The Oral History Center Launches Season 5 of the Berkeley Remix Podcast

Set in the parks of the East Bay hills, the Hidden Heroes podcast season is about people who have made a difference: fighting fires, breaking gender barriers, preserving the land. 

In season 5 of the Berkeley Remix, we’re diving into the long history of the East Bay Regional Park District, which was founded in 1934. All of the episodes are set in the East Bay parks and are about people who’ve made a difference. Some are stories that you’re already familiar with, but haven’t heard quite like this. Over the course of three episodes, we’ll explore the park district’s integral role in fighting the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire, of being on the forefront of gender equality in the workplace, and how the districts efforts to preserve land benefited the public — through the lens of the local equestrian community. 


Episode 1: You Really Love Your Land, Don’t You: Expansion of the East Bay Regional Park District

The first episode of the season dives into public use of the park. Since the district was formed in 1934, it has acquired 125,000 acres that span 73 parks. The episode begins with the role that one special volunteer-turned-employee played in convincing ranchers and landowners to sell their property to be preserved by the park district. Without the work of this man, and others like him, the  public would not have access to this land. This includes the local equestrian community, whom we hear from in the rest of the episode, exploring how the district became a haven for horse lovers. This episode includes interviews with Judy Irving, Don Staysa, Judi Bank, and Becky Carlson who are part of the East Bay Regional Park District Parkland Oral History Project. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Francesca Fenzi

A special thanks to the East Bay Regional Park District, especially Beverly Ortiz and Brenda Montano. 

Photos from the Bob Walker Collection at the Oakland Museum of California

All music by Blue Dot Sessions:

  • “Dorica Theme” 
  • “A Palace of Cedar” 


Episode 2: There’s No Crying in Carpentry: Gender Equality in the East Bay Regional Park District

The park district employs hundreds of people, many of whom are women. This episode digs into the history of gender equality at the East Bay Regional Park District. It follows the stories of two women who worked in the Tilden Corp yard, which houses heavy machinery, and how they challenged traditional gender roles in the workplace. They each have their own stories of growing their careers during affirmative action, and the impact that their work had on equality for all district employees. This episode includes interviews with Julie Haselden, Rachel MacDonald, and Stephen Gehrett who are part of the East Bay Regional Park District Parkland Oral History Project. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Francesca Fenzi

A special thanks to the East Bay Regional Park District and Beverly Ortiz.

All music by Blue Dot Sessions:

  • “Dorica Theme” 
  • “A Palace of Cedar”


Episode 3: (Once in a) Career Fire: The East Bay Regional Park District Fights the Tunnel Fire

This episode explores the role of the EBRPD Fire Department in fighting the historic 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. It explores how the fire got so bad, and the early work that district employees did to prevent large wildfires. It features interviews with district employees who managed the land and, later, who fought on the frontlines of the fire, including Anne Rockwell, Stephen Gehrett, Michael Avalos, Paul Miller, and John Nicoles who are part of the East Bay Regional Park District Parkland Oral History Project. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Francesca Fenzi

A special thanks to the East Bay Regional Park District and Beverly Ortiz. 

All music by Blue Dot Sessions:

  • “Dorica Theme” 
  • “A Palace of Cedar” 
  • “Drone Birch” 
  • “Feather on the Crest”

OHC Director’s Column, October 2019

by Martin Meeker


Recording, transcribing, and making oral histories accessible represents only a portion of the work that we do at the Oral History Center. We relish the opportunity to engage with these raw historical materials and fashion them into a variety of interpretative works too. 

The 4,000 oral histories in our collection have been used by OHC staff in the writing of conference papers, articles, and books for sure. And while we remain committed to our mission of creating quality first-person historical accounts that might be used in the most rigorous of academic studies, we also recognize—and applaud—the use of these interviews across a much broader field. Now, OHC interviews are used in podcasts, documentary films, dramatic productions, and more.

Bob Walker Photo
Photo by Bob Walker, courtesy of the East Bay Regional Park District

As the ability to preserve, edit, and distribute audio and video productions becomes ever easier, ever more democratized, we at OHC have also utilized these resources to create videos and podcasts that draw heavily upon the collection. We are on the verge of releasing our fifth podcast season, Hidden Heroes. This one focuses on the East Bay Regional Park District and is being produced by Shanna Farrell and Francesca Fenzi. Previous seasons have looked at the history of the University of California at 150 years, the early response to AIDS in San Francisco, and the long history of women in politics. 

Our main goal with these podcasts is to offer robust yet widely accessible narrative interpretations—pivotal moments in history that our collection can illuminate. We are historians, and this is what we do. But we also have an important alternate motivation (or two) in spending hundreds of hours required to produce these podcasts. While our 4,000 oral histories (amounting to tens of thousands of hours of interviews) are readily accessible through our website, we are well aware that, say, a 30 hour interview with a scientist might be a tad overwhelming and many who could find something of real value in these life histories might never know to look there. With these podcasts and the many other interpretive materials we create, we are seeking to distribute breadcrumbs around the internet—breadcrumbs that might lead users back to the collection and back to the lengthy but otherwise invisible oral histories. We know that there are many people who are passionate about history but who aren’t trained researchers. These breadcrumbs help steer these folks toward these free and substantive and lively interviews.

I know I can speak for the whole oral history team at Berkeley that we endeavor not just to create excellent interviews in collaboration with our narrators but that we strive to make that work known to the widest public possible.

