Known as the Crossroads of the World, Times Square serves as home to dazzling Broadway shows, a variety of delicious restaurants and the world-famous New Year’s Eve ball drop. And for Robin Roberts and her Good Morning America colleagues, the New York City tourist hotbed has also been where they come to work every morning for the last 20 years.
“Who doesn’t want to come to Times Square?” Roberts, 58, asks PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “I can remember as a child coming to Times Square from Mississippi and being like, ‘Golly,’ and just being overwhelmed.”
On Thursday, Roberts and her coworkers will celebrate two decades in GMA’s Times Square studio with Disney Broadway performances, a slate of 20 deals, and the rehanging of the American flag that Muhammad and Laila Ali hung during the studio’s opening week.
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“I’m so proud that we’re going to rehang the American flag that he hung for us when we opened the studio,” Roberts says. “I can’t wait for that to be on our wall again.”
Roberts’ GMA journey began when she worked at ESPN and the network asked her to contribute sports stories to the morning show.
“I was living happily ever after being at ESPN and was asked to come to Good Morning America and do sports stories,” the Everybody’s Got Something author recalls. “That then became human interest stories and it just grew from there. I never thought that I would be working at GMA. I wanted to be a professional athlete. That didn’t work out, so then I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to be a sports journalist.’ Now I can’t think of doing anything else. It’s been a remarkable run.”
A run that’s made Roberts the show’s longest-tenured anchor. “It’s a privilege,” she says. “I was so blessed to have Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson there when I started. To know that I’m now the longest-running anchor, not just at Good Morning America, but in all of morning television right now, I have to kind of pause. It’s something that I’m very proud of. I want to do like all those before me did and continue to make everyone I work with feel as welcomed as Charlie and Diane made me feel.”
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When asked about her most memorable moments in the studio, Roberts names two special days at the office.
“The first one that comes to mind is at what we call Military Island, which is right outside the studio where there’s a recruitment office,” she begins. “We had a piano and we had Alicia Keys singing ‘Empire State of Mind.’ It was a beautiful morning; she’s singing, cabs are going by and tour buses. And I just remember looking down and going, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in New York City.’ It was one of those spectacular moments.”
The second happened on April 19, 2012.
“That was when we became No. 1 for the first time,” Roberts remembers. “Something that all of us who had ever said, ‘Good morning, America,’ all of us who had ever worked behind the scenes, in front of the camera, had worked on. So when we became No. 1, I remember the euphoria and sharing it with everybody, and the celebration that we had with the crew. Everything was quite special.”
Roberts has covered everything from natural disasters to high-profile celebrity interviews during her tenure, and even opened up about her own health battles with breast cancer and MDS, a rare blood and bone marrow disease. But Roberts calls her favorite topics to cover “everyday stories.”
“I like the stories that we do of the everyday person who is just doing extraordinary things in their community,” she says.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about Roberts’ 20 years on the job, though: She claims to have never missed an early morning wake-up call.
“I have not!” Roberts says. “But they’ve had to call me a couple of times because the driver’s downstairs. It’s a great perk to have a driver pick us up, but then I realized they do that because they don’t trust us to get there on our own so early. But I haven’t missed one show yet.”