After years of answering listeners’ questions about San Francisco in audio form, KQED is aiming to find a wider audience for its Bay Curious project with a new book.
Bay Curious launched on radio in 2015 and became a podcast two years later. It uses the crowdsourcing platform Hearken to collect questions from listeners about the San Francisco Bay Area. Each of its more than 300 episodes, ranging from 10 to 15 minutes in length, has tackled one of those questions, covering topics such as history, city landmarks and California’s laws.
The idea to create a book based on Bay Curious arose when an agent from San Francisco publisher Chronicle Books approached the show’s team, according to Olivia Allen-Price, the podcast’s host and book’s main author. She said it felt like an obvious choice because of the podcast’s format.
“I loved the idea because, in a way, we’d always kind of thought of the podcast as sort of an audio encyclopedia,” she said.
The book features 49 entries, 37 of which are based on podcast episodes. To narrow down which episodes would make the cut, the book’s editor, Chronicle’s Juliette Capra, went through episode transcripts to determine which would best translate into written form.
“There are some pieces that are so cool on the podcast that we didn’t include in the book because it’s like, you really want to hear it,” Capra said. “I could get that feel much better because the transcripts already existed.”
To narrow the selection even further, Capra sought out topics that would appeal to both San Francisco locals and visitors.
“I really wanted to balance the things that would be exciting to a tourist but equally exciting to someone who’s lived here their entire life,” Capra said. “That’s a balance that’s hard to strike in some projects, but in Bay Curious, it was really fun. I mean, there was stuff about my neighborhood that I live in that I had never heard of.”
After the episodes were chosen, the podcast’s team at KQED updated and reworked the web articles that were published alongside the podcast episodes when they were initially released online.
The book also features 12 new stories commissioned specifically for the volume. These include stories that explore previously rejected audience questions, Allen-Price said. For example, multiple listeners asked over the years about the origin of San Francisco’s historic Sutro Baths. But the podcast’s team turned down the requests because it wasn’t possible to collect enough natural sound for a piece. For the book, they could report on the baths without worrying about the audio element.
Getting ‘Bay Curious’ in more hands
The decision to transform Bay Curious into a book was not only motivated by the chance to explore different stories. Allen-Price said her biggest goal with the book is to reach more people with the podcast by making its reporting more accessible for people who wouldn’t otherwise listen.
“This is kind of one other way that we can take the work that we’ve already spent a lot of time doing and fact-checking and reporting and turning into what we think is a beautiful thing, and just get it into more hands and more people consuming this information,” Allen-Price said.
The book has already helped the podcast gain listeners. Within a month of its May 2 release, Allen-Price was hearing from people who began listening after reading the book.
KQED has released middle-school and high-school textbooks in e-book form, as well as a series of cookbooks, but Bay Curious is the station’s first book from an outside publisher. For Allen-Price, the success of the podcast and the book has surpassed her expectations.
“It’s kind of like a dream come true after a dream come true,” Allen-Price said. “And it’s just been an amazing ride.”