being on a plane. Naked. With 40 men watching her. Ms. Pons found herself in that unusual situation when she agreed to pose for a Playboy magazine and video feature called "Girls of the Radio."
How Ms. Pons, who describes herself as self-conscious and stable, ended up posing for Playboy is somewhat of a mystery, even to her.
It all started last fall, when WQSR morning show host Steve Rouse heard that Playboy was looking for female radio personalities to pose for a video and magazine shoot. Half-jokingly, Mr. Rouse asked Ms. Pons on the air one morning whether she would be willing to pose for Playboy. Her answer surprised him.
"There was a pause, and I thought she was going to say "Absolutely not, under no circumstances,' " Mr. Rouse said. "But then she said she would consider doing it if it was tastefully done. I was shocked. My jaw sort of dropped. We took it from there."
Mr. Rouse contacted Playboy and suggested Ms. Pons as a subject for the feature. An official from Playboy called Ms. Pons the next day. She said she almost hung up on him.
"I thought it was someone playing a joke on me," said Ms. Pons, 24, a native of Bel Air and a graduate of John Carroll High School and the University of Delaware.
It wasn't a joke. Playboy wanted to see photographs of her.
Listeners began calling Mr. Rouse's radio show and asking whether Ms. Pons was going to pose. Although her best friend tried to talk her out of it, Ms. Pons eventually mailed photos of herself to Playboy.
"I was coaxed into it," she said. "I got caught up in a whirl. I thought, 'What's the harm?' In my business, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. So I took it. I thought it might open doors."
In December, Playboy sent photographers to Baltimore to take more pictures of Ms. Pons -- clothed. A few weeks later, she got a telephone call inviting her to the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif. The self-conscious Roman Catholic girl from Harford was going to be in Playboy.
"I never thought they'd choose me, I was shocked," she said, sitting on a couch at her White Marsh apartment. "I had never thought about appearing in Playboy in my entire life. It was the furthest thing from my mind."
The Pons family was supportive of her decision. "They were happier than I was about being picked," she said. Her mother, Barbara, a real estate agent, wanted to accompany her on the trip.
"I was curious, I wanted to see what's going on out there," said Barbara Pons. She said she would have posed in Playboy if she had had the opportunity.
On the trip to Los Angeles, Joy Pons began to get nervous about posing. Reality hit her when she got off the plane and a man was waiting for her, holding up a sign with her name and a Playboy rabbit logo. She was taken to the Playboy Mansion, home of Hugh Hefner, founder of the magazine and head of the Playboy empire.
"It looks like a huge Gothic castle," Ms. Pons said of the mansion. "There are pictures of beautiful women on all of the walls. If you ever want to feel unattractive, go to the Playboy Mansion. I felt like chopped liver compared to those girls."
On her first night at the mansion, she met Mr. Hefner at dinner (he was wearing pajamas), along with several other women who were posing for the magazine. There were security guards and )) servants everywhere, catering to her. One person's job was to hold her robe.
"I was laughing most of the time," she said. "It just wasn't me. I have ambition and goals. For some of those girls, their lifetime ambition is to be in Playboy."
She spent a week at the mansion, in a private room with 24-hour room service that would provide anything she wanted to eat. She said she resisted temptation and ate mostly chicken and fish.
Aside from the pampering, the actual work of shooting the video and magazine layout was grueling and stressful, she said.
There was an 18-hour session for a video shoot to produce what amounted to a four-minute segment in the "Girls of the Radio" video, which was released last month. The video filming took place in a hangar at the Van Nuys, Calif., airport.
It was a cold January day, and the 40 crew members wore winter coats. Ms. Pons was wearing a white silk scarf. She posed in front of a small plane and lying on a wing of the plane. Fans and a water sprayer were constantly pointed at her, making her even colder.
"Shooting the video was traumatic," she said. "In that environment, I had to try to look natural and relaxed. I was thinking "My God, why am I doing this? I want to go home now.' "
The magazine shoot the next day lasted 12 hours and produced a single photo of Ms. Pons that appeared in the August issue.
Although she signed an agreement that she wouldn't reveal the amount she was paid by Playboy, she said she was paid "very well." A Playboy spokesman refused to say what the magazine pays to women who pose for it.
Since January, Ms. Pons has tried not to think much about the magazine or the video, preferring to put it behind her.
"I have mixed opinions about it," she said. "I'm very self conscious, and if anything, appearing in Playboy has hurt my self-confidence. But you can't look back." Still, there are reminders.
One day this summer, as she stepped out of her car in the parking lot of a Glen Burnie shopping center, a man walked up and asked her to sign his copy of Playboy. She signed but still wonders how the man knew she would be there.
Two weeks ago, she was walking on the beach with friends when a man recognized her and asked her whether she had appeared in Playboy. She kept walking.
"Thank God my friends were with me," she said.
She has received a flood of letters and telephone calls, most supportive but many what she calls "psycho letters."
"People write and say they'd like to fly in my plane with me and do other things," she said. "And I've gotten a few of those from women, which is really weird."
Her father, Addie Pons, a physical education teacher at John Carroll High School in Bel Air, is relieved that the episode is over. On his daily trips to a convenience store for morning coffee, he would see the August issue of Playboy on the rack, knowing it contained a picture of his daughter without her clothes on.
"I was so glad to walk in there one day and see that they had put up the September issue," Mr. Pons said. "What a relief that was."
He has never seen the picture of his daughter in Playboy.
"I know Joy in my heart of hearts, and I don't need to see that picture," he said. His wife has seen the magazine and thinks the picture of her daughter is tastefully done.
"I didn't do anything wrong," Ms. Pons said. "My friends know me and what I'm like. If people judge me by what I did, then they aren't my friends. Besides, Playboy is not a trashy magazine. It's all-American, and they treat you well."
The appearance in Playboy has led to many opportunities for Ms Pons. She has hired an agent and has appeared as a model for print and television advertisements, pitching everything from clothes to apple juice to aerobics classes. She has been interviewed on radio stations on the East Coast and in Canada. And she has made promotional appearances at stores' grand openings and at nightclubs in the area.
Mr. Rouse, host of the top-ranked morning show in the Baltimore area, has teased Ms. Pons on the air several times about posing and says she has taken it all in stride.
He said seeing the video of Ms. Pons was a strange experience. "You're thinking, 'Oh no, Joy, don't do it.' Then her clothes are off and you're covering your eyes and peeking through your fingers," Mr. Rouse said.
Ms. Pons still spends morning and evening rush hours flying with her pilot over Baltimore in a Cessna, reporting traffic jams and accidents. Ultimately, she is aiming for a career in television as a talk show host. For now, though, she's getting her life back to normal.