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The Airwaves Were Calling

Forty years ago when Human Development and Social Relations was created at Earlham, an event in Runyan Hall introduced the major to parents.

“I recall my father standing belly-to-belly with Vernie Davis, poking him with his forefinger and demanding to know what kind of job I would get upon graduation,” says Barbara Howard ’78, anchor of “All Things Considered” for WGBH in Boston. “My two older siblings were recent college graduates, and my sister was working as a bartender and my brother as a welder, so he was plenty mad.

“I don’t recall Vernie’s response, but I clearly recall my embarrassment.”

Eventually Howard’s father was persuaded, and she became a member of Earlham’s first HDSR cohort. But she didn’t graduate with that first group. She took a detour.

“I fell in love with radio news at WECI,” she says. “I was working there and at WHON/WQLK Richmond on weekends as a newscaster when I was offered a plum position as Morning Anchor at the Pulitzer-owned NBC affiliate in St. Louis, KSD. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but there was a problem. I had not yet graduated, and frankly had neglected the courses I was taking in favor of spending all my time doing radio.”

She sought advice from her professors.

“Steve Butler encouraged me to go for it,” she says. “So did Alice Shrock and Evan Farber. But some others made it clear to me that, without being on campus for the HDSR required Senior Seminar, it would be impossible to get my degree.

“There was a recession and friends couldn’t find work, so I took the job anyway. Within three years I had worked my way up to WBZ, the largest station in Boston. Earlham, in the meantime, invited me back to campus several times to talk with students. Each time on the drive from the Dayton airport to Earlham, I was gently reminded not to mention to the students the fact that I still did not have my degree.”

On one of those visits, Howard brought along tape from a radio series she had produced for WBUR, an NPR station in Boston.

“I played the series for the students, and the next morning I sat in Steve Butler’s office as he telephoned Nelson Bingham,” she says. “I sat there and silently listened in as he convinced Nelson that there was no way I was going to return to campus to finish that HDSR Senior Seminar, and that the radio series should be accepted instead as my Senior Project.”

Bingham agreed and the following week Howard received her degree in the mail.

“Turns out it was a good call,” she says. “That radio series won broadcasting’s top honor the following year, a Peabody Award.”

Barbara Howard

Barbara Howard 1978, Anchor of “All Things Considered” for WGBH in Boston

Hometown: Newton, Massachusetts

Major at Earlham: Human Development and Social Relations

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