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Al Roker Biography - Selected writings

weather york television weekend

1954—

Television weathercaster

Roker, Al, photograph. AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced by permission.

Al Roker may describe himself as "goofy-looking" and "nothing special," but his combination of accurate forecasting and warm, relaxed delivery have won him possibly the most visible weather anchor position on television. Roker is the weekday weathercaster for the National Broadcasting Company's Today Show, a morning news-and-information program watched by millions and millions of Americans. Roker inherited his position on Today from the equally affable Willard Scott in 1995, adding a new laurel to a two-decade career in the television weather forecasting business. He is also host of his own cable channel weekend talk show, The Al Roker Show. Success has done little to alter Roker's working methods—or his opinion of himself. "We know weather is one of the main reasons people tune in to the news," he said in the New York Times. "So I try to do my best to be accurate. Then I hope for the best."

Roker comes from a blue-collar background where his hard-working parents stressed education and achievement. His father, Albert Lincoln Roker, was a bus driver who also served as a labor-relations negotiator for New York City's Transit Authority. His mother was a homemaker who raised the six Roker children in a home in the St. Albans section of Queens, New York. Al Jr., the oldest in the family, graduated from Manhattan's Xavier High School, where he spent four years developing his comic skills and indulging his interests in graphic art.

The cost of tuition at a private college was out of reach for the Roker family, so Al attended the State University of New York at Oswego. There he majored in graphic communications, but he took classes in meteorology to satisfy the university's science requirements. Roker found he had a talent for meteorology, and his interest in the science grew as his studies progressed. While still a sophomore in college, he landed a part-time job as weekend weather forecaster at nearby WTVH-TV in Syracuse. By the time he earned his bachelor's degree in 1976, he had been promoted to weekday weather-caster at the station. Roker did not earn a degree in meteorology, but few television weather forecasters do. In fact, his back ground contains more science than that of many of his colleagues, and he became known for writing his own forecasts and using NBC's radar—rather than the National Weather Service—to keep him up-to-date on local and national weather.

Soon after graduating from college, Roker took a job as weathercaster for WTTG-TV in Washington, DC. WTTG is a local independent station, and while there the young Roker had ample opportunity to study other weather anchors' techniques. One local hero Roker studied was the chubby and avuncular Willard Scott, who was then forecasting weather at the NBC affiliate in the nation's capital. Today Roker credits Scott with teaching him the secret to a long career on the air. "I used to be crazy, do all kinds of gimmicky things," Roker admitted in the New York Times. "Willard took me aside one day and said, 'Just be yourself. It'll last a lot longer.'"

From WTTG Roker moved on to WKYC-TV in Cleveland, Ohio. The job in the Midwest was Roker's first with an NBC affiliate, and—as an avid weather-watcher—he admits that he misses the assignment in Cleveland. After five years at WKYC, Roker moved on in 1983 to WNBC-TV in New York City. His parents, who were still living in Queens, were thrilled to welcome him home.

Roker's first position with WNBC was weekend weather anchor. By 1985 he had worked his way up to weekly weather forecaster, earning New York magazine's "Best Weatherman" award. Roker had the same easygoing, ordinary-guy delivery that characterizes his weather spots now, but he also exhibited a keen understanding of meteorology on both a local and national level. He seemed at ease urging New Yorkers to play hooky from work on sunny spring days, and deeply committed and serious when tracking Atlantic hurricanes and other dangerous weather. With an 80 percent accuracy rate, he quickly earned the American Meteorological Society's prestigious Seal of Approval.

Asked in a 1987 New York magazine profile if he would like to replace Willard Scott on the Today Show at some point, Roker disclaimed any ambitions. "Willard is my idol. The idea of stepping into his shoes terrifies me," he said. Over the next decade, Roker had ample opportunity to shed his fears and prepare to be Scott's replacement. In addition to his duties with the weekly local NBC newscast, he became weathercaster for the weekend edition of Today and a substitute for Scott on weekdays. By the time Scott retired in 1995, Roker had firmly established himself as the heir apparent and continued to hold the position a decade later.

