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That's not stuck in the past


In 1963, a Piedmont High science teacher decided to liven up biology class with a bird calling competition. This hatched an annual tradition that led to students shrieking and squawking in front of millions of TV viewers for nearly half a century. Today’s episode follows the trajectory of the Leonard J. Waxdeck Bird Calling Contest from the nest to the airwaves. How did this tiny enclave in the Oakland hills end up in the national spotlight for such a bizarre spectacle? Listen now to find out. (SoundCloud/Spotify/Apple)

Featuring interviews with: Piedmont High School librarian and Bird Calling Contest producer Kathryn Levenson and former participants Laurel Cecila, Joe Fendel, and Will Reicher. This episode is dedicated to the memory of Leonard J. Waxdeck.

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This poster was illustrated by Alex Hirsch, who won the contest in 2002, and went on to create the Disney Channel program Gravity Falls. Other notable former participants include SNL cast member Chloe Fineman and Broadway star Zachary Piser.
Elise Vogl Hatchell and Laurel Cecila with Johnny Carson in 1990. According to Laurel, the duet knew they’d need to include some “shock value” in their act in order to win the coveted spot on The Tonight Show.

“There was a very physical nature to the calls. You’d wave your arms or jump up and down,” said Joe Fendel (back left corner). “Because I had this full head of long hair, it added to the feathery effect.”
Anders Bjork won the most recent Bird Calling Contest in 2018 by imitating the kakapo, a large, flightless parrot endemic to New Zealand. In recent years, the participants have incorporated outlandish costumes into their performances.
Will Reicher and Jeremy Wong onstage at Piedmont High’s Alan Harvey Theater. According to Will, the contest has developed a more conservationist theme. “Once you’ve done the bird calling contest, you start to see birds in a whole new light,” he said. 
The contest has been on hiatus since 2018. Will it rise again like the mythological phoenix? Listen to the episode to find out.

East Bay Yesterday can’t exist with your support! If you enjoy the episode, please donate: www.patreon.com/eastbayyesterday

“OK, let’s go crazy”

How an unusual contest became the pride of Piedmont
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