Coastal Tales: The Long Struggle to Preserve California’s Coast – New Podcast Just Launched!

by Todd Holmes

“The true history of the Coastal Commission is what you don’t see, namely the developments along the coast the agency either denied or significantly scaled back.”

In 1972, the citizens of California voted overwhelmingly to create a new agency charged with regulating all development along the state’s coastline, an agency that became known as the California Coastal Commission. For nearly 50 years, the Commission has worked with coastal communities to shape development along California’s shore, efforts guided by the dual aims of environmental protection and public access. It is often said that the true history of the Coastal Commission is what you don’t see, namely the developments along the coast the agency either denied or significantly scaled back. This “unseen” history stands at the heart of the 15-episode podcast, Coastal Tales: The Long Struggle to Preserve California’s Coast, a production of the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley in partnership with the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University. We’ve just launched the pilot episode about saving Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz, and the rest of the podcast is slated to be released in the fall of 2020.

Title slide
Saving Lighthouse Point: The Pilot Podcast for the Coastal Tales Series

The pilot episode, “Saving Lighthouse Point,” tells the story of the fight in Santa Cruz during the early 1970s against massive development that sought to turn one of the city’s last open parcels of coastal land into a bustling tourist and business hub. Bolstered by the creation of the Coastal Commission, the citizens of Santa Cruz organized and challenged the city council’s support of the project, ultimately saving Lighthouse Point. The successful campaign not only came to stand as a testament to the Coastal Commission and its influence in many coastal communities, but also would prove a watershed moment in the history of Santa Cruz.

Each episode of the podcast will feature a specific site on the state’s coastline and detail the story of a proposed development that, if not for the Coastal Commission, would have significantly altered those sites and communities forever. Led by Todd Holmes, a historian at the Oral History Center and affiliated scholar with Stanford’s Bill Lane Center, the podcast draws on oral history interviews currently underway with former staff and commissioners of the agency, as well as community activists closely involved with the Commission over the decades. The project also draws on Holmes’ research conducted with the California Coastal Commission Project, which the Bill Lane Center initiated in 2014. When complete, the 15 episodes of Coastal Tales will be housed on a dedicated website that will feature the full transcripts of the interviews along with additional information and resources on the history of the Commission. The public will also eventually be able to access the episodes at the sites themselves with the scan of a QR code.

If you’d like to learn more about this project, please contact Todd Holmes at or 510-666-3687. You can also support our future episodes by writing California Coastal Commission in the special instructions section of the donation form.

Listen to the pilot episode, read the oral histories, and and be sure to stay tuned for more information!

What We’re Listening To

What I’m Listening To: Presidential Podcast

By Amanda Tewes

Chances are that if you remember anything about William Henry Harrison, the ninth President of the United States, it’s that he did not wear a coat to his inauguration on a bitterly cold day in 1841, caught pneumonia, and died a month into office, making his presidency the shortest in American history.  Unfortunately, this memorable story about Harrison’s brief presidency is not true. His March 1841 inauguration day was not that cold, and modern physicians think that typhoid fever–thanks to a contaminated White House water supply–was the real culprit in laying Harrison low. So why have Americans perpetuated this myth about Harrison?  This is just one of the many questions posed by Lillian Cunningham on the Presidential podcast, which she hosts.

Cunningham began Presidential, a forty-four episode (one for each president) podcast series, during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, which critics felt was historically divisive, even during primary races. Drawing from her experiences writing about leadership for the Washington Post, Cunningham took a different approach to the election.  She uses Presidential to explore each American president as a way to understand which character traits and historical circumstances made for effective leadership.  In short, how do we define a successful presidency and why?

The series is a fresh take on not only American history, but also on modern American politics.  Cunningham creates memorable narratives about each leader, humanizing even the “forgotten presidents.”  In examining each president’s personality, she also asks guest historians what listeners would have been able to expect on a blind date with these men (pro tip: don’t let your friends set you up with James K. Polk!).  This informative and witty approach makes Presidential a not-so-guilty pleasure.

Listening to this podcast two years after it aired is an odd experience.  In many ways, Presidential captured the spirit of the 2016 election, but it is also a good reminder that no political outcome is inevitable.  William Henry Harrison certainly did not foresee the untimely end to his month-long presidency.

As an oral historian, Presidential has me wondering: when do contemporary politics become history?  This podcast has made me more aware than ever how, as an interviewer, I help shape narratives about the past. I will be thinking about my impact on oral history, from which questions I ask to how I ask them, as I conduct my interviews in the future.

The Berkeley Remix: Season 3 of the Oral History Center’s Podcast

Listen to Season 3 Episode 1 of our podcast now known as The Berkeley Remix.

First Response: AIDS and Community in San Francisco

This podcast is about the politics of the first encounters with the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. The six episodes draw from the thirty-five interviews that Sally Smith Hughes conducted in the 1990s. A historian of science at UC Berkeley’s Oral History Office, Sally interviewed doctors, nurses, researchers, public health officials and community-health practitioners to learn about the unique ways that people responded to the epidemic. Although these interviews cover a wide range of topics, including the isolation of the virus HIV and the search for treatments, the interviews we selected for this podcast are more focused on public health, community engagement, and nursing care. Most of the following podcast episodes are about the period from early 1981, when the first reports emerged of an unknown disease that was killing gay men in San Francisco, to 1984 and the development of a new way of caring for people in a hospital setting.

Episode 1 explores what it was like to be gay in San Francisco in the 1960s and 70s, before people became aware of the epidemic.

Visit The Berkeley Remix for release of Episodes 2-6 each Wednesday.