Just as Neal Maziar’s radio career was taking off, he began a battle with his body.
The Sandy Springs resident, who held top roles at Sports Radio 790 The Zone and Cox Media Group, at age 35 was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a chronic disease of the large intestine. The illness would progress into Crohn’s Disease, requiring years of treatments and surgeries.
“You get hit with this,” said Maziar, now 60, recounting when he was first diagnosed, just as he was excelling in his career and raising two children with his wife. “It’s a shock to the system, for sure. It becomes a mental toughness game.”
But Maziar turned his personal struggle into a passion for helping others suffering from the chronic autoimmune diseases.
“Amy Sue, my wife, and I chose not to be silent about it,” he said. “Instead of hiding what was going on, I was very open about it.”
Maziar has spent about 20 years volunteering with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to funding research to treat and ultimately cure Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD). About 3.1 million Americans and 100,000 Georgians are living with the diseases, according to the foundation.
To help raise awareness, Maziar will chair the upcoming Torch Gala, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s 31st annual fundraising event. The gala is set for Oct. 15 at the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta, with the goal of raising at least $520,000.
“There’s not a reader that doesn’t know someone who is impacted by irritable bowel syndrome,” Maziar told Reporter Newspapers. “The only way that we’re going to ultimately win … is with financial support and volunteerism. There’s nothing more important than fundraising, so that we can get to those better treatments and better diagnoses that make life a lot easier.”
Maziar grew up off Mount Vernon Road, went to Riverwood High School and University of Georgia. “I’m about as native as they come,” he said.
He got his start in radio at age 16, landing a gig as a “runner” at 96 Rock.
“I knew I was going to be in radio one way or the other, and it didn’t take long,” Maziar said. In 1980, he got involved in the University of Georgia’s student radio station WUOG-FM, which he called “one of the best radio experiences” he ever had.
“Everybody was so eager,” Maziar said. “We didn’t have to play the ratings game, so we were up to some shenanigans.”
He’d go on to serve as sports director for the UGA radio station. “I had this great run with the University of Georgia football team that was sort of the golden era of Georgia football,” he said. “It was just so much fun, and that’s how it started.”
After college, he worked for Cox Media Group for 19 years, holding a variety of positions including National Sales Manager for WSB-AM & WSB-FM. Later he would serve managing director of sales and marketing for Cox.
In 2004, he joined Big League Broadcasting with Andrew Saltzman and Stephen “Steak” Shapiro. The company operated the former Sports Talk 790 The Zone, once the top sports talk station in Atlanta.
“We grew it wildly,” Maziar said. “We did a great job with revenue, and we put ourselves in a position where we were ultimately able to sell the radio station.”
Today, Maziar runs Be A Sport LLC, where he helps companies with sales, marketing and strategy. “I’m a sales guy for hire,” he said. “I missed the day to day. I missed the face to face. I missed solving the problems of customers.”
Currently, he’s working with DawgNation, an online product from Cox Enterprises that serves UGA fans.
But throughout his career, his ulcerative colitis kept getting worse. Maziar started having symptoms in 1996, but said he was really sick by 2000.
“The disease was winning,” he said. “No matter what I tried to do, it kept winning.”
In 2004, he had a full colectomy. But he never got to “feeling great” and was later diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. In 2010, he had a final surgery to construct an ostomy, which would change his life.
“My quality of life for the last 11 years has been amazing,” he said. “You would never know that I had the disease. I am in remission.”
The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation provided needed support to Maziar through his medical journey. “The foundation was really supportive,” he said. “They were just a fountain of information, support, recommendations.”
Maziar said he had to give back, prompting various leadership roles with the foundation over the years.
“Maybe there’s a cure. But you can’t sit on the sidelines and hope something happens. We got to go out. We’ve got to work. We’ve got to put boots on the ground, and we’ve got to tell our story.”