Home » Dan Carlin: The New Golden Age of Oral Historical Storytelling @ Talks at Google (Transcript)

Dan Carlin: The New Golden Age of Oral Historical Storytelling @ Talks at Google (Transcript)

Dan Carlin

SPEAKER: We are here today with Dan Carlin. He is the host of two very popular podcasts, “Hardcore History” and “Common Sense.” Believe it or not, he’s been in this business since 2005.


SPEAKER: And he’s had a tremendous amount of success in the podcast world. Influence in the historical world, as well. So join me again to welcome Dan.

DAN CARLIN: You have a wonderful facility here.

SPEAKER: So most of you guys are probably all familiar with the “Hardcore History” podcast series. It focuses on deep dives into historical events, and puts them in context so that we can understand them better. So I wanted to throw Dan a little bit of a curveball, and ask him– he always talks about what happens if you were there. What would the experience be like if you were on the ground experiencing that history.

So I wanted to ask Dan to tell us about a historical experience that he experienced, on the ground, in Dan Carlin’s voice, live today.

DAN CARLIN: Well, when I got into news– I got out of college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do specifically, so I got in the news business somehow. And I remember– I was a history major. And when I was a history major at University of Colorado, they actually had, in the history department, these pamphlets that said what to tell your parents about choosing a history major. Because everybody said, what are you going to do with this? So I got to news, and then found out that so many of the reporters– I was a news guy in LA.

And in LA there’s two kinds of reporters. There’s the kind that you send out on real deep difficult stories, and then there are the ones, you know, you send out to do the Hollywood stories, and all that. And they’re really two different kinds of reporters. And the kind of reporters that I wanted to be like, I found out an amazing amount of them had history as their background. I remember seeing Connie Chung. I think she spoke at college. And I went to the get-together, and it was a journalism department get-together. And somebody raised their hand and said, what courses would you suggest we take that will help us when we get out into the news business? And she said — I’m paraphrasing here– but she said this is going to be a really unpopular answer to tell a bunch of J students, but I would take all the courses you’re not getting right now. I would go to the geography department. I would go to the history department.

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She goes, because anything you’re learning in journalism, they’re going to reteach you, your first six months on the job. She says, the stuff you’re not going to get is the background stuff. So when I got in the news, all of a sudden I felt like, OK, maybe this is a place for people who’ve studied history. And I didn’t really realize why until I’d done it for a while. And it’s because you have the context. Right? And what was fun for a history major is, you had this opportunity to be at events– to answer your question– where history was taking place. So you’d do these horrible stories that made you feel bad at the end of the day, that had nothing to do– you know, coffee roasters downtown opened a new building, or whatever. But then sometimes you’d have an LA riot. And the LA riots were the biggest thing that I ever personally witnessed. And I remember being in college.

And I was in college in Colorado, and you’d hear these stories about earthquakes and fires in Los Angeles. And I’d call home, and I’d say, I hear things are just awful. And my mom would go, they’re nothing. They’re just hyping that story up. I would say the LA riots were the only story that was really as big on the ground as everybody thought it was.

I mean, that wasn’t being hyped up at all. And the story was so weird, because– and this was the lesson, I guess, when you’re talking about what it’s like to go through history. Because you have no idea what’s really going on while you’re in it. And you’re trying to make sense of it. So on the first day of the riots– you had to go in to work.

Now you guys will all understand this, you have to go in to work sometimes when there’s big news stories breaking. So there’s this unconscious bias to downplay the importance of the news story if it’s your day off. Right? Because you kind of think there, oh, this isn’t so bad. I remember looking out over the horizon, and there’s multiple fires burning. And I’m thinking, I don’t have to go in. This isn’t a big deal. I don’t have to go in to work. So two days later they call me, and scream at me, and say everybody’s at work. Where are you? So I get in the car, head down to work, and it’s like a nuclear bomb went off. And it’s traffic– I mean, I lived 15 minutes from work. It took me an hour and a half to get there. And I remember thinking, OK, if there were ever a nuclear war, nobody’s getting out of anything. So I went to the building, and in the first day were interviewing looters. And again, this is an example of how a story of a giant historical importance, at least for that city, didn’t seem like it at the time. Right? You walk up to people carrying stuff out of buildings, and you stick a mic in their face, and you start interviewing them.

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Two days later they were shooting at the reporters, and we were interviewing anybody anymore. So we started covering things from the air, with just helicopters. So I still remember Laura Diaz– who was an anchor at KABC then– coming up the stairs, white as a sheet, saying they just shot the helicopter. We’re not going out there anymore. And that’s when we knew we couldn’t go home. They brought in cots, they brought in food. And then they put a curfew in my home city. And I’ve never seen a curfew in Los Angeles. They also shut all the lights out in Hollywood. And I’d never seen the lights out.

But they shut the lights out because it was back lighting the soldiers that they’d brought into the city, and making them targets. And so we had a pass to be out after curfew. And I’m driving in my home city, and it’s dark, and there’s soldiers on every street corner. And I have a scanner in my car, and you can hear these– this guy’s being shot here. We have somebody charging the– and it was surreal.

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