From business owners to local legends, TV-radio host James Howard has spent the last 30 years introducing us to difference-makers in our community. As the voice of WDEF’s Sunny 92.3 morning show and News Channel 9’s This N’ That, Howard loves inspiring Chattanoogans with uplifting feel-good stories. When Howard's not on-air, he’s probably up in the air, flying around the country with his family.
Trend: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got started in broadcasting?
Howard: You know, I always tell the story about when I was eight years old and we had a Goodyear blimp come to Chattanooga. My parents put me and my three sisters in the station wagon and drove us to the Chattanooga airport to go look at it. As we were rounding the hill, I remember seeing the blimp flying in front of my face and thinking that was the most amazing thing I've ever experienced.
When we came home that night, I told my dad I wanted to tell everyone about my experience. So he made a deal with me – if I wrote up a story about how the blimp made me feel, he would submit it to the Times Free Press.
About a week later, this guy comes up to me at church and told me he read my article in the classifieds. I couldn't wait to get home to see it in the paper, right? From that point on, I got this itch; when I experienced something or talked to someone, I wanted to let people know about it. That's what got me into TV and radio.
Trend: What advice do you have for local students hoping to jumpstart their careers in TV-radio?
Howard: During a Career Day at Tyner High School, it was as if there was a beam of light coming down from heaven on the broadcasting table. I knew that’s what I was supposed to do. That day I met local anchor David Caroll who's been one of my mentors ever since. Throughout my career, I’ve followed his lead and took every bit of his advice.
Shortly after, Allen Knowles gave me my first job at a contemporary Christian radio station called Rx 107.
For students who are passionate about broadcasting, my advice is to show deep persistence and make connections. Reach out to a mentor or peer and let them know you are interested in broadcasting.
Trend: You mentioned David Carroll was your mentor. Are there any other influential figures who shaped your career?
Howard: There’s a man by the name of Luther Masingill who was a living legend on the radio for close to 74 years. He was most famous for finding peoples’ cats and dogs. So one day when I was 11 years old, I lost my dog and my mom called Luther. About three days later, Luther called to tell us he found him. From that point on, I had a true admiration for him.
Well, I started working with Luther at WDEF when I was 18 years old during my first year of college, and I ended up being Luther’s sidekick. I even wrote a book about Luther called “My Life with Luther: A Glimpse of a Legendary American.” So if there's any one particular person who has inspired me, it’s him because he loved his community and was passionate about people.
For years, we did stuff outside the radio and television realm together. He was extremely instrumental in my daughters’ lives as well. When he took his last breath at 92 years old, I was with his family by his bedside.
Trend: What’s the best part about your job?
Howard: This gets back to my story about the Goodyear blimp and how excited I was to tell my community about it. My favorite part about my job is having a pulse on my community, and hearing people tell stories. That’s what Sunny 92.3's morning show is all about, bringing people informative and entertaining stories about Chattanooga.
Being in the midst of COVID-19, I love taking phone calls and directing people to places where they can help the community. As we recover from tornado damage and the pandemic, I am eager to spread the word about volunteers, monetary donations and other resources.
Trend: When you're not on-air, how do you like to spend your free time?
Howard: This might sound cliche – hands down my favorite thing to do is hang out with my family. I also love to fly planes.
Everyone’s heard of flying pigs, right? Well, have you ever heard of flying goats? If the weather holds up, my daughter and I are going to fly goats today to raise money for a local organization. The thing is I love using my talent as a pilot to help local people in a fun, unique way.
Trend: You’re a Chattanooga native – how have you seen our region change?
Howard: Yeah, I am a Chattanoogan through and through. Looking out of my home now, I can see the house I grew up in.
As a kid, Chattanooga did not have a great name. In fact, it was known as one of the dirtiest cities in the nation, and downtown was not a place you went to. But throughout the years, past leaders have come together to say, “We are going to change this.” And it's been really neat to see Chattanooga transform into a place that values economic and environmental sustainability
I think we should focus on keeping the ball rolling when it comes to big industry and job creation. As a young adult, it was exciting to see how a big plant like Volkswagen could spawn out into other businesses.