"CALIFORNIA GOLD" HOST REMEMBERED: Iconic television journalist Huell Howser brought a folksy, "gee whiz" style to shows he did on many historic and scenic places -- including ones in Antioch, Livermore, Danville, Oakland and Martinez.
He was parodied as a character on the "The Simpsons" television show. He appeared as himself on an episode of the television drama "Weeds." Some viewers dismissed him as a hick from Tennessee.
But Howser, who died at age 67 on Jan. 6, also was praised as a deceptively skilled interviewer who put subjects at ease with his enthusiasm and humility.
"He was full of energy. He was surprised and astonished that there used to be big coal-mining towns in eastern Contra Costa County," said Traci Parent, the former supervising naturalist at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve south of Antioch and Pittsburg. "He was hard to keep up with hiking up the hill to the Rose Hill Cemetery on a hot day."
Parent worked with Howser in 2003 when he filmed a segment of his public television show "California Gold" at Black Diamond, which has an underground mining museum and is the site of once-booming coal towns.
A DVD and VHS version of that segment is still a popular sale item at the preserve.
In other shows filmed in the East Bay, Howser did segments on the Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site in Danville, John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, John Marsh historic
"He was very funny," Parent recalled of the late ex-marine who worked at commercial television stations in New York and Los Angeles before producing his own shows. "He showed so much enthusiasm when he said, 'That's amaaaaazing.'"
INAUGURAL FLASHBACK: As President Barack Obama prepares for another inaugural celebration, The Eye was amused to come across an item that appeared in the Jan. 23, 1953, edition of the Brentwood News, shortly after President Dwight Eisenhower had been sworn into office. The "Over the Back Fence" column, which had a distinct Eye tone to it, noted that Pacific Gas & Electric had alerted homeowners that it would be turning off power to residences from 9 to 11 a.m. Jan. 20.
That happened to coincide with the time for Ike's inauguration to his first term in Washington, D.C., denying Brentwood residents the opportunity to watch the event on television or tune in to the radio (unless batteries were handy). Unfortunately, this was the era before YouTube.
"Over the Back Fence" speculated that the blunder could lead to a surge in support for publicly owned utilities in some sections of Brentwood; we all know how that turned out. It's safe to assume there will be no (intentional) power outages in a week when Obama takes the oath for a second term, and even if there is, you should still be able to stream it on your smartphone, something that would have been unthinkable in Ike's day.
TWITTER PLEAS: The Eye spotted a clever plea from an East Contra Costa group looking to boost its social media presence.
The user "Long Live the Delta Blues Festival" made light of the instantaneous Twitter fandom Katherine Webb received during Monday night's BCS Championship Game between Alabama and Notre Dame. Webb's Twitter followers spiked shortly after ESPN cameras focused on the 23-year-old Miss Alabama, who is the girlfriend of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, during the game and announcer Brent Musburger piled on the compliments.
"Because of this, she gained 140,000 new Twitter followers," the post read. "The (Delta Blues Festival) has 25 followers. So that we don't look too bad, would you consider following us on Twitter?"
FYI: The Delta Blues Festival's Twitter handle is @DbfFest.
Staff writers Denis Cuff, Craig Lazzeretti and Paul Burgarino contributed to this column.