WINTHROP P. BAKER Jr., who died June 7 at age 72, was a broadcast executive who, during his Baltimore tenure, brought glory to local television.
WJZ-TV was then an affiliate of ABC, but it was owned by the uniquely enlightened Westinghouse Broadcasting Co., which then called its TV stations Group W.
In 1964, WJZ won the Alfred I. duPont Award for Broadcast Journalism, specifically for news, editorials and public affairs programs. This is the closest a station can come to being officially called the best in America.
Win, as we called him, was program manager, and a tough boss. He came to Baltimore in 1961 from Boston as part of the team of Herbert B. Cahan, who, as general manager, was an emotional and uncompromising believer in television's duty to serve the interests of the local community. If Mr. Cahan was the soul of good television, Mr. Baker was the sword and the brains.
This was a time of racial tension in Baltimore. Mr. Cahan and Mr. Baker coordinated the station's campaign to cover the racially charged news, no matter the consequences. WJZ covered the Cambridge racial strife by installing a virtually full-time news crew there. It wouldn't let Baltimore forget the black demonstrators at the Northwood Theater, ironically situated across Hillen Road from Morgan University. A newscaster with known racist leanings was summarily dismissed by Mr. Baker.
During the early 1960s, in cooperation with Goucher College, led by its community-minded president, Otto Kraushaar, WJZ sponsored conferences on racial problems (one with George Wallace as a participant) and on the federal War on Poverty program. Both got national coverage.
The Buddy Deane Show, a record hop broadcast every afternoon, was segregated, with white kids only except for one all-black show every two weeks. Integrating it - having black and white kids dancing together - was deemed not feasible in the Baltimore of the 1960s. The show was a moneymaker, but the station's integrity was in the balance. Buddy Deane was no racist, but his show had to be dropped.
My responsibility was writing a daily editorial. In those days, the Federal Communications Commission was not a lackey of the broadcasters but a stern police presence, and we worked in fear of its ability to cancel our license if we did not serve "the public interest." The FCC required a balance of viewpoints (not "equal time," as some viewers assumed; that applies only to time allotted to political candidates). Consequently, a big part of my time was spent finding someone to present another point of view.
The aspirations to serve the community went further than news events. I persuaded Mr. Baker to let me write a television biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald. He picked up the idea and carried it further - biographies of other writers with local connections. My next one, "Mencken's America," beautifully produced by Jack W. Hunter, won many national awards. I followed it with an Edgar Allan Poe biography, and, finally, John Goodspeed, the former Evening Sun columnist, wrote one on author John Dos Passos, who lived much of his life in Baltimore.
The 1960s were my happiest years in Baltimore television, but they didn't last. Mr. Cahan was eased out, apparently because he was more interested in being a good citizen than in making money.
Mr. Baker moved up to president of the Westinghouse stations and retired from there in 1979. He, along with Mr. Cahan, are fixed in my memory as the personification of what television can be, should be, but seldom is.
Gwinn Owens, retired opinion page editor of The Evening Sun, was editorial director of WJZ-TV from 1958 to 1978
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