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No Respect

Posted 1/8/2003

If Baltimore County had a Rodney Dangerfield, it would probably be Dundalk. Like the aged, bug-eyed comedian, the southeast community perched on a peninsula between the Back River and the Patapsco gets no respect. Perhaps nobody knows this better than Greater Dundalk Alliance President Carolyn Jones. "Usually the picture you see of Dundalk in the media is a rowhouse with police tape around it," the fiftysomething retired insurance executive tells the Nose. "You never see a very positive image of the community." But this proud Dundalkian didn't get mad about the area's bad rap, she got busy. Last month her group launched plans to prop up Dundalk's dented image and thought up a PR campaign designed to "let people know what Dundalk is really all about." Jones is not sure what form her campaign will take--TV spots are a possibility, and so are print ads in publications distributed as far away as Washington, D.C. But she did tell the Nose a few of the facts she wants to focus on. For one, Jones contends that few people are aware that at the heart of Dundalk lies a handsome National Historic District "with the streets designed and laid out by the same people who laid out Roland Park." (The Nose sniffed around and learned that Edward Bouton--general manager of the Roland Park Co., which created the tony North Baltimore neighborhood--was also president of the Dundalk Co.; prominent Baltimore architect Edward Palmer worked in both communities.) The alliance also wants to get the word out that the area's sturdy, moderately priced houses are perfect starter homes for families.

"Another label they like to put on Dundalk is that it's just a blue-collar town," Jones says. "Well, 70 percent of the people in Dundalk are white-collar workers. We're much more diverse than people assume."

However, much of what people assume about good ol' Dundalk (named after the Irish community of the same name, by the way) might be traced to one media figure: radio personality Brian Wilson.

"I love Dundalk, but not the way it sticks to my shoes" and "It's 7:48--time for all you people in Dundalk to move your El Caminos to the other side of the street" are just a couple of the Dundalk disses Wilson delivered while bouncing between Baltimore radio stations WBSB, WCBM, and WOCT back in the mid-1980s. And he's still at it. While no longer a permanent local media presence (Jones says complaining/boycotting Dundalkians got Wilson booted from his permanent Baltimore jock jobs), Wilson sometimes fills in for DJs on WBAL (1090 AM). A couple of weeks back, while subbing for Ron Smith, some of Wilson's Dundalk jabs led to an on-air tussle with a Patapsco High School teacher (he asked her if she taught "overhand bowling" and called Dundalkians "pinwheels").

"That's his deal--everyone has freedom of speech," was Jones' diplomatic response to Wilson's ongoing war with her community. Wilson was more verbose when the Nose contacted him via e-mail (through his Web site Brianwilson.net). He suggested that the Greater Dundalk Association scrap boosterism and turn to self-deprecation, offering up sample slogans like "Come to Dundalk! Only half of it smells bad!" and "Come to Dundalk: We paved it all for you!" He even suggested that they hire him as their pitchman: "No one has made more fun of Dundalk in almost 20 years than I have," he says. "For me to be telling people/business: 'Dundalk!? Hey--it's OK. Great place to raise kids, move your business--and restore that El Camino' [would be] shockingly positive, amusing, and effective."

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