I remember the first time it happened.
The trainee behind the pharmacy counter at Duane Reade recognized me from NY1. But instead of thanking me for the weather forecast or talking about the morning papers he said “I grew up watching you on TV.”
Ouch. I know he meant well. But I told him that was impossible because I wasn’t old enough for a statement like that. Had it really been that long? Had an entire generation spent their mornings with me?
I never expected that I would spend 20 years as the morning anchor at NY1, because I never expected to get the job. I didn’t even know the job was open.
It was summer of 1997. The top executive at NY1, Steve Paulus, had asked to meet with me. He got to the point pretty quickly. The morning anchor job was about to open up and they’d already decided I was the right person to take it on.
You’re supposed to play it cool in that situation to protect your position in a contract negotiation. Something like “I’m flattered. I hope we can work out a deal” would have been appropriate. But I was 28 years old and had only been in New York for a year and a half. So I began and ended my negotiation with “when do you want me to start?”
I had moved to New York from Canada a year earlier to join the editorial team at Time Warner’s fledgling interactive unit. The name for that business seems quaint now -- it was known as “Time Inc. New Media.”
I had a dozen responsibilities at Time Inc., some on camera and some off. But one of those assignments changed my life. I anchored the “Fortune Business Report” which was picked up by NY1 each day. By the summer of 1997 I was occasionally being asked to cover vacation days or sick days for the station’s main news anchors.
And that’s what led to that surprise meeting with Steve Paulus in August of 1997. They’d seen enough of me on the anchor desk that they knew I could report stories about subways and politicians and murders as well as I handled business news.
Ever since that moment in 1997 when Roma Torre moved to the day shift and symbolically handed me her alarm clock, she and I have greeted each other on TV at 10 am. And the NY1 anchor team has racked up some pretty impressive longevity. Roma, Lewis Dodley, Kristen Shaughnessy and Cheryl Wills have all been at NY1 longer than me. I find it amusing that I’ve put in 20 years of getting up at 3 am and I’m still the “new guy!”
From my perspective, my first weeks as morning anchor went well. And I think newsroom management agreed. But I do remember one particularly blunt comment from a viewer, who couldn’t understand why a recent immigrant from Canada was the host of the morning newscast on a station that was so eager to present itself as an authentic part of New York. My answer to his comment comes with more authority now, but I told him NY1 represents all New Yorkers -- including the New Yorkers who happen to have been born elsewhere.
It’s easy to name the two biggest stories I’ve covered at NY1. I was on the anchor desk on the morning of September 11, 2001 and it remains the most challenging moment of my career. And the days after Hurricane Sandy were unforgettable for many reasons, including the sheer number of New Yorkers directly affected by flooding, fires, subway shutdowns and power failures.
But my favorite moments on air aren’t those big stories. Instead, I’m drawn to the seemingly routine day-to-day interactions that remind me what a great job I have. I’ve done “In the Papers” more than 4,000 times -- but only once with no shirt on. I’ve sung (badly) with Roger Clark more times than I can count. And I’ve been drenched in the “Ice Bucket Challenge” by a too-eager Jamie Stelter.
A lot has changed in the news business and media consumption in the past 20 years. But most of us like to have a routine in the morning. I heard that again and again from the NY1 viewers we met on the street a couple of weeks ago when we were shooting a promotional spot for our October relaunch of the NY1 morning show. Those conversations are my continuous “focus group” that guides us in our editorial decisions for the morning. I’m grateful that I’ve earned your trust. And I’m even more grateful for the time you choose to spend with NY1 every morning.
A huge team pulls the program together every morning. It’s the quality of their work that makes my work possible. If I looked back at two decades of staff rosters there must be several hundred people who have had a part in NY1’s success.
Work hardly seems like work to me. Thanks to everyone who makes that possible — inside NY1 and at home. Here’s to the next 20 years as we launch “Mornings On 1” on October 23rd.