There’s a limit to the questions Siri and Alexa can answer for you. You might get a few hits on a subject, but it’s not in their wheelhouse to explain how stories have changed across tradition or time.

Who invented the martini? Is there a San Francisco accent? Is the Castro getting less gay?

You could easily spend hours rifling through the pages of the internet only to come up more confused than you began. If we were somehow less questioning, perhaps Bay Curious might never have existed.

Over the past four years, Olivia Allen-Price has been hosting a KQED podcast that brings informational peace to so many of its listeners. Each episode of Bay Curious tackles a new frontier, bringing together history experts and science junkies to pore over the mysteries that make the Bay Area such an exciting place to live.

baycurious5Olivia Allen-Price in studio. (Adam Grossberg/KQED)

“I hear from a ton of people who are like, ‘I’ve lived here for 20 years, and some of the stuff i knew, but you always tell me something different,'” said Allen-Price.

You can listen to a show in the time it takes you to brew your coffee (under 15 minutes, hopefully). If you’re able to get through them all in a day or two, just remember there are still 3,900 unanswered questions waiting in the backlog.

Bay Curious is like a tribute to curiosity itself. If you’ve ever stopped on the street to admire a local landmark, or looked up at a sign with a strange inclination to know its origin, you’re in good company.

Over two million Bay Area residents tune into KQED’s multiple platforms each week. The questions they pose can sometimes be unusual, but are most often a revisit to some back story that’s been quietly neglected.

Suffice it to say, there’s no drought in podcast themes to explore. It’s a job that has turned into somewhat of a lifestyle for its show host.

“It’s almost sort of a joke in the newsroom right now,” said Allen-Price. “Someone asks a question out loud at a meeting that no one can answer and people will be like, ‘Bay Curious!'”

Curiosity in the Works

Even though a question might make for an interesting story, that doesn’t always mean it’s something that will show up in a timely news cycle. That’s what made the idea so attractive at the time.

Before starting Bay Curious, Allen-Price looked for ways to build participation with KQED listeners as its online Engagement Producer.

“I was always hunting around for ways we could have a deeper level of talking to and from the audience, really making it feel more like a community and less like we’re kind this behemoth media organization,” said Allen-Price.

baycurious3Bay Curious Trivia Night in SF, Host Olivia Allen-Price (Geraldine Montes/KQED)

Sometime around 2016, KQED caught wind of a program ran out of WBEZ in Chicago called Curious City, founded by Jennifer Brandel. Its exploration of local relics and hidden landmarks across the city had made it wildly popular with its Midwest audience.

After meeting with Brandel at KQED in San Francisco, it became apparent this was the kind of program their news team had been searching for. After Allen-Price left the meeting, she tested the waters by sending out an initial e-blast to promote Bay Curious to their subscribers.

She awoke the next morning to at least 400 unread emails in the inbox.

“I was like, maybe we’ll get a couple dozen if we’re lucky,” she said. “Right away we were like, oh, this is something that people are at least interested in. Even though we haven’t proven who we are, and what were doing yet, they’re already pretty excited about the idea.”

In its first year, Bay Curious generated at least 10 to 20 times the number of reads the average KQED news story had been getting. It was delivering content that listeners had been longing for, while those same listeners were helping to create it.

Since then, the podcast has grown to include accompanying digital stories, as well as short videos you can watch online.

The Return to Oral History

Part of the podcast’s popularity is rooted in murky debates over history or the quest for theories to be explained by science. As any researcher can tell you, the facts aren’t always clear cut.

“When it comes to history, there’s disagreements to how things unfolded throughout history,” said Allen-Price. “If someone doesn’t write it down, chronicle it, and make something of it, that all gets lost over time.”

It’s a little bit like building a local encyclopedia that can be accessed across generations. She also does her best to balance information by geography, pulling featured stories equally from all nine counties of the Bay Area.

“I think we are definitely in a sort of uniquely rich place for stories,” she said. “We’re a Boomtown. We started with the Gold Rush, we had the dot-coms, and we have what’s going on now.”

baycurious1-1Reporter Katrina Schwartz (left) and Bay Curious Host Olivia Allen-Price (Photo courtesy of Daniel Scondo)

While this has brought a wealth of different industries, cultures and characters over the years, it’s also become increasingly important to record this history, she said.

“In a place like the Bay Area where you have a lot of young, new people coming in all the time, it becomes really easy to lose these stories and lose any kind of community knowledge around where we live,” said Allen-Price. “I see this as an effort to build community through some shared stories about ourselves.”

These days, we live in a world where visuals seem to be everything. Allen-Price even admits she spends at least ten minutes on Instagram before even getting out of bed in the morning.

“It almost feels like if things aren’t communicated visually they just sort of get lost,” she said. “It is oral history—it’s the stories that grandfathers told on their stoops to their granddaughters—it hasn’t changed a lot, we just deliver it digitally.”

Moving People Forward 

Although much of the content on Bay Curious seeks to reconnect podcast followers to the past, it’s also ripe for untangling theory from myth. As a self-described “science nerd,” Allen-Price also has plenty of opportunities to geek out on the enigma of the natural world.

One recent episode had her talking to tsunami scientists to figure out whether San Andreas, the 2015 disaster film that left the Golden Gate Bridge submerged in water, could have any basis in reality. The short answer is: not really.

This past October, the team at Bay Curious decided to bring its story reporting yet another step closer to current events. Instead of releasing just one episode, they devoted five segments a week to investigating the story behind each proposition on the ballot in California’s upcoming election.

baycurious7Members of the Bay Curious team left to right: Ryan Levi, Jessica Placzek, Carly Severn, Suzi Racho (front), Olivia Allen-Price, Paul Lancour, Julie Caine. (back) (photo courtesy of KQED)

Bay Curious Prop Week was an effort to increase engagement, as well as help voters feel more confident weighing in on decisions that might affect them locally.

“I think we reached a whole new audience—people who had their ballots in front of them, thinking what the ‘eff’ should i think about this ambulance one?'” she said. “To be able to give people context on all these things they were voting on felt really good and very much in the mission of public radio.”

saving-daylight-bay-curiousChanging the clock was thought to save energy, thus helping the war effort. (Library of Congress)

Remembering her conversation around Proposition 7, which would (and did) repeal a 1949 voter-approved measure to establish Daylight Saving Time in the state, she couldn’t help but laugh.

It all started when Democratic Assemblymember Kansen Chu got schooled by his dentist on the dangers of manipulating light.

“It’s kinda wild. I just picture this guy with utensils in his mouth and his dentist is like lecturing him about how people get in car accidents on the day of Daylight Savings Time,” she said.

As for next election cycle? Look out for another KQED foray into the puzzle behind the politics.

True to the nature of her job—and an undoubtedly curious personality—Allen-Price is always pondering ways to connect the diverse populations that make the Bay Area such a story-worthy place to live.

For now, Bay Curious continues to knit together the tidal wave of new residents to the area, with those who have always called this place home.

“I always hope what we’re making gives people a sense of belonging, of community, of familiarity, with this place, but also with each other,” she said. “Maybe it’s overly optimistic to hope for that, but that’s what I like to think about.”

Editor’s Note: Submit a question to Bay Curious that you’ve always wanted answered, here. And be sure to check out the KQED Facebook page for upcoming Bay Curious Trivia Nights.