“I don’t really care about the new iPhone.. I care about the weird, crazy stories that happen to people using them”

On the 28th of September Tim Howard will be giving a Keynote at the Podcastfestival in Amsterdam! The 27th of September he’ll also give a masterclass, at Waag. Tim Howard is the executive producer of Reply All. He started working in audio about 10 years ago, as an intern at Radiolab. Now it’s time for him to share his experience.

Tim’s masterclass on the 27th of September is going to be focused on the Reply All episode Long Distance: a story about phone scammers in India. “We’ll take a dive into how we came across this story. So I’m just gonna walk the audience through the production process.” He invites visitors to ask questions. “It’s not going to be a lecture. I want to make sure that the audience is able to ask questions about things that are helpful or meaningful for them.”

In his Keynote on the 28th of September, Tim will focus on doing experiments in audio. He’ll highlight a few episodes from Reply All, in which he and the rest of the team took a risk. “So I’m gonna talk about a couple of episodes, where we did something that was really new and different for us. I’ll tell what we did to prepare for it; what we tried and what we learned from those experiences.”

Taking a risk

Tim likes to help people identify the challenges they’re facing. “Telling stories in audio is super hard. It starts by listening to your own voice and curiosity. To be able to do that, you need to break away from expectations about how things should be done.”

“Whenever we do experiments in storytelling, they are frightening to us. There’s a lot of pressure, just to get an episode done: we have to put something out. So as soon as you do something that’s unfamiliar, you have the risk of fucking yourself over. But if you succeed, it makes you wonder: How many of the things we do are just the product of our lack of imagination?”

Tim emphasizes the process of Reply All is all about working together as a team. “Reply All is very collaborative. Everybody’s pretty different in terms of the places where they get inspiration from and what they like to do with their creative energy. It’s just always more than the sum of the parts.”

Authentic inspiration

So where does Reply All look for inspiration? “We don’t look for inspiration in terms of topic. We’re a show about technology, but we’re not obsessed with technology itself. If somebody from the team hears about something that’s super surprising to them, they’re excited to tell somebody else on the show. Then, when we get together, and the rest is like ‘oh my god that’s cool and weird’, we know: this could be an episode.”

“It’s funny because sometimes I dó think: I should be paying more attention to tech news. But then I try to remind myself: it’s okay. All I should be doing, is listen, read and watch the things that interest me. I don’t really care about what the new iPhones are or whatever.. I care about the weird, crazy stories that happen to people using them.”

A mystery, that’s fun to listen to

Want to listen to one of those crazy stories? Tim highly recommends the episode ‘In the Desert‘. It’s about a couple in Atlanta that has all sorts of strangers, showing up at their doorstep: “really pissed off, because they lost an iPhone. When those people used the app Find my Phone, it would send them all to this one house.”

“It has some of the elements I think of as being essential to our show, like a really enjoyable kind of a conversational tell like chemistry between PJ and Alex. It’s about an interesting technical problem – and then the answer is really interesting too! So that might be a nice one to start with.”

Wanna create a podcast as well? Just go for it! Still feel like you need to learn? Take a look at the workshops and talks at the Podcastfestival. Tim one day just started from scratch. “I was really lucky to get the internship at Radiolab. Before that, I basically just did weird jobs, was writing music and putting out albums. So when I got the internship, I learned a crazy amount over there. Over the next six years, it turned into a job. I still do music however: it’s like my great love.”

Tekst: Paula Lina