Posted on Jun 15, 2022

On June 15, for our last Zoom-only meeting of 2022, Noel Black introduced us to his audio podcast series, “Lost Highways”, documentaries from the History Colorado Center in Denver.  In his presentation, Mr. Black talked about the philosophy behind the podcast and used short clips from one of the podcasts (about Alan Berg) to summarize the processes, both technical and journalistic, that he and his team have to go through to produce each episode. Episodes are available on the History Colorado website at

Philosophically, the podcasts attempt to introduce the listener to things you don’t know about Colorado.  The podcasts might be thought of as museums without walls, where the observer is listening to history, rather than looking at objects that have some minimal historical context.  In a sense, it is cultural journalism that gets the museum out beyond itself.  They tend to focus on individual stories that don’t show up much on the evening news.  The individual podcasts are consciously not promotional publicity for individual exhibits at the museum.  Instead, they are an attempt to provide some historical context to interesting stories that have some connection to the present day. 
At the onset of the project, the team spent a year figuring out what they wanted to do.  Audio is hard for museums (few people would spend an hour listening to head phones in front of an exhibit) but the History Colorado system did have an extensive audio archive.  Although there are a number of different ways to learn history, listening to it is unique – it tells you a story in a somewhat intimate way.  History Colorado has some eight museum installations across the state, but few of the objects on view have their extensive stories attached so an hour-long audio documentary allows some of the stories to get us from the past to the present – it can give the context of Colorado within not only the West but also the whole world. 
To give a flavor of the process of getting from an idea to the final product, Mr. Black talked about one of the episodes from the first season, “The Passion of Alan Berg”.  For context, Alan Berg, in Denver, was one of the early controversial AM-radio talk show hosts until his assassination by a disgruntled listener in 1984.  Berg’s widow donated a trove of audio tapes from Berg’s show to History Colorado, so the team had a huge stockpile of material from which to draw.  The method that they chose to get into the story was to create the fiction of a radio time machine, so they could “go back” to the 1980s and have a conversation with Berg, using material extracted from those archival tapes.  First, they had to digitize the tapes.  Then they used an AM/FM tuner/amplifier to simulate “rolling the dial” to get back to the early 1980s.  They had to record their script and then intersplice it with the archival material, creating an audio sandwich using ProTools.  Once completely integrated, they published it to the world – and that is still available through the History Colorado web site. 
They have gone through similarly complex steps to bring the past to life in some 22 subsequent episodes.  In order to open the history book for everyone, they have focused on trying to provide the highest quality experience. 
A query about the Eaton Reds and the UNC basketball team led to a discussion about controversy over use of American Indian logos and mascots in schools in Colorado.  Mr. Black referred to one podcast that talked about the entirely-native-American basketball team called the Fighting Whities and the ongoing discussion about relations with American Indian tribes. 
Doesn’t the use of past quotations out of context lead to a misrepresentation of beliefs, an ongoing problem in modern American discussion?  Although he didn’t address that relationship directly, Mr. Black did point out that the use of the obviously fake “radio time machine” made it obvious to anyone who cared to look that the beliefs expressed were obviously from the past and were only part of the story in the podcast. 
Does the podcast team use information from the various History Colorado museums around the state?  Globally, yes, although there are some parts of the state that are still not well addressed.  Mr. Black used this query as a platform for explaining that they are required, as both a state entity and as a requirement of the funding from the Sturm Family Foundation and the National Endowment For The Humanities to consult with informed scholars, to employ rigorous fact checking, and to go beyond what more conventional journalism might accept in getting all of their facts correct and all of their ducks in a row.  It is hard work and requires a “blistering pace”. 
Is there any intent to cover such subjects as Uravan, the radioactive town on the Western Slope, or one-room school houses?  Although those types of subjects are on their radar, they need a story that involves both characters that are interesting and some sort of conflict to drive the story along.  As an example, he pointed to their interaction with the Southern Ute Tribe over the issue of getting the remains of their ancestors back. 
What about the Ludlow or Sand Creek massacres or the Amache Internment Camp?  In dealing with any story involving one of the Indian nations, History Colorado, as a state entity, has to deal with the tribe as one state to another, so there has to be more sharing between the museum and the tribe so that the tribe becomes a collaborator in the story.  As for Amache, they did a story, “Bonsai Behind Barbed Wire”, that dealt with the conflict between two competing bonsai (cultivation and “training” of miniature trees)  organizations in Colorado (both of which originally formed in Amache) that grew out of a disagreement as to whether the club ought to deal only in Japanese or English.