Our three-year CLIR-funded project, Broadcasting Baltimore: Digitizing Hidden Histories in the WJZ-TV Collection began in September of 2022. The project’s goal is to digitize and describe 1000 hours of video from the WJZ-TV Collection that documents the voices of underrepresented communities in Baltimore City from 1977-2000.
We began by digitizing the rest of the WJZ-TV series, City Line. It was a public affairs television program with topics centered around Baltimore City’s Black community and had a Black cast and crew. It aired from 1982 through 1989. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture helped us digitize one box in 2018. We had several other videos digitized throughout the eleven other boxes, but thanks to this project, we have digitized nearly all of them! There are a few remaining tapes that are suffering from sticky shed syndrome that we hope to fix with some DIY baking (sticky shed syndrome is when the tape contains too much moisture due to improper storage climates and easily sheds its binding and the information it contains – we’ll explain more in a future post).
Unfortunately, it is a common scenario, especially with TV broadcasting archives, that collections are incomplete. There was no archival mission or infrastructure in local news stations. Stations would routinely reuse tapes as a cost-effective measure if programs were recorded at all. This is what we see in this series. It’s clear by inspecting the tapes, that previous labels were removed or covered over by new labels with different episode numbers and descriptions. City Line produced well over 200 episodes and we have about 153 tapes that have survived the last 32 years. Some of the tapes were duplicates and not all of them were full episodes. Some tapes were public service announcements, tapes from other networks that were used to source clips, raw footage from the field, and even auditions.
City Line was typically 60 minutes and was broadcast weekly on Sunday afternoons. Occasionally, there were 90-minute specials, and from 1988-1989, the show was shortened to 30 minutes. The first hosts were Jaki Hall and Dan Henson. On August 26, 1984, B.T. Bentley joined Jaki as her new co-host. In that same episode, Harold Anthony was also introduced as the new host for the “Entertainment Page” replacing Tim Watts. During the last year or so of the show, the regular hosts became Jaki Hall and Harold Anthony. “Newscap” was hosted by Tea Montier and then later by Isisara Bey.
The main structure of the show:
- The hosts introduce the guest(s) and the topic(s) and invite in-person audience members as well as audience members from home to call and ask questions and comment on the discussion.
- “Community Calendar” which included announcements submitted by local organizations. The calendar “offered information, advice, and debates that affect all Baltimoreans in all walks of life.”
- A “Newscap” segment reported on global and national Black news. It also included a “Student of the Week” feature that highlighted a local Baltimorean student. This feature received a school board award.
- City Line was one of the first shows to feature music videos through its “Entertainment Page” segment. The “Entertainment Page” typically played two music videos and sometimes shared “Entertainment News” in a similar format to “Newscap.”
We were happy to find that the 200th City Line celebratory episode survived and it was an insightful look back. The 200th episode aired on November 23, 1986, and was a 90-minute special that was recorded on a 60-minute tape so the last third of the special is missing. The original creator and developer, Reggie Wright, was interviewed and recalled how WJZ was looking to replace a show called Sunday Live. They wanted a show with information and entertainment and so City Line was developed. The special included the presentation of an award from the governor’s office naming November 23, 1986, as “City Line Day in Maryland” for “demonstrating skills, sensitivity and community awareness in the production of City Line.” The show received numerous other service awards from the state.
Episodes that were selected as audience favorites include:
Be advised that these videos [may] contain[s] sensitive, triggering, and/or offensive language and/or content.
- Salute to Prince (January 22, 1985)
- Salute to Michael Jackson (May 27, 1984)
- Atheism (June 29, 1986)
- Public Housing (December 4, 1983)
- Vanessa Del Rio (November 9, 1986)
- Miles Davis (December 2, 1984)
Celebrity highlights include:
- Jamil Abdullah al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown (May 13, 1984)
- Bubba Smith (Nov 17, 1985)
- Ruby Dee (Feb 10, 1985)
- Dick Gregory (March 3, 1985)
- Miles Davis (December 2, 1984)
- Wynton Marsalis (March 2, 1986)
- Soap Stars (February 2, 1986)
- The Laws (March 10, 1985)
- Jazz Special (October 7, 1984)
“Hot topic” highlights include:
- James Cameron’s “A Time of Terror” (May 19, 1985)
- My Son Died of Aids (February 9, 1986)
- Public Housing (December 4, 1983)
- A Transsexual Speaks Out (February 23, 1986)
- The Psychic Realm (November 10, 1986)
- Essay on Drugs (March 4, 1984)
- Guns (September 29, 1985)
- The Robert Berger Story (March 16, 1986)
In addition to digitizing, a part of the project is to increase the access and discoverability of the collection’s content (another update is coming about that). We hope that having City Line digitized in its entirety helps interested people bring more connections between the past and present. We regularly license and grant educational permission for the use of the footage in the WJZ-TV collection. Recently, footage from the collection has been used in local documentaries and local exhibitions. We love for our collections to be activated in these ways! Archivist, scholar, and writer, Michelle Caswell, was the opening plenary speaker of the 2022 CLIR conference, where she described how archival activations are crucial for a just world. The value of representation is felt emotionally, materially, and politically. Records are not meant to be merely preserved – they should be used for people in the present.
We are currently a little over 10% of our digitization goal. It is an ongoing process and we are happy to move our mission forward with the support of this CLIR grant. The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning. To learn more, visit www.clir.org and follow CLIR on Facebook and Twitter.
This blog post was written by Joana Stillwell, MARMIA’s AV Archivist.
August 28, 2022: Digitizing Hidden Histories Begins
April 28, 2022: MARMIA Receives a CLIR Grant
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