Judy Campbell is the co-host and producer of the KQED podcast The Leap and a producer for the live call-in radio program Forum. Previously, she reported on criminal justice and prison issues for KQED. Before joining a virtual Zócalo event asking, “Why Is It so Easy to Get Away With Murder?,” she called into the virtual green room to talk about why she doesn’t put chocolate chips in her banana bread, embracing her radio voice, and how she made it through election season.
What did you have for breakfast today?
I had yogurt. I've just started making yogurt in my instant pot, which I'm very proud of.
Growing up in Ann Arbor, where was your favorite place to go as a child?
Drake's Sandwich Shop. It was an amazing, gorgeous sandwich and candy shop from the 1930s with booths where I spent most of my teen years drinking coffee and having endless conversations. I still think about their delicious cream cheese and olive sandwiches.
[Drake's] was also one of my favorite jobs. I worked there as a dishwasher, and they used paper plates so it was pretty breezy.
How do you decompress?
Ordinarily, I decompressed by taking super, super hot baths. But I haven't had a bath for the last seven months; I've been living out of my home because it's under construction. So, lately, I daydream a lot about my favorite baths, like [visiting an] onsen in Japan. I grew up partly in Japan.
Are there any other Japanese customs that you wish Americans adopted?
Just being super thoughtful about everything they do with food. In Japan, I feel like they do everyone's cuisines perfectly, not just theirs. You wouldn't think you'd get the best cup of coffee there, but you do. I admire that.
Being in radio, does it ever get easier to listen to your own voice?
It does, actually. I mean, my voice bugged me for a long—I still have a lot of cringe moments, but you just can't live with that kind of [discomfort] for that long when you have to listen to it all the time.
How did you first get into reporting?
I was a history of science major [in college]. When I moved to California, I was working for a database company as a temp job, and I just noticed that I was always listening to the radio. I always had the radio on and I was like, "Oh, maybe I could do that instead." That was it. I always liked to write a lot and always wanted to do creative writing, but then the radio thing just kind of rolled along and got me into radio journalism.
Is there a teacher or a boss who had a significant impact on your life?
The first person who popped into my mind was not a boss, but the person who brought me into writing news stories. My first real print journalism job was at the East Bay Express, [where I worked with a] writer I admire like crazy—her name is Dashka Slater. She just wrote a really amazing book about Oakland called The 57 Bus. She's one of my favorite reporters, and she's a great person. Having her edit me and teach me how to think about stories and all that—I return to that a lot.
What’s something that you wish newcomers moving to Oakland understood about the city?
Every couple of years you hear about how hot Oakland is and how Oakland is the new Brooklyn. I cringe every time because the [implication] of Oakland being “so hot” is that there was never anything before. And Oakland clearly has such a rich, diverse history.
Gentrification is a huge issue—you see it all the time. I see it in every house, the changes in my neighborhood. It's a complicated picture. It's hard to see so many Oakland communities moving further and further out in the East Bay and families that have lived for a long time in the same place being apart. On my block, my kids go to school with a lot of people whose parents went to the same elementary school and had the same teachers. A lot of those families, they're just turning over because they can't afford to keep [their homes] in the family anymore.
Oakland is a pretty segregated city in a lot of ways, too. You especially see that in the schools. That's the other part that I want people to understand: As a model of diversity, it has a long way to go.
Have you cooked anything really great—or really terrible—in quarantine?
My daughter has turned vegetarian recently, so I've been trying to cook a bunch of vegetarian stuff. I use the New York Times cooking app all the time. And I’m baking. I'm living with the KitchenAid for the first time, so I'm making a lot of banana bread all the time, which is very comforting.
Here’s the most important question yet: Do you put chocolate chips in your banana bread?
I tried that with the first banana bread I made here, and it was a big flop. It was super dense and mushy, and even my kids didn't like it. So I am totally anti chocolate chip now, but I put walnuts on top.
If you could time travel to any year, past or future, which would you choose?
I've been reading War and Peace for months and months. I'm very stuck in it—but that said, I don't know why I would want to go there. It seems pretty miserable, but I'm pretty intrigued.
Maybe pre-war, pre-Hitler Berlin. Super high times Berlin looks crazy fun before the world turned upside down. I just like the theater and the freedom and the music and the dance and the clothes.
Do you have a pet peeve about the podcasting industry or podcasting world?
Podcast trends bug me. I just don't like when so many shows sound like each other. I like shows that really have their unique voice. I think there are just so many podcasts that a lot end up sounding like mimics of others.
What got you through the election?
Doomscrolling. I did a lot of that. But it's a good time to have a family. It's a good time to have little kids to look after because they come with their own ups and downs and loving moments. Also, hiking. I just find any hill I can, and I stomp up it.
It's a good time to live near the ocean, too. I've been swimming—maybe numbing myself against the times. It’s freezing; I don’t last long.