Before he was a podcaster, author and travel blogger, Tom Meyers ’97 was a ringmaster. He was putting on shows from an early age; in eighth grade, he started a neighborhood circus in his hometown of Bellevue, Ohio: The Bellevue Hippodrome and All-American Super Circus. “By high school, we had a trapeze and a tightrope in the backyard,” Meyers says. “We even had a llama — my dad was the district attorney in our county and the judge was a gentleman farmer who collected exotic animals.”
The Super Circus only played in Bellevue one day a year, but hundreds of people came. And when it was time for Meyers to apply to college, there was no question what the topic of his essay would be. “I’m convinced that’s why I got into Columbia,” he says with a laugh. “After I was admitted to the College, I went to a Days on Campus event. I was at a reception chatting with someone in Admissions; I mentioned the circus and she said, ‘Oh my God, you’re Circus Boy!’”
As a student, Meyers enjoyed film classes with Andrew Sarris ’51, GSAS’98 and Annette Insdorf, was on the Spectator staff and played Tobias in a production of Sweeney Todd. He knew he wanted to study in Paris, and he spent a year and a half at Reid Hall. “I was allowed to stay longer if I declared a French major, so I did,” he says. “It was a non-traditional path but it was also kind of like, ‘I gotta do what I gotta do.’ I guess I’ve had that approach to many things — I wanted my future to be something that I crafted.”
Craft it he has. Meyers is the co-founder of the popular NYC history podcast “The Bowery Boys.” The weekly audio show, which has covered topics from the construction of the Empire State Building to a culinary history of the Lower East Side, gets 400,000 iTunes downloads a month. In 2016, he and co-founder Greg Young released a Bowery Boys book, Adventures in Old New York.
Meyers developed an interest in urban history while studying in Paris. He had an idea to start a tourism company there that would have exchange students give walking tours to American tourists, but he was rejected by the Chamber of Commerce. He returned to New York City to walk with his class.
After graduation, Meyers worked at an internet startup and began developing a travel website, EuroCheapo, where he recommended the best super-cheap places to stay in Europe’s most expensive cities. He got the seed money when another company bought the domain of his company’s original name, Antsy Pants (“In the late ’90s, it didn’t matter that that name had nothing to do with travel, as long as it was cute!”). He was paid $20,000 for a domain he’d registered for around $50. Meyers quit his job and moved to Berlin, where he launched EuroCheapo in 2001.
“We provided the kind of information that at that time people were mostly getting from guidebooks like Let’s Go or Lonely Planet,” he says. EuroCheapo still exists, but since people research trips and book hotels so differently now, the site has adjusted its focus. As the editor-in-chief, Meyers employs bloggers all over Europe who give general tips on how to save money. Meyers moved back to the New York City area in 2002. Five years later, he and Young, a longtime family friend, started to consider making a radio show. It was an idea they had always played around with, and since Young was working as a drama columnist at the time, they thought they’d do something about NYC theater. “In 2007, podcasts were just starting to get some traction,” Meyers says. “Greg had a new Mac that had an application called Garage Band; we wanted to see what it did so we decided to record something that night. We looked out the window and there was Canal Street, so we said, ‘Let’s just talk about Canal Street,’” he says. “We called it ‘NYC Cast’ then. It was off the top of our heads — no research, just shenanigans. Quality control did not exist.” They submitted the podcast to iTunes, then recorded another show the following week. “We just wanted to experiment to see if it could gain any momentum,” he says.
Meyers and Young chose relatively easy topics, scraping together research where they could. “But as we started gaining an audience, we realized we had a responsibility to improve the quality,” Meyers says. “We tried to record every week; sometimes it was biweekly, for a few years it was monthly, but we never stopped doing it. This summer it will be 11 years,” he says. “We’ve developed a relationship with our listeners, and they expect us to be there no matter what’s happening in the world.”
Meyers, who lives in Maplewood, N.J., with his husband, Guillaume Normand, their infant son, Julien, two cats and a beagle, is excited about The Bowery Boys’ future. “The podcast officially went weekly last fall, and it’s been a little hectic — you’ve got a product going out the door and you’re already looking at the next one,” he says. “Fortunately, New York just keeps giving us fascinating stories to tell. It’s the subject that never sleeps!”
Published quarterly by the Columbia College Office of Alumni Affairs and Development for alumni, students, faculty, parents and friends of Columbia College.