First of all, who are you?

Richard Miller - sparkletack

My name’s Richard Miller. I’m a graphic designer and amateur historian, and I lived in San Francisco for almost 20 years — this city was (and is) my first and most heart-rending urban love affair.

The fact that I was born in Gold Rush country (and am distantly related to Sam Clemens) may or may not have anything to do with it.

What is this whole Sparkletack project thing?

Sparkletack is a podcast-centric blog about San Francisco history. That means there’s stuff to listen to, stuff to look at, and stuff to read. Why, it’s a multi-media extravaganza!

The “long-format” podcasts

For the first two years of its existence, Sparkletack was a weekly podcast. It worked like this: each week I dug up an interesting person or event from San Francisco history, wrote a script, and sat in front of a microphone telling the story as well as I possibly could. I now refer to those first sixty-six episodes as the “long-format” shows, since they each focused on a single subject, and ran as long as an hour.

Then my (ahem) real life caught up with me — as well as a streak of perfectionism — and I just couldn’t maintain the schedule of cranking out a quality show each week. I took a long break, and begin to treat Sparkletack as more of a blog, while I tried to write shows without any particular schedule. That didn’t work so well — without the weekly deadline, I couldn’t record a thing!

Just doing the blog was fine, but I really missed recording. This was the inspiration for the new series of podcasts, which I began in September of 2008.

The Timecapsule podcasts

The Timecapsule podcasts appear every Monday, and are based on a handful of tidbits I’ve dug up from that very week in San Francisco history. They’re much shorter than the long-format shows — 10 minutes or so — and include pictures, links to more good info, and a transcript of the podcast audio.

Short, sweet, and easy to digest. The timecapsule format allows me to cover an amazing amount of territory, tell stories and snippets that I would never have gotten to otherwise, and — get this — I can actually pull it off every week! Even better, it allows people to connect to the City in a visceral “whoa, that crazy thing happened 67 years ago today!” kind of way.

I love it.

Why did you start this project?

Well, it was sort of an accident. A podcaster friend suggested that I try this brand new medium (well, it was new at the time), and I was curious. But what did I have to say? Well, San Francisco is the one theme I inevitably return to, so I recorded one little show about the city. And then another. And a second life as amateur historian and storyteller was born.

Turns out there was a hunger for stories about San Francisco, as well as for entertaining and accurate presentation of local history — history made accessible without dumbing it down. Despite being eternally too busy (and a bit of an introvert) to do much promotion for Sparkletack, I discovered that my stories about “the city that knows how” had attracted an intelligent and enthusiastic audience from all around the world — Munich to Aberdeen, Kyoto to Honolulu, Rome to London and all points in between.

How cool is that?

Even better, my listeners range from grade-school kids to retirees, from passionate history nuts to people who just stories, and from technical wizzes to people who’ve just learned about the magic of e-mail.

If you’re one them, thanks for listening…

More questions? Check out the FAQ at the bottom of the page. But first …

External validation, oh boy!

Sparkletack FAQ

  • You can always contact me by email at richard (at)
  • There’s a page about about how to subscribe to podcasts here, and how this website works here .
  • The website design is by yours truly (my day job
  • …as is the show’s theme music.
  • I first started listening to podcasts while looking to improve my German — das momentan ziemlich gut geht.
  • It takes between 20 and 40 hours to research and record one of the “in-depth” episodes, and about 5 hours to create the Timecapsule shows — but the best answer is “it takes as long as it takes”.
  • Many of the photos on the Sparkletack site are home-made. The portrait of the SF burrito has even been featured on Wikipedia. What a proud moment! (burp)
  • No, as a matter of fact I’m not sure what a Sparkletack is… though one listener recently suggested a connection with the Transcontinental Railroad’s “Golden Spike”. Hmmm…