Discover Detroit through its little-known history

April 24, 2024

From where Miles Davis regularly played to the origins of the DIA, Communications Professor Tim Kiska dives into seldomly shared city history through the Detroit History Podcast. Season six launched this week.

Photo from the 1922 DIA groundbreaking
Photo from the DIA groundbreaking ceremony. Photo courtesy: Tim Kiska via the Detroit Institute of Arts

Communications Professor Tim Kiska was born and raised in Detroit. He’s a veteran journalist who dipped his fingers in the literal and proverbial ink when he started at the Detroit Free Press in 1970. He won an Emmy in 2023 for his documentary work about Detroit’s WDIV Channel 4 and has written several books about the Motor City.

All this to say: Kiska knows Detroit. But he says there’s still more to learn. And his journalistic senses help him raise questions and discover answers for the Detroit History Podcast, which kicked off season six this week. 

Relaying some of Detroit’s unknown or seldom-remembered history is the driving force behind the podcast. New episodes, hosted by Kiska, drop at 8 p.m. Sundays. Always on the lookout for those “I didn’t know that” moments, the podcast tells the city's history through its cultural, musical, automotive, social and political heritage.

Kiska says he was recently surprised to learn that a public execution took place right across the street from the downtown branch of the Detroit Public Library. That led to a season six episode. 

“Right behind the old Hudson’s Building, they built bleachers and gallows for the public to come and watch. It was in 1830. In 1847, the death penalty was abolished in Michigan. We were the first English-speaking government to formally abolish it,” he says. “That’s a relatively short period of time to make such a big change and be the first to do it. So what happened in those 17 years? And what’s happened since?”

Tim Kiska
Communications Professor Tim Kiska

In addition to answering some of these questions, the 10 episodes of season six include the first days of the Detroit Institute of Arts (see a video of the Detroit News coverage of opening night in 1927), an Arab American Michigan wrestling legend, a Detroit bebop jazz club called the Blue Bird Inn where Miles Davis played, the history of Michigan Central Station — Kiska traveled by train as a child in the late 1950s and remembers how grand it was — and the reasons behind its decline and resurgence, and an automobile that’s synonymous with failure. 

The last topic came from Kiska seeing Ford Motor Company’s Edsel model drive down the road. “It’s the Ford that flopped,” he says. “How did such a smart company have such a colossal failure?”

For its storytelling, the podcast won a media award from the Historical Society of Michigan. Since launching in December 2017, the podcast has been included on several must-listen lists and has listeners in 56 countries, according to data from podcast hosting service site

Kiska says even if you think you know Detroit, there is much more to learn. The city has ties to Mark Twain through the Detroit Opera House. The “Paul McCartney is Dead” hoax started here. And the Detroit Red Wings hired the first female president of a major sports franchise in 1952 — with the Wings going on to win the Stanley Cup in 1954 and 1955. And these all have been covered by the Detroit History Podcast. Give it a listen.

In addition to Kiska, the Detroit History Podcast team is Eric Kiska, managing editor and social media director; Bob Koski, associate producer and audio engineer; Kelley Kiska, web designer; Bill Kubota, video; and Tony Mottley, marketing director, along with assistance from University of Michigan-Dearborn's Rick Morrone and Greg Taylor.

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.