As an award-winning news photographer for WMAR-TV, Pete O'Neal has spent the last 10 years filming plenty of things that are bad about Baltimore. Now he's looking for the side of the city not plagued with drugs, gunshots, fires and accidents. He's looking for the good things.
Mr. O'Neal, 32, is the creator of "Turn It Up," a new weekly, half-hour entertainment show featuring local urban talent, which will air tomorrow morning at 11:30 on Channel 2. With radio disc jockey Randy Dennis of V-103 hosting, the program will showcase interviews and performances by dancers, singers and comedians.
Working on a budget that sometimes dipped below the zero mark, Mr. O'Neal and his friends have spent the last two years creating for the city something he thinks it needs.
"You go into different neighborhoods where you see the best and the worst," Mr. O'Neal said. "After seeing so many bad things, you think, 'There has to be something I can do to put the city in a good light.' "
Every day during his 3:30-to-11-p.m. shift for WMAR news, Mr. O'Neal drives around the city listening to a police scanner. He said it bothered him that all he was hearing were descriptions of "black males" involved in crime. "There's some good things going on," he explained, "especially -- and I say this in the right way -- in the black community."
Mr. O'Neal grew up living with his mother in a poor, East Baltimore neighborhood on Eden Street. The two would often spend long evenings on the front steps, watching cars go by and wishing that they, too, were going places. "She was a good storyteller," he said, explaining he would pass the time listening to her stories about places she'd been and boyfriends she'd had.
"She told me I could do anything," he said. "She told me that if I was standing next to the president, he was no better than me. But also, if I was standing next to a drunk wino on the street, I was no better than him."
One day, as an 8-year-old shooting baskets with friends at a rec center, he noticed a photographer filming the game. The man took young Pete aside and allowed him to hold the camera and look through it.
That was all it took.
"He said if I could stay in school and stay out of trouble, someday I could work for a television station, too," Mr. O'Neal said about the photographer, whose name and face he can't remember.
Creating "Turn It Up" is Mr. O'Neal's way of trying to pay back that photographer. He wants to do for the kids of Baltimore what was done for him. That is, show them there are alternative paths.
He works with young interns on the program and when he goes out, he's eager to show kids the equipment he works with. "Kids look at drug dealers who drive Mercedes and dress in nice clothes but live in bad neighborhoods," he said. "They say, 'That's what I want, I want to be like that.' If I can take one kid and give him an avenue to something different, then I'll be happy."
Getting "Turn It Up" on the air was a lot of work, but with the support and advice of Channel 2 and the financial help of sponsors including Pepsi and Gordon Miller Music, Mr. O'Neal and the volunteers at New Visions Entertainment, his production company, have finished the first episode, which features an interview with the comedian Sinbad and performances by local musical groups.
Channel 2's general manager Arnie Kleiner has agreed to a 13-week run for the show to see how it fares.
Mr. O'Neal hopes the show will survive and give local talent the exposure necessary to earn scholarships and contracts.
But, more importantly, he wants to show young kids that if you set goals and work hard (and listen to your mother!), you, too, can find the alternatives.