‘East Bay Yesterday’ Podcast capturing and stoking interest in Local History

3 mins read

East Bay Yesterday, a podcast “about history, but it’s not stuck in the past,” emerged last year and has gained the curiosity and admiration of local history buffs. Creator Liam O’Donoghue has quickly built a library of important stories cataloguing East Bay history. Some of EBY’s episodes even overlap our own little city’s borders with subjects including the efforts to preserve the memory of the Ohlone Shellmounds and our legendary Emeryville mudflat art.

EBY’s episode about our Emeryville mudflat art featuring E’ville Eye contributor Joey Enos:

A Chicago area native, O’Donoghue noted he always had a draw to the creative energy of our state. “I felt the west coast calling. I didn’t know anyone, but was fond of many writers, musicians and artists from the Bay Area.” Shortly after receiving his journalism degree from the University of Illinois in 2002, he packed up his stuff and moved into an SRO unit in S.F. while working at a golf course.

Within six months, O’Donoghue was able to break into the local Indymedia scene and helped establish the printed “Fault Lines” publication that ran from 2004-2007. O’Donoghue also interned for Bay Nature Magazine.

Since then, he’s cemented his career as a journalist by writing for online publications including SalonMother Jones and the SF Bay Guardian. After helping put his wife through college and settling her into a new career as a nurse, he decided to take a break from news to pursue the booming new media of podcasting.

O’Donoghue was a big fan of some NPR and other more independent podcasts like locally produced 99% Invisible, but had no experience in creating them. “I’ve been DJing for almost two decades, but have no audio production skills. I basically learned everything by watching ‘professor’ YouTube and a few pointers from some friends.”

O’Donoghue is part of a DIY ethic where anyone with some basic tools and determination can eventually figure things out. “Even now, I barely feel like I know what I’m doing, but I’ve already taught a few others what I know.” The audio storytelling medium, still in its relative infancy, is being fueled by the proliferation of mobile technology.

Subscribing to EBY and other podcasts is easily administered through a mobile app.

His curiosity for history was partially stoked by exploring graffiti spaces and wondering about the background of the buildings they were in. O’Donoghue immersed himself in resources like the History Room at the Oakland Main library and the passionate members of the Oakland History Facebook group. “There’s a core of people who are really knowledgable about local history like Gene Anderson, Betty Marvin and Annalee Allen. They’ve provided a lot of information to me.”

He released his first EBY episode in September 2016. “I was pretty nervous when I released the first episode since I’m not an East Bay native or trained historian, but honestly I haven’t received much criticism and really just a lot of encouragement.”

This passion project is quickly gaining interest and O’Donoghue has partnered with some local media including a written series in The East Bay Express and KALW Public Radio who have rebroadcast some of his episodes.

O’Donoghue has a skillful way of picking historical subjects and tying them to a contemporary narrative. Subject matter including the debate over sanctuary cities, the photography of Dorothea Lange (whose works are at The Oakland Museum of California through August 13th) and the ongoing controversy with the OPD. “Hopefully I’m getting the message across without people feeling like I’m trying to preach to them.”

O’Donoghue feels driven by a certain obligation to document the shift that’s happening in Oakland and our region. “Oakland is changing really fast. A lot of people are being displaced and we’re losing the precious opportunity to capture their stories” he lamented over a beer at Scarlet City. “There’s also a new generation of people moving here that don’t know East Bay history and I hope to provide some context.”

O’Donoghue estimates that every roughly 30 minute episode requires upwards of 80 hours of his personal time in research, writing, interviewing, editing, promoting, etc. O’Donoghue concedes that he’ll eventually need to monetize EBY if he’s to make it a sustainable venture. He’s hopeful that he can find grants, donors, or receive support from a larger podcast network or through a content subscription platform like Patreon.

O’Donoghue notes in his most recent podcast that he may be taking a brief hiatus while he explores these revenue models. “I’ve met a lot of interesting people along the way and I feel there’s so many stories, both historical and current, that need to be told.”

You can subscribe to his free podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or listen to it directly on SoundCloud. Follow East Bay Yesterday on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for story updates, additional commentary and more.

This story and others made possible through the contributions of our supporters.

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

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