Work in Progress

A Very Maryland Christmas

December 09, 2007|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun reporter

Continuous Christmas music. Celebrities recalling their favorite holiday moments. Reports from the heartland of America, filled with snow and mistletoe and loads of good cheer. All are fine and good ways to commemorate Christmas, but what do they have to do with celebrating the season here in Maryland?

That's what WBAL-AM's John Patti remembers thinking about two years ago, as his radio station was about to broadcast the same hourslong Christmas Day program available to stations across the country.

"Every year, 'BAL would have these syndicated Christmas programs," says Patti, 52, a Baltimore County native who has been with the station since 1984. "The Magic Of Christmas, Christmas in America, something like that. And each year when I would hear that, I would say to myself, `I can do that on a local flavor and make it all about Maryland, all about Baltimore and the surrounding areas.'"

Station Vice President and Manager Jeff Beauchamp liked the idea. Thus was born Christmas in Maryland, an independently produced 12-hour mix of music, reporting and radio theater. Patti and his partner, Joe Evelius, premiered it on WBAL and a handful of other Free State radio stations last year. This year's version, already playing on some stations and set to debut on WBAL at noon on Christmas Eve, includes an additional two hours of material, covering Maryland pretty much from tip to tip, from Cumberland in the west to Ocean City in the east. Much of the program was put together during the decidedly un-Christmas-like spring and summer, which is where the radio theater part came in.

For a list of radio stations playing Christmas In Maryland, check out

CHRISTMAS IN JULY ... OR EVEN LATER --One of our [segments] is a sleigh ride from Cumberland to Frostburg. We do that in radio by creating theater of the mind, using natural sound. We came upon a person who owned a sleigh company out in Western Maryland, and he gives sleigh rides. So we went on a sleigh ride in August. We talked to some people ... who were on his sleigh, which was at that point being pulled by horses, and on wheels, and we created it in the studio, using sleigh bells, wind sounds, the sound of a snow shovel.

OK, BUT MAKE IT BIGGER --We decided that we could do six hours. I went to Jeff Beauchamp, and I said, `How about if I create a six-hour program, all about Christmas in Maryland?' He said, `I think it's a wonderful idea. Why don't you make it 12 hours?' I said, `Well, OK, I guess that's a ringing endorsement.'

SAY WHAT? --Sometimes it was tough, initially, particularly when you go up to people on the street and say, `Excuse me, I'm putting a Christmas program together.' And right away, you get a strange look, when it's 95 degrees out. But once you start talking to them, they warm up, if you will, to the idea.

CHRISTMAS CAL --I had a one-on-one interview with Cal Ripken Jr., a few weeks after the Hall of Fame ceremonies, and he talked about how his father would put up a train set in the basement. He called his father `a jolly little elf,' because of his small stature. Many people looked at his father as a drill sergeant, but people didn't know the jolly-little-elf side of Cal Ripken, and it came out at Christmastime.

WHAT IF YOU INTERVIEWED YOURSELF, JOHN? --Probably my favorite Christmas was in 1962. I was 7 years old, and my dad had fallen off the ladder putting up the Christmas lights. He had to be taken to the hospital, he had broken his leg. When he came back, it became my favorite Christmas because everyone came to visit us that year, we didn't have to go visit anyone. It seemed like every day was Christmas after he came home.

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