'Baltimore: The Rise of Charm City' highlights local institutions and people

It's the middle of December about a quarter after 8 p.m., and Shake and Bake Family Fun Center, the legendary West Baltimore roller rink, has just kicked off its weekly session—Adult Night, for patrons 30 and older only up until midnight.

Community elders have already convened in the rink and the '90s R&B is reverberating through the lilac walls. In a small windowed room near the entrance, a chipper yet beleaguered young man in a track suit named Anthony Williams, the manager of Shake and Bake, introduces himself to a visiting trio associated with WEAA's radio documentary series "Baltimore: The Rise Of Charm City": digital producer Ali Post, current WEAA host Marsha Jews, and radio producer and "The Rise Of Charm City" host Stacia L. Brown.

Recordings tonight at Shake and Bake will make up the first episode, "Keep Shaking and Baking," which aired on Jan. 15 of this year and rolled through the history of the legendary skate rink established by Baltimore Colt Glenn Doughty, whose nickname was "Shake and Bake," in 1982. It's the first of five (so far) episodes of the series dedicated to local institutions and people crucial to Baltimore, and specifically black Baltimore.

Other episodes have focused on the history of Baltimore's AFRO American Newspaper, the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, the Oblate Sisters of Providence and St. Frances Academy, and a history of Baltimore's mayoral politics. The project is funded by AIR/Localore's Finding America project, an initiative that aims to cover communities across America through independent radio projects. "One of the requirements of AIR's Localore project is that each independent producer has a station liaison," Brown says. "Someone already working with the station, in some capacity, who will serve as a contact to show us the ropes and keep our projects in line with the station's guidelines, practices, and expectations." Biweekly episodes will continue into July 2016 and Brown hopes they will be renewed for a second season.

Along with Post, Jews, and Brown, there is sound editor Mawish Raza, who isn't at Shake and Bake tonight but is also a core member of the "Baltimore: The Rise of Charm City" team.

"Ali works part-time at the station as their digital content producer," Brown says. "She expressed very early interest in this project and she's been a great addition to the Rise of Charm City team. She also works with Wide Angle Youth Media as a volunteer and she suggested one of her colleagues there, Mawish Raza, as our sound editor/designer."

Back at Shake and Bake, Post carries a microphone and recorder as Jews and Brown ask Williams various questions. Jews currently hosts her own weekly program on WEAA called "Keep It Moving," which discusses local politics and community news. Jews and Brown met thanks to WEAA's manager Michele Williams, "who believed [they'd] be a good match," Brown says.

Shake and Bake has two floors: the roller rink and downstairs, a bowling alley. Both are painted bright purple with a vaguely futuristic look. A candy store called Something Good was once adjacent to the ring, though it has been closed for a while now. Williams leads the team to the bowling alley, adorned with a "Strike Zone" in neon, though the alley's pretty much out of commission due to its obsolete technology. He's currently waiting for funding to renovate—Shake and Bake's bowling alley is the most affordable in the city and an important asset to local residents.

"People have a phobia of Pennsylvania Avenue at night," Williams says. "Even back before the uprising."

They chose Shake and Bake for the first episode because of Brown's connections to the space: "I grew up hearing about and being invited to Shake and Bake and attended Gospel Skate there with my church as a teen." Brown calls Shake and Bake "resilient" and "remarkable." It has survived 34 years of ups and downs.

"The show is about precisely this kind of place," she says. "Where memories are vivid and generations of residents have benefited from its hardiness and its reliable presence."

Despite its past troubles, Shake and Bake Family Fun Center soldiers on as a West Baltimore institution and cultural hub for citizens—young and old alike—to come together, get some exercise, and build a stronger community.

"We hear a lot about long-term systemic issues in the city but we don't hear about the businesses and institutions that have survived as the result of their proprietors' grit, the city's investment, and the community's continued support," Brown says. "I hope to reshape the ways national media covers Baltimore City. There are so, so many untold histories of place in this city and I'd love the opportunity to explore more of them."

The upcoming episode of "Baltimore: The Rise Of Charm City," which airs on Apr. 8 at 11:30 a.m. on "The Marc Steiner Show," is about the history and future of Penn Station.

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