If you tuned in to WEAA last week, you might have heard something different — and exciting — come over the airwaves. Baltimore journalist Stacia L. Brown
just launched a new audio documentary series, The Rise of Charm City, which debuted on the station last week. The series aims to tell intergenerational stories about place and memory in Baltimore City — the kinds of stories you don’t really hear anywhere else. Baltimore Fishbowl chatted with Stacia about this new program:
Your new documentary series, The Rise of Charm City, recently launched. Tell us a little bit about how the project came to be, and where you hope to go with it.
I applied for a grant with AIR’s Localore: Finding America project. It’s an initiative that aims to bring innovative storytelling projects to public radio in cities across the country, in an effort to attract underrepresented and marginalized voices to public radio and/or to introduce the uninitiated to public radio-listening. I applied on behalf of myself, as an independent producer. WEAA 88.9 FM also applied, separately, as a station. Both the station and I were selected as finalists for Baltimore. We were then paired and we developed our project from there. We want to celebrate locations and neighborhoods that haven’t gotten enough shine.
The first episode is called “Keep Shakin’ and Bakin’: A Brief History of Shake and Bake Family Fun Center.” What do you explore in this episode, and why did it seem like the right place to start the series?
We talk to Glenn Doughty, the founder of the facility — which houses a skating rink and bowling alley. He once played for the Baltimore Colts and considered Shake and Bake his gift to the inner city. He left Baltimore in 1985, but the center has managed to remain open for the past 33 years. We explore how he and others were able to open the center and keep in going all this time.
Before this, you’ve primarily been a print journalist. What makes radio an appealing way to tell stories for you? Were there any challenges that came along with working in a new medium?
Radio’s certainly different, in that you’re writing for listeners, rather than readers. As a writer for print, I wrote with the assumption that readers might revisit lines they needed more time to process or considered particularly thought-provoking. For radio, I have the advantage of fun accents like music, found sound, and ambient noise to establish setting and tone. But I have to be concise and engaging — fast! — and hold people’s attention for a continuous half-hour. That’s much more challenging than it sounds, but I’ve really been enjoying the challenge.
Baltimore got a lot of national media attention last year. Did you tune in? Do you feel like the picture painted of the city was an accurate or thorough one?
I tuned in and I wrote about it. I don’t think that, in most cases, the city was depicted in a balanced way — and, to be fair to mainstream media, that isn’t its role. Local media bears the daily, thankless burden of providing the fairer, more nuanced coverage of their cities. Mainstream media tends to show up when there are fires and looting and militarized police. I think our local media did a fine job of covering both the unrest and the daily lives of residents. Our show aims to follow that balanced example.
What Baltimore stories tend to get left out or sidelined? Are there any narratives about the city that you feel are overemphasized or trite?
There’s a staggering number of non-profit organizations devoted to community enrichment and development. You don’t hear enough about that outside of the city. It’s also just a gorgeous place — and not just at the Inner Harbor, Fells or Canton. Some of the most embattled neighborhoods have amazing architectural gems and breathtaking murals. Characterizing Baltimore City as violent and drug-infested is the most trite narrative.
Where are your favorite secret or little-known spots around town?
I don’t really have any secret or little-known spots. I’m a big coffee person, so I like the obvious spots like Red Emma’s or Daily Grind. Our team just had a meeting Bond Street Social, and I’d never been there. It was really charming, but probably also quite popular. I’m in love with Mt. Vernon Marketplace, especially The Big Bean Theory inside it. Such great, imaginative cuisine there. I’m hoping to find more off-the-radar places over the course of this project.
What can listeners expect to hear in upcoming episodes?
Our next episode is on the history of The Baltimore Afro American newspaper. Then we’re headed to The Great Blacks in Wax Museum. We’ll be taking a look at some of the city’s oldest high schools. Each episode will explore a place that has become a site for rich personal histories over the years — and we’re open to suggestions about cultural institutions we should profile.
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