Al Roker didn’t realize just how much his job meant to him until he wasn’t able to show up for work. In November, he was waylaid by blood clots and internal bleeding that he described as life-threatening. Recuperating, he got a knock on his front door. It was the Today group — on-air talent, writers, producers, about 55 people total — there to wish their anchor pal well. With Christmas around the corner, they sang Roker a few Christmas carols.
“Throughout the whole ordeal, I didn’t get emotional, I didn’t cry,” he said. “But that just brought me to tears.”
When Roker finally got back to NBC’s Today in early January, after two months off, his colleagues got emotional, too. “When he walked onto the set, I just wanted to cry,” co-anchor Hoda Kotb said. “Al is the puzzle piece that was missing.”
A Face for Radio?
Roker never envisioned himself being on television. Working in television, perhaps — writing, producing, maybe directing. Growing up in Queens, New York, the oldest of six children, 10-year-old Roker ran wires from the back of his TV to a reel-to-reel player so he could record television, well before the VCR gave consumers that skill. He told his mother how he’d spliced together the theme songs from Batman and Superman.
“I didn’t realize what the look was, but looking back on it, it was, ‘He’s going to live in our basement forever. He’s never going to get married. He’s just going to be this subterranean dweller,’ ” Roker said.
Roker got out of the basement to study at SUNY Oswego starting in 1972, where his department chair told him he had “the perfect face for radio,” Roker said. That same man, Lewis O’Donnell, worked on a kids’ show at WTVH Syracuse, and the station needed a weekend weather person. “[The news director] asked Lew, got any kids? I can’t afford anybody real,” Roker said.
He got the job, making $15 a newscast.
After he graduated, Roker worked at WTTG Washington and WKYC Cleveland, then landed at his hometown station, WNBC New York, as a weekend weathercaster in late 1983. “The thing that was special was not that it was the No. 1 market, but that my parents could turn on the TV and see me,” he said.
Roker moved on to Today, also based in 30 Rock, in 1996.
The morning TV war is a brutal one, but Roker said Today stands out thanks to what he witnessed when the gang came to visit him late last year. “We really are a team,” he said. “It’s a group that cares about each other, and I think the viewer feels that it’s not fake bonhomie.”
Co-anchor Savannah Guthrie shared how Roker was her first friend when she came to Today in 2011. “He’s the joy, he’s the spice, he’s the salt that makes the food tasty,” she said. “Al brings energy, humor and warmth. He’s our sunshine.”
Kotb said Today “doesn’t exist without Al.” Knowing he’s next to them on the set puts the anchors at ease, she added.
Roker is grateful that the job allows him to do the fun bits, such as the Living Legends series and travel segments, while also covering what he called “the quintessential issue of our time” in climate change.
Pitching In in the Kitchen
Roker unwinds by hanging out with his family, including wife Deborah Roberts, ABC News senior national affairs correspondent and 2023 Hall of Fame inductee, and their kids. He’s working on a cookbook with his oldest daughter Courtney, which will join the various murder mysteries he’s authored, including The Morning Show Murders (opens in new tab), on the Roker bookshelf. He enjoys cooking, writing, reading and simply relaxing.
During the week, he’s up at 4:30 a.m., but Roker is not complaining. “My dad drove a bus eight to 10 hours a day,” he said. “This is one of the greatest jobs going.”
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.