Live from Baltimore: Maryland Public Television’s Crabs

May is here, bringing with it bouts of summer weather that have us eager to shed the stress the spring semester. While the library often represents serious intellectual pursuits, at Hornbake Library we have plenty of materials documenting the lighter sides of history. May I present Crabs, an irreverent sketch comedy show produced by Maryland Public Television (MPT) in the 1980s. Crabs serves up clever commentary on culture and politics both local and national. The pilot episode, “Nature’s Way” premiered September 5, 1984 and invited the Mid-Atlantic to taste Baltimore comedy.

Each 30-minute episode was taped before a live studio audience and cast members served as both actors and crew. Our featured episode consists of nine hilarious skits, ranging from spoofs to musical numbers. While the entire show has plenty to discuss, today we’ll be focusing on three  comedic gems that make light of the dynamic between Baltimore and Washington, DC. 

The show opens with an exterior shot of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, the original home of the Orioles. Voice-over informs the audience  about a concerted effort to encourage more D.C. baseball fans to come see the Baltimore Orioles. Wearing a “Where’s the beef?” t-shirt that is three sizes too small, the Baltimore fan in the stands is a ballpark classic: heckling the players, waving his arms and spilling his beer. Sliding in to take the seat  beside Where’s the Beef (despite the fact that the section is otherwise totally empty), our man from D.C. comes complete with a picnic basket, a quiche, and a cravat to boot. The two new companions are both thrown off by the other, with Where’s the Beef asking Cravat “Are you from a foreign country?”, to which he disdainfully replies “I’m from Washington.” The juxtaposition and back-and-forth between the two  pays irreverent homage to the dynamic between the two cities, a theme that runs throughout the episode.

Two men sit closely to each other on a yellow stadium bench. One wears a grey suit with a cravat and yellow pocket square. The other wears a Baltimore Orioles cap with a yellow shirt that says where's the beef? They gaze at each other with confused expressions.
Washington, D.C. and Baltimore go head-to-head on MPT’s Crabs, 1984
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Back in the Yard: MPT’s Basically Baseball

We are over a month into quarantine, and for many of us, the loss of baseball hits hard, no pun intended. In lieu of visiting the ballpark, I’ve reached for another Maryland Public Television (MPT) gem: Basically Baseball, a four episode mini-series made in 1973 when MPT was known as the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting. Shot on-location in Florida during spring training, each 30-minute show features the Baltimore Orioles working on the field and sharing advice on technique. Heavy in hot tips and the inside scoop, Basically Baseball may not be the season as we know it, but it’s basically better than no baseball at all.

A man in a Baltimore Oriole's uniform stands with his leg stretched nearly into the splits, with his back foot resting on a baseball plate. His gloved left hand reaches forward as if to catch a ball.
Boog Powell, Orioles first baseman, demonstrates stance on MPT’s Basically Baseball, 1973

Our featured episode  aired June 4, 1973. Focusing on fielding, the show acts as an instructional document for young athletes, but could also help the adults who have been recruited to coach despite having zero experience. Split into five sections (“Stance”, “The Glove”, “Ground Balls”, “The Cross-Over Step” and the all-important “Throwing the Ball”), viewers get the excitement of immediate and up-close access to baseball legends while also benefiting from their sound advice. The relatively advanced age of the show does nothing to take away from its value – the tips are as sound today as they were almost fifty years ago. In addition, Basically Baseball’s nostalgic appeal, an enduring element of baseball fandom, is massive, offering today’s fans with a time capsule to experience a slice of the Orioles’ golden years.

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Rare Community Radio Broadcasts Now Digitized

Photo of stack of audio reel boxes from NFCBSpecial Collections & University Archives is pleased to announce 600 historic community radio broadcasts are now available for streaming in UMD Digital Collections. These programs represent a portion of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB) Program Archive, which resides in the National Public Broadcasting Archives (NPBA) held by Mass Media & Culture. They were digitized through a Recordings-at-Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) in 2017.

Spanning the years 1965-1986, these broadcasts come from community stations mostly throughout the U.S. and Canada, many of which are still thriving, and others which are no longer on the air. The breadth of programming contained in these programs is remarkable, and underscores the still-active mission of the NFCB to support and promote the participation of women and people of color at all levels of public broadcasting. This collection is one of few known archives that feature underrepresented voices in the history of American media.

Photograph of audio reel boxes with titles of programs including

Anna Johns, the student assistant who created the enhanced metadata for the programs, described some of the more intriguing contents she encountered as she listened. For instance, the Feminist Radio Network, a project created and managed by women at Georgetown in the 1970s, offered some especially valuable content:

One particularly interesting recording, “Mabel Vernon: Suffragist” presents an interview with a 91 year old woman who participated in the woman’s suffrage movement. A program called “Writing about Women’s Lives” meanwhile, features both interviews with authors Grace Paley, Maxine Kumin, and Alice Walker and readings of their short works, while a “Classic Blues” program presents the music of influential women while discussing their importance to the development of the genre. These recordings preserve the momentous impact of diverse women through history, allowing contemporary feminists to observe their predecessors firsthand.

