Billy Hansen is drawn to the unknown.
“I’m kind of overly obsessive,” Hansen, a commercial real estate broker and appraiser, said in a recent interview. “I hate not understanding why something is the way it is.”
Hansen’s curiosity has helped fuel a recent hobby: a podcast exclusively dedicated to life in Lynchburg.
Taking cues from the affable Mister Rogers and the famed oral historian Studs Terkel, Hansen’s audio exploration of the Hill City is an intimate look into the lives of its citizens.
Since February, he has published nine episodes of the “Lynchburg Neighborhood” podcast. At about an hour, each episode features an interview with a local resident Hansen finds interesting.
“I’ve found that the more I get to know my neighbors — really get to know their stories — and the more I understand the history, and the backstory and how things work here in Lynchburg, the more connected I feel to this place and the richer my life becomes,” Hansen reminds listeners in each episode’s introduction.
Hansen, 35, records much of the show in a small studio built inside a renovated garage. The makeshift studio is just steps away from Mimosa Hill — the moniker he and his wife have given their early-20th-century home.
Hansen’s background in real estate has guided much of his hobby. In the first two episodes of his podcast, he interviews a pair of longtime real estate agents who helped shape the contours of the city. In other episodes, Hansen explores the city’s affordable housing crisis with the director of the public housing authority, lawyers battling illegal evictions and social workers helping to rehouse the homeless.
The initial slate of episodes might make it seem like the show is exclusively focused on housing and real estate. But Hansen, a Lynchburg native, has much bigger aspirations.
“I’m really trying to make a composite sketch of Lynchburg,” he said. “Not just people I know and I’m friends with, but really Lynchburg as a whole.”
In his most recent episode, Hansen investigates the life of the late Rev. Bev Cosby — the co-founder of Church of the Covenant, the city’s first intentionally integrated denomination. Cosby also helped to found the organization that eventually became Interfaith Outreach Association, a nonprofit organization funded by local faith groups which provides services to needy citizens.
The Church of the Covenant is just a stone’s throw away from Mimosa Hill — literally in Hansen’s neighborhood. Despite how close it is to home, Hansen knew virtually nothing about its history. So he asked Daniel Harrison, the church’s current pastor, for an interview. Their discussion is as much about Cosby as it as the role local faith leaders played in the civil rights era.
As a father with two young children, Hansen imagines the podcast as a sort of audio time capsule for both his guests and his own family. He hopes the recordings will last for decades, giving future Lynchburgers a chance to explore the city’s past.
For Harrison, his recent interview is a way to have a lasting record of his church’s own oral history.
“I think the idea of a podcast is a wonderful way to memorialize our thoughts and feelings, our stories and experiences ...,” Harrison said. “It was a wonderful opportunity to share our story in a form that is accessible to anyone in the world.”
Several of Hansen’s stories originate from the archives of Jones Memorial Library — a treasure trove of local history and genealogical records located in the same building as the Lynchburg Public Library on Memorial Avenue.
“If you’re a nerd, it is a beautiful place to be,” he said.
Hansen has spent countless hours at Jones, scanning old newspapers and digging through letters from previous centuries. Eventually the library’s leadership was so impressed with his ability to translate old records into digestible stories, they asked him to join the board of trustees. He quickly accepted.
“The great thing about Billy is he’s got a very curious mind,” said Cham Light, the chairman of the Jones Memorial Library board of trustees. “He loves finding out about connections from the past and stories from the past. He absorbs them like a sponge.”
Aside from the historical value the podcast might offer one day, Hansen has another goal in mind. He hopes to learn how to live a better life through interviews with his guests.
“Most of the people I’ve interviewed are because someone else said, ‘I really admire this person,’” he said. “My thought is, if I sit with them for an hour and ask them these questions, we’ll all learn something and that’ll be good. But I’ll also learn how they exist in this world … and if you’re listening, then maybe there’s something you can take away too.”