Faces Of NPR is a weekly feature that showcases the people behind NPR, from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You'll find out about what they do and what they're inspired by on the daily. This week's post is our first triple feature—meet Ramtin Arablouei, Casey Herman and Rund Abdelfatah. They are producers for NPR's podcasts How I Built This and TED Radio Hour.
Name: Ramtin Arablouei
Twitter Handle: @ramtinarablouei
Job Title: Producer
Where You're From: Washington, DC
Name: Rund Abdelfatah
Twitter Handle: @RundAbdelfatah
Job Title: Producer
Where You're From: Clifton, NJ
Name: Casey Herman
Twitter Handle: @Hermanosaurus
Job Title: Producer
Where You're From: Phoenix, AZ
An Inside Look:
Casey: People ask me this all of the time, and my one-sentence answer is that my job is to do pretty much everything you could imagine except conduct the actual interview, and have my voice on the air.
Rund: For me, it means working with some great producers to create (hopefully) an entertaining, informative and inspiring listening experience.
How did you end up at TED Radio Hour and How I Built This?
Casey: I attended the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine at the beginning of 2015 when I decided I wanted to pursue a radio-related career. My instructor was the esteemed Michael May (now of the NPR Story Lab) and apparently I impressed him enough during the course to recommend me when TED Radio Hour was looking for a temp producer.
Ramtin: I met the TED Radio Hour team when I was hired to score their live show in 2015. After the show, I went back to my life as a freelance composer (I worked on movies and commercials). Six months later, I got a call from Guy about coming to work on a pilot for a new podcast that would become How I Built This. It was supposed to be a 3 week gig. I had basically no radio producing experience but learned on the job. And now, here we are, a year later. I produce for the podcast and compose all of its music. It's been quite the ride!
And the crazy thing is that NPR's All Songs Considered helped me get my career off the ground as a composer. They featured my band, Drop Electric, in 2012 and I got a record deal, manager, etc... as a result. That's what helped me start getting work. It's really wild how everything has come full circle.
Rund: I started out as an intern for TED Radio Hour three years ago. Since then, I've worked on so many different things in my role on Team Atlas— Spark, tracking voicemails with Carl Kasell, pilot projects, and a bunch of different podcasts like Pop Culture Happy Hour, the NPR Politics Podcast and Code Switch. While I've never sat more than 100 feet from where I interned in the three years I've been here, it definitely wasn't a given that I'd ever get to work on a show like HIBT.
What advice do you have for someone who wants a job like yours?
Casey: Brief advice: work harder than required and try to learn from every single thing you do. Don't get discouraged. Eventually, your work will speak for itself and people will notice.
Ramtin: The only advice I can offer anyone hoping to become a producer or composer is to work REALLY hard at becoming precise and FAST at what you do. And just know that so much of your success will boil down to timing and luck. So never be too hard on yourself and have tunnel vision to your goal.
Rund: My advice? Approach every project, big or small, determined to make it the best it can be. I guarantee you'll pick up new skills and get a lot more out of it than you expected.
What's your favorite #nprlife moment?
Casey: For HIBT, we did an in-studio interview with Jim Koch, who founded Samuel Adams beer. It was a Friday afternoon and when Jim arrived with his PR director, they had a rolling suitcase full of beer in tow. It was the most enjoyable interview I have ever recorded.
Ramtin: I grew up listening to Stretch and Bobbito on the radio. They greatly influenced my taste in music. And I walk in from lunch one day, and there they are hanging out near my desk. I probably made such a fool out of myself when I met them.
Rund: It's honestly hard to pick one. But I have to say, it was a pretty great feeling the first time I ran a studio recording session by myself (pretty sure it was for a Pop Culture Happy Hour episode). In my head, I remember thinking "Wait, I'm doing this, I'm producing an episode from start to finish!" I guess that's pretty dorky... but it's when I started to feel like I could really be a producer.
What are some cool things you've worked on?
Casey: I produced an HIBT episode with Herb Kelleher, the 85-year-old founder of Southwest Airlines and a notorious larger-than-life character, and that was really fun and a fantastic story. For TED Radio Hour, I'm most proud of my segments with Dr. BJ Miller, a hospice/palliative care doctor in San Francisco, and the brilliant Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a Yale professor who does fascinating research on the effects of human social networks.
Rund: It was really cool to help launch the NPR Politics Podcast and Code Switch—plus a bunch of other pilots. Each is a new, fun challenge.
What's on your desk?
Casey: A purple stegosaurus with succulents growing out of it, a gift from my little sister.
Ramtin: I have keyboard, multiple samplers, and post it note that says "Don't fu&* up."
Rund: Well, because of my desk, people have compared me to Claire Danes' character in Homeland. I've never seen the show, so I don't understand, but maybe you will. Let's just say my desk is a bit cluttered. Also, I love post-its and my to do list is basically a big post-it calendar that takes up half my desk.
Ramtin: I love all the podcasts at NPR. I can't say that I have a favorite. They all offer different kinds of fun!
Favorite Tiny Desk?
Rund: Hm I'll go with Blue Man Group—it was just a lot of fun and interactive, plus there was confetti.
Favorite places in Washington D.C.?
Casey: The FDR Memorial, The Red Hen, Kennedy Center.
Ramtin: U Street Music Hall, Union Arts, and the greatest bar on earth, Stan's.
Rund: Kennedy Center, Astor, Washington Monument, Mama Ayesha's (only place in DC that serves Palestinian food), National Portrait Gallery inner atrium with the glass ceiling.
What are you inspired by right now?
Casey: Nick van der Kolk's work on Love + Radio; Notes of Berlin; music from Antje Duvekot, Balsam Range, and Orion Weiss
Ramtin: I can't stop listening to the producer, Arca. I hope to be able to make music that creative when I grow up.
Rund: The book: All The Light We Cannot See; the tv shows: Westworld, The OA; the poem: "If" by Rudyard Kipling; and the movie: Hidden Figures
What do you love about public radio?
Casey: We give away our primary content for free to the listeners. No one has to donate to public radio, unlike in many other countries where public media is funded by fees or taxes. And I am proud to be associated with one of the last, best newsrooms in America even though I don't work in news.
Ramtin: It is one of the last media sources where facts matter.
Rund: ^^What these guys said. Couldn't have said it better.