As It Happens

The new co-host of As It Happens can't wait to hang out with you in your homes, cars and earbuds

When Chris Howden grew up listening to CBC Radio's As It Happens, he never imagined he'd one day be in the host's chair. 

Chris Howden, the show's long-time writer, says he's humbled by the opportunity

As It Happens host Carol Off, left, joins her new co-host Chris Howden in studio. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)
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Transcript

When Chris Howden grew up listening to CBC Radio's As It Happens, he never imagined he'd one day be in the host's chair. 

Howden, who has been the writer at As It Happens for the last decade, was named the show's new co-host on Monday. He replaces Jeff Douglas, who left in May to host the weekday afternoon show Mainstreet in Halifax.

Howden sat down in the As It Happens studio — which is just a quick trot from his desk — to talk to host Carol Off about the new gig and it what it means for him, and for the show. 

Here is part of their conversation. 

We're all thrilled, as you know ... but I'm not going to let you get off the hook here. I mean, you know there is an "Off" treatment that people get no matter who they are, including you.

Come on. Go easy.

So here's the question. Why do you think you belong in that chair?

That presupposes that I think I belong in this chair, which, admittedly, by inference, because I applied for this job, I must have thought on some level. But I don't really think I belong in the chair in the sense that when I grew up listening to this show, the people who belong in the chair to me are the people who I listened to and the people I worked with.

When I was a kid, it was Al Maitland. I worked with Barbara Budd when I got here. I worked with Jeff Douglas. So really, and not just to be diplomatic, it is the listeners who will decide whether I belong in this chair or not.

So when you were listening to Alan Maitland all those years ago, if someone had told you, "One day, son, you're going to grow up and be Alan Maitland" ... what would you have said?

I certainly wouldn't have believed you if you'd told me that then. I had no reason to believe it would be the case. But it was a staple of our house. I mean, like a lot of people's homes for the last 50 years, it was on every night during dinner.

So how far has this diverted from your childhood expectations? I mean, was this something, you know, to fall back on if being a carnival barker didn't work out?

Yeah, exactly. This is my fallback job.

What did you think you were going to be? I know at one point, you flirted with stand-up comedy.

I did stand-up for a little bit. I wasn't very good at it. I took acting. I wasn't great at that.

I thought I would be a published writer by this point. I always liked to write. But I think at the time, it was more quantity than quality. Most of it was, like, embarrassingly derivative of Star Wars. I rewrote Star Wars with characters named Jorn and stuff like that to hide that it was Luke Skywalker.

Howden has worked at As It Happens since 2003 and has been the writer for the last 10 years. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)

One consistent thing through everything you just said was that you love to write. And you [are] a very funny writer. You can write sad stories as well. You write the best puns. For people who don't know ... you are the writer of the show and that all the funny, witty things that have been said in the scripts came from you. Will you still be doing any of that writing?

Yes, I will still be doing some of the writing. I'm going to do as much as I can. It's a big job.

When I took it on, it was a job —  and has been for 10 years — in and of itself. So I don't really want to stomp on anyone's toes who's going to step into the part.

It will be somebody excellent. We have a lot of great writers here already.

I can't entirely say that I will miss every aspect of having to come up with a pun every day. But I'm still going to be writing and I'm still going to be working on scripts.

You've been writing for the voices of ... Barbara Budd, for Jeff Douglas, for various substitute hosts. And now you'll be writing for yourself. How different do you think it will be?

It would seem probably that that would be easy, but I'm not really sure if it will be.

I really got used to writing for Barbara first and then Jeff for the longest time in each case. So I don't know about this new guy. I haven't totally figured him out yet.

Staff at CBC Radio in Toronto bid farewell to As It Happens co-host Jeff Douglas, who is leaving the program after eight years to take on a new gig as the host of CBC Nova Scotia's Mainstreet (Andrew Nguyen and Sinisa Jolic/CBC). 5:42

How do you see that relationship [between the hosts and the listeners]?

I was on the other side of it for so long. I said I listened to it in childhood, but I listened to the show all through university. I've been here for 16 years now. I've listened to it all the way through that. So I am a listener.

A friend of mine emailed today to say that it felt like I was going to be a guest in her kitchen for the next X amount of time, and that's what I understand the job to be in a way.

We tell people what's happened in a day. You talk to people as close to those stories as we can get. Sometimes it's horrifying and heartbreaking and tragic, which is why we also have this absurdity and levity in the show.

The intimacy of radio was such that you always feel, since you have the same people in your house every night at 6:30, that ideally you kind of have a friend there telling you this stuff. I don't want to be sort of saccharine about it, but that is what the relationship is. Radio's intimate.

So that's how I see it and that's how I hope people hear me.

And you will hear what people say to me when I'm out and about ... which is that they feel that we're part of their family, that we come in at suppertime, we're in their car or whatever, and there is an intimacy there. 

I don't take that for granted. So, you know, I'll just set up the interviews the best way I can and maybe tell a couple of stories along the way that hopefully people will be comfortable having me in their kitchens.


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kate Swoger. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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