FORECAST: BRIGHT AND SUNNY
Al Roker’s standing as “America’s Weatherman” has opened up a world of opportunities for one of the nation’s most beloved television personalities.
BY KIMBERLY BAILEY-TUREAUD
Picking up the newspaper or turning on the television this winter has meant one certainty: Wall-to-wall coverage of the havoc created by extreme or dramatically unusual weather events across the United States. Walking on a treadmill while conducting an exclusive interview with Las Vegas Black Image, a man whose job description is informing Americans about this phenomenon takes aim at a phrase he’s just plain tired of hearing.
“It’s not global warming,” declares Al Roker. “You get these knuckleheads that say, ‘Look how cold it is — it’s due to global warming.’ It’s not global warming; it’s called, climate change. And what it means is that we are basically looking at more violent swings in our weather patterns and more severe weather. Heat waves are going to be hotter and longer, and our cold spells are going to be colder. This year we had no land-zfalling hurricanes, but what about next year? If you look at the year before, we are still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. It’s going to be these swings back and forth.”
That plainspoken but well-regarded expertise has secured Roker’s irrevocable possession of the title “America’s Weatherman.” It’s a laurel he wears thanks to his many years on NBC’s Today show, giving viewers information that is immediately recognized as essential to their daily lives. He is an indelible part of the soundtrack of the morning rituals of getting ready for work, preparing the children for school or making our way to an early morning workout. Roker’s authentic feel-good persona, informative reports and occasionally madcap segments alongside his co-hosts, Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer, are a consistent highlight for millions of viewers.
“People ask me often, ‘What is the secret behind getting a television nation to embrace you?’ And, I really am not the person to ask,” Roker says. “You have to ask the people who watch me. It’s like using the example of sausage. Everyone really likes it, but if you saw how it is made — maybe not so much. But what I do know is that I am very blessed with a platform to come into people’s homes, and do a job to inform and … make them feel a little better after they watch.”
That approach has earned him near-unparalleled longevity: This May, Roker will celebrate 40 years in television, 35 at NBC. “I didn’t plan on being in television. I just wanted to do this until I got my ‘real job.’ But I just kept getting jobs on television doing the weather. After my junior year in college, the department chairmen put me up for a weekend weather job. There were very few African-Americans on television in 1974, but he submitted my name anyway. The news director at the time for the television station said, ‘I’m going to take a chance on this young black kid,’ and that’s how it all started. I wanted to be a writer or producer when I was in college, not necessarily have a career in front of the camera.”
Today, Roker is a 13-time Emmy winner who has conducted interviews with top celebrities and newsmakers around the world. He brings America together during the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, the Christmas Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center and other events. “Each parade [and event] has a different personality and hosting is a lot of fun. I love doing them,” Roker says. “They are all a part of the American collective.”
That exposure has given him endless opportunities, including the chance to meet historic figures like civil rights icon Rosa Parks (“the epitome and embodiment of how one person can really make a difference … she really exemplified that”). It also gave him the ability to start his own company: He is the CEO of Al Roker Entertainment (www.alrokerentertainment.com), a thriving multimedia firm involved in the development and production of network shows, cable series and home videos.
To those who desire a similar career path, Roker offers this advice: “It doesn’t matter who you are. Don’t pursue any career if you think it will lead you to fame or fortune. Find a career that you really enjoy, and everything else will follow. You may or may not achieve what you want in life, but at least you will enjoy yourself. They say the person who has a job doing what they truly love will be the happiest. They will feel like they are working for free, and the paycheck is the bonus. I know not everyone can do this, but if you can — that is what you should do.”
That outlook can be directly traced to Roker’s upbringing. The son of a bus driver who worked his way up to a top-level manager for New York City transit system, he sees challenges as mostly a matter of perception. “My father was a hard worker who got knocked down a couple of times by certain people at his job,” he reveals. “But he took his obstacles and used them to make himself stronger. By the time he retired, he was actually further along in his career path than those who tried to get him demoted. Those same people ended up working for my dad. You can’t let people or obstacles stop you with anger or bitterness. You can take your experiences in life, move forward and persevere.”
Roker is also a bestselling author of “The Billy Blessing” murder mystery series and non-fiction books. His latest New York Times bestseller, “Never Going Back: Winning the Weight Loss Battle for Good,” chronicles his well-documented battles with weight loss. “It’s no secret. My book … talks about my weight struggles all my life and how I had gastric bypass surgery to lose the weight,” he says. “But at the end of the day, that’s not a means to the end. I lost 140 pounds over a period of time and during my mom’s passing I gained 30 pounds back. Maintaining my weight is a constant struggle and a battle. If you have a weight problem … every day is another day and you have to get back on the horse and go for it.
“Right now, my weight is the lowest I have been in a long time — at 190 pounds. I would like to get to 185 pounds and if it takes me a month, two months or six months —which is fine — it doesn’t matter. One of the biggest challenges is using a lot of excuses for overeating: ‘It’s the holidays’ or ‘I’m depressed’ or ‘I’m happy.’ You have to burn more calories than you take in, and it’s not so much of a diet — you have to change your life. You must put the work in. There are a lot of programs out there that are good, but you can’t be on them forever. You have to find what works best for you. What works best for me is to get as much exercise as possible, and to burn as many calories as possible in any given day.”
And Roker does not advocate total deprivation while trying to maintain a healthy weight. “It’s all about a spoonful of your favorite foods,” he says. “Eating in moderation — that’s all it is. If I eat more than usual I know I will put extra time in on the treadmill or the stationary bike. I don’t deprive myself, but I don’t overindulge.”
For a man with such a busy schedule, Roker is happiest while spending time with his family. He and his wife, ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts, have three children: Courtney, 26; Leila, 14; and 10-year-old Nicky.
“I made a New Year’s resolution to be more present when I am with my wife, children and friend,” Roker says. “I won’t be on my iPad or iPhone. I will be present and enjoy the experience of the moment.”