Among some of the interviews, lectures and speeches, Ms. Johns found valuable material there as well:

The program “Kahn-Tineta Horn of Mohawk Nation” contains a lecture by Native American activist Kahn-Tineta Horn about suppressed truths regarding Native Americans throughout history, as well as injustices imposed upon Native American people historically and in the contemporary era. The program “Auburn Avenue and Atlanta Black Commerce” features an interesting discussion about the city of Atlanta between World War I and World War II from the perspective of African American individuals, largely through interviews with people who lived through the era. And the program “Nikki Giovanni on Education” is a particularly notable 1978 speech by poet Nikki Giovanni discussing the importance of literacy, and the difficulties faced by African American children in schools.

Photo of stack of audio reel boxes with titles including

Additionally, there is a substantial number of musical programs that feature live performances from cultures throughout the world, including Javanese gamelan, Russian folk, Brazilian capoeira, Japanese koto, African mbira and American bluegrass.

With access to these rare and vital primary source materials, scholars from a wide range of disciplines including anthropology, media studies, sociology, political science, ethnomusicology, folklore, African-American history, and LGBTQ and women’s studies will be able to enrich historical contexts in both their research and teaching, broadening understandings of the human experience in the latter half of the 20th century. These recordings will also be useful to educators from kindergarten through graduate school because they illustrate American history from alternative perspectives and demonstrate the vital platform that community radio has provided for people whose voices aren’t often heard on commercial airwaves.

Laura Schnitker, Curator of Mass Media & Culture, was interviewed about the project on a podcast called Radio Survivor. Listen online


Post by Laura Schnitker | Ethnomusicologist, Audiovisual Archivist, and Curator of Mass Media & Culture in Special Collections and University Archives at University of Maryland Libraries

Photo of stack of audio reel boxes with titles including

An Unknown Pioneer Takes Her Place in the Broadcast Archives

Mary Kelly, Today Show 1952Mary Ellen Agnes Kelly (1926-2005?) was an American television researcher, talent coordinator, and associate producer with the pioneering early morning television program Today on NBC. She was also a special assignments reporter, traveling far and wide to film feature segments. Kelly crisscrossed the United States many times and covered stories from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. Newspaper articles from the period compared her to Nellie Bly, the intrepid 19th-century reporter known for her record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days. Kelly traveled around the world – on the first commercial flight over the North Pole in 1957 – in 71 hours and six minutes. Unfortunately, her remarkable career is little known today.

A remarkable collection of photographs and clippings from her career are now part of Special Collections in Mass Media and Culture. The journey of these materials to our collections is typical in how it was nearly discarded but later adopted by an appreciative collector. In the 1960s, Kelly sublet her New York City apartment to a man who subsequently discovered several boxes she left behind. He contacted her to offer to return the boxes, but she declined. However, he thought that the contents were fascinating and kept the boxes for over 50 years. When he passed away, his widow – realizing that Kelly must have been important as one of the few women working in early television – donated the material to the UMD libraries.

Early Career

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Underground Media Collections on Display in the Performing Arts Library

In honor of the exhibit “Heavy Metal Parking Lot: The 30-Year Journey of a Cult Film Sensation”, now on display in the Gallery of the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library, Special Collections is highlighting the expansion of our materials related to local, DIY and underground media. In the latter half of the 20th century, the Maryland/D.C. area gave rise to a number of unique radio, film and music scenes that were largely documented through the DIY efforts of their participants, and the University of Maryland is playing an important role in preserving their histories. The photos, flyers, articles, fanzines, and sound and video recordings that survive in these collections show how local arts communities thrived through the creativity of the people they inspired.

Located across from the circulation desk in the Performing Arts Library, two large display cases showcase items from Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) and Special Collections in the Performing Arts (SCPA). The SCUA case includes highlights from the WMUC Collection, and the recently acquired Jeff Krulik Collection, and the SCPA case includes highlights from the John Davis Photograph and Poster Collection, the D.C. Punk and Fanzine Collection, the Sharon Cheslow Punk Flyers Collection and the Jason Farrell Collection.

 

Media Studies Spring Talks in Hornbake Library

We are pleased to announce the Spring Media Studies Talks, hosted by UMD Libraries, Special Collections in Mass Media and Culture, in Partnership with Media Studies at Catholic University of America.

Join us on March 26 at 4:30pm for a talk by Ethan Plaut of Stanford University.

2-19-2015 12-50-10 PM

Ethan R. Plaut received his Ph.D. in Communication in 2014 from Stanford University, where he continues his research as a postdoctoral fellow in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric. His dissertation addressed communication “avoidance”—the ways we limit our own communication—and other research interests include silence, propaganda, digital media, transparency, journalism, remix culture, media ethics, and humor. Recently published and upcoming work appears in both popular media and academic journals including Quartz, Public Opinion Quarterly, and Communication, Culture & Critique. Before coming to Stanford, Ethan spent three years working as a journalist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Contact us at askhornbake@umd.edu with any questions.

New Mass Media guides available

The Special Collections staff have been hard at work creating new ways for you to discover our unique archival and manuscript collections. To see the latest additions to our database of archival finding aids, visit ArchivesUM. You can search for the finding aids in two ways.

Use the drop down list under “Subject” to select guides related to particular topics. Our new categories include:

There were also a number of Mass Media collections added to the Women’s History subject category.

To see all new Mass Media guides, select “Mass Media and Culture” from the drop down list under “Collection Area”.