Tim Kiska decided to create the Detroit History Podcasts to “mine this city’s history, telling its story through this town’s cultural, social, political, musical and automotive heritage. Our chosen tool is the podcast.”
Are you a baseball fan? Or interested in Detroit Jewish history? If so, then you will love the latest episode of the Detroit History Podcasts: “Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg. How a Jewish Kid from the Bronx became a Tiger Great.”
The Detroit History Podcasts are the brainchild of Tim Kiska, a professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Kiska earned his Ph.D. in history at Wayne State University in 2003 and specializes in the history of Detroit. Prior to entering academia, he worked in journalism for many years at the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News and WWJ-AM radio.
Kiska decided to create the Detroit History Podcasts to “mine this city’s history, telling its story through this town’s cultural, social, political, musical and automotive heritage. Our chosen tool is the podcast.”
As Kiska tells it, he “fell in love with this medium after listening to one of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcasts. I immediately said: ‘I’ve got to do this. This is an enormously exciting way of telling history.’ My hero is Edward R. Murrow, who once did a program, Hear It Now.”
The production of the Detroit History Podcasts is also a family affair. Kiska is the host of each episode, and son, Eric, along with daughter-in-law, Kelley, work on the podcast. Kiska’s good friends also contribute: Bob Koski as associate producer/audio specialist and Tom Ferguson as copy editor.
Kiska launched the Detroit History Podcasts on Dec. 10, 2017. The first episode was “When the Beatles Came to Town,” the story of the Beatles’ two appearances in Detroit in 1964 and 1966. Both shows were wild affairs at Olympia Stadium.
The first episode set the audio standard for the podcasts. The introduction to the Beatles episode nicely sums up the Kiska approach to telling history. Along with a solid historical narrative, as he states it: “We’ll listen to the screams when the Fab Four took the stage. We’ll hear Detroit’s intense reaction to the group. And what was up with the jelly beans raining down on stage?”
In short, the podcasts relate historically accurate and compelling stories, greatly enhanced with thoughtful and entertaining additions of voices, music and sounds. Because of this formula, the Detroit History Podcast won the “best media” award from the Historical Society of Michigan in 2021.
The latest episode of the Detroit History Podcasts about Hank Greenberg is, like its subject, another winner. It provides the fundamental facts about Greenberg’s life for a solid history of the person, but the audio clips are the major reward for listening to this 23-minute podcast. Listeners will hear contemporary sports announcers call a Greenberg home run during a game, and comment on his character and accomplishments in baseball. Moreover, hear Greenberg himself speak about his feelings for and loyalty toward the Detroit Tigers Baseball Club and the city from a CBS radio broadcast in 1947.
As a bonus, you will be treated to Groucho Marx and Bing Crosby singing “Goodbye, Mr. Baseball, Goodbye,” a song to celebrate and anticipate all the home runs Greenberg would hit for the Pittsburgh Pirates after he was traded from the Tigers in 1947, and hear John Sinclair read the Edgar E. Guest poem “Speaking of Greenberg.” In addition, local sportscaster Eli Zaret and Detroit writer Bill Dow share their Greenberg insights.
Why do a podcast on Greenberg? Kiska tells his story: “I initially thought about doing the 1945 Tigers. The more I looked at the 1945 Tigers, the more I realized that the real story was Hank Greenberg. It really hit me how this guy came up in such an era of antisemitism in the 1930s, from Charles Coughlin to Hitler’s rise in Germany. And the more I found out about Greenberg, the more I felt that he deserved recognition. I also figured there may be a number of younger folks — who are the biggest consumers of podcasts — who would wonder who this guy is.”
Several other episodes of Detroit History Podcasts feature Jewish Detroit history. One is about Ossip Gabrilowitsch, who built the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. There are others about Henry Ford and antisemitism, Jonas Salk and the polio vaccine, and Harry Houdini.
The Detroit History Podcasts are a real multimedia treat for history lovers. I highly recommend them.