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September 6, 2016

Tim Howard on his path from music to radio

Tim Howard is the Executive Producer at Reply All, a podcast from Gimlet Media. In his free time, he writes and records music.


Before realizing he wanted to work in radio, Tim Howard spent a couple of years working in cafes and bars, while engaging in his passion for music. He started writing songs after he graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut in 2001. For a while he continued to play music while working in non-profits, cafes, record stores, and dilapidated factories. In one of those coffee shops he discovered his love for foreign languages. “I remember working in a coffee shop in Boston, after I got out of college. I didn’t know any Spanish and I would occasionally, once in a blue moon, have customers who only spoke Spanish. And I would try a little Spanish out on them, I had a book and I was trying to learn it. It’s ridiculous how much of those moments of connecting with someone in a foreign language made my day, made my week.”

His love for foreign languages led him to travel a lot, and during a trip through Latin America in 2009 he decided to pursue a career in public radio. He was 30, loved public radio shows, including This American Life, and wanted to do something more with his life. So he decided to come to New York, stay with a friend, and apply to internships.

That’s when his music helped him out. He found out from a friend that Lulu Miller, now co-host of Invisibilia, at that time producer at Radiolab, was a fan of his music. So when he applied for an internship at Radiolab, he also emailed her. He went to an interview and pretty soon he was part of the team, reporting stories on language, science, and politics. Now, Tim is the Executive Producer at Reply All, a popular podcast about the internet, which Jad Abumrad from Radiolab describes as “an amazing show; the entire staff’s favorite show.”

Tim likes to work in radio because he sees it as “the fastest rocket into someone else’s head. You hear a voice using the first person, but you don’t see the speaker, so if you’re not vigilant, the voice will become yours…and then their feelings and their decisions become yours, too. Then there’s the crazy power of music to suggest any emotion that has ever existed. It’s hard to ignore that. If the story is told well, you just can’t remain your blinkered self while you listen — it’s either the reason we’re alive, or the consolation.”
To get to know Tim’s work better, here are some of the must-listen to podcast episodes he reported or produced over the years:
• Why Isn’t the Sky Blue?, the last part of Radiolab’s Colors episode, in which Tim discusses with linguist Guy Deutscher about the color blue and why it’s missing from the The Odyssey and The Iliad. For this episode, Tim was helped by his then girlfriend, now wife, who worked as a librarian at the New York Public Library.

• Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, the story of a custody dispute. When Tim first read about this case, it struck him as a sad but seemingly straightforward one. But, as he started talking to lawyers and historians and the families involved in it, it became clear that it was much more than that. •Mr. Bliss, the first part of Radiolab’s.

• Bliss episode, where Tim told the incredible and tragic story of Charles Bliss, a man who lived through the hell of Nazi concentration camps and believed that war was often caused by the misuse of language. So he set about creating the perfect language, based on symbols and logic.

• Galapagos, in which his love of foreign languages, came in handy. Talking with natives in Spanish, he discovered a strange new tension between the locals and those who want to preserve the archipelago’s incredible ecology.

• Quit Already!, a Reply All episode on how opinions, especially political ones, are being over-shared on Facebook. Tim makes an appearance in the first part of the episode.

• The Takeover, a story about the struggle for control of a multinational company with thousands of employees. Only than it exists mostly in the mind of a teenage boy

And last but not least, you can listen to Tim’s band, Soltero, before meeting him at the conference, for which you can register here.