A yo-yo dieter with thick glasses who stands about five-feet-eight, Roker thinks a great deal of his appeal lies in his "ordinary Joe" persona. "It's part of my stock in trade," he explained in the New York Times. "People look at me and feel superior." Whatever the secret of his success, Roker has achieved what many would consider the pinnacle of television weather forecasting success as the national weather correspondent for the highly rated Today Show. Unlike his predecessor, however, Roker has not just settled into the staff of Today with no further ambitions. Late in 1995 he inaugurated The Al Roker Show, a weekend talk show run on the cable channel CNBC. He also served as narrator for a Public Broadcasting System documentary on weather entitled Savage Skies.

Roker's fans are many and diverse. Entertainment Weekly once dubbed him a "Cool Ordinary Guy." MTV did a feature on him called "What It's Like To Be Al." And everyone from New York's mayor Rudolph Giuliani to reporter Barbara Walters turned up at his 1995 wedding to television journalist Deborah Roberts. Roker, who lives in New York, seemed truly content with his celebrity status and his high-profile job at NBC. "Our problem is that sometimes we have too much fun," he said of himself and his Today co-hosts in the New York Times. "We forget we're on television."

At a Glance …

Born Albert Lincoln Roker, Jr., on August 20, 1954, in New York, NY; son of Albert Lincoln (a bus driver and union negotiator); married third wife, Deborah Roberts (a television journalist), September 16, 1995; children: two daughters and one son. Education: State University of New York at Oswego, BA, communications, 1976.

Career: WTVH-TV, Syracuse, NY, weekend weather anchor, 1974-75, weekly weather anchor, 1975-76; WTTG-TV, Washington, DC, weather anchor, 1976-78; WKYC-TV, Cleveland, OH, weather anchor, 1978-83; WNBC-TV, New York City, 1983–, began as weekend weather anchor, worked as local weekly weathercaster, currently weather anchor for Today Show; CNBC-TV, New York City, host of weekend talk show The Al Roker Show, 1995–.

Awards: Recipient of two Emmy Awards for weather forecasting; twice named Best Weatherman by New York magazine; holder of American Meteorological Society's Seal of Approval.

Addresses: Office—NBC-TV, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112; Web—www.roker.com.

While Roker continued to hold his spot on the Today Show, he continually branched out in diverse directions. He set up Al Roker Productions, Inc. in 1994 to do "all things Al," according to Roker's Web site. He has published a parenting book and two cookbooks. He appeared on Dateline in 2004 to report on his health status two and a half years after undergoing gastric bypass surgery to reduce his weight. He hosted a special on NBC called "All Roker Investigates: Katie.com," which offered viewers information about Internet predators. And he hosted a Court TV show called "Faulty Forensics" that revealed the devastating consequences in the criminal justice system due to poor procedures in a Houston crime lab. His travel series called Going Places won high ratings on PBS. Whatever his interest, Roker seemed able to craft it into a package for audiences, making TV Guide contributor J. Max Robins wonder: "Is Al Roker laying the groundwork to be the next Oprah?" It seems the answer is yes.

Selected writings

Don't Make Me Stop This Car: Adventures in Father-hood, Scribner, 2000.

Al Roker's Big Bad Book of Barbecue, Scribner, 2002.

Al Roker's Hassle-Free Holiday Cookbook: More Than 125 Recipes for Family Celebrations All Year Long, Scribner, 2003.

Sources

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, June 27, 2004.

Entertainment Weekly, February 11, 1994, p. 42.

Grand Rapids Press, August 25, 2004.

Houston Chronicle, November 5, 2004.

New York, August 17, 1987, p. 20.

New York Times, September 2, 1992, pp. C1, C10.

People, January 23, 1995, p. 73; October 2, 1995, p. 72.

TV Guide, September 2002.

On-line

Al Roker, www.roker.com (January 31, 2005).

Other

Additional information supplied by NBC News, Inc.

—Anne Janette Johnson and

Sara Pendergast

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