'Sports-radio guy' to NPR 'Morning Edition' co-host: A Martínez's public radio journey

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A Martínez has been named co-anchor of NPR's drive-time show "Morning Edition."
A Martínez has been named co-anchor of NPR's drive-time show "Morning Edition." (NPR)

Beginning in early July, public radio host A Martínez will have to adjust his alarm clock. On Thursday, National Public Radio announced that Martínez, the voice of Pasadena-based NPR affiliate KPCC's daily news magazine "Take Two," will join the network's flagship show "Morning Edition" as a West Coast anchor.

"I'll have to get up at 11 p.m. to get to Culver City by midnight," Martínez said with a nervous laugh, guessing that bedtime will likely be about 4 p.m.

Martínez, whose birth name is George but who has long gone by A on the air, will join co-anchors Steve Inskeep, Rachel Martin and Noel King, and fills a vacancy left by anchor David Greene's departure last year.

In a statement accompanying the announcement, Sarah Gilbert, NPR's vice president for news programming, said the network was "delighted" to add Martínez, 50, to the team. "He brings a remarkable record of journalism and empathy that allows him to truly connect with audiences and stories," she said, adding that his "intelligence, a sense of humor and a deep curiosity ... will fit right in with the show's commitment to telling distinctive stories that make a difference to our understanding of the world."

NPR's morning rush-hour news show, which is carried by 835 public radio stations nationwide, has long been the go-to source for millions of Southern California commuters tethered to their FM radio dials. However, the evolution of satellite technology, which allows for full online connectivity, has upended the medium over the last decade. Where once listeners seeking in-depth drive-time news coverage had few options on the radio dial, on-demand daily podcasts, such as The Times' newly launched show "The Times" and the New York Times' popular new roundup "The Daily," now reach commuters with the touch of a dashboard screen.

As a way to combat those incursions, the Morning Edition team also produces the podcast "Up First," a popular digest version of the show featuring, in the words of NPR, "the top three stories listeners need to start their day."

Martínez's ascent in public radio got off to a rocky start. A longtime sports-talk radio personality who earned his chops on ESPN Radio as host of 710 KSPN-AM's "In the Zone," he had never listened to public radio when he was hired at KPCC in 2012 to co-host an expanded version of public radio stalwart Madeleine Brand's popular morning show.

Brought on as part of a $6-million grant awarded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to Southern California Public Radio, Martínez's hiring was part of One Nation Media Project, a top-down initiative to diversify KPCC's newsroom staff, produce multicultural programming and build bridges into the region's Latino community. He was one of 11 new hires made possible by the grant. One result of that effort was "Brand & Martínez," a two-hour L.A.-focused daily show launched in 2012 that immediately followed "Morning Edition."

"That did not go well," Martínez said of the show, which lasted a mere four weeks before Brand announced her resignation. Describing himself as "a little naive" at the time, he said he didn't realize what he was walking into. "I just saw it as a job that was posted and I applied for it and they hired me. I didn't realize that it was part of a larger grant."

He added, "If the parameters of that initiative hadn't been in place, they wouldn't have been looking for someone with my kind of Spanish last name. There's no beating around that bush. It was done to diversify the newsroom, with a more local radio goal of expanding the Latino audience."

After the departure of Brand, who now hosts the popular "Press Play With Madeleine Brand" on cross-town competitor KCRW-FM, Martínez hosted KPCC's "Take Two" with Alex Cohen for four years. Martínez became the solo anchor of the show, which airs weekday afternoons on KPCC, in 2017 after Cohen moved to KPCC's "Morning Edition." (Cohen left for Spectrum News 1 a year later.)

In addition to the unforeseeable drama, Martinez said that he entered public radio with an Achilles' heel unique to the network's bookish listenership: "I always joke that I was the last possible choice — a lifetime sports-radio guy — to jump into public radio. The blowback was very intense from radio listeners about someone like me being on those airwaves."

Martínez starts his new job on July 6, but the date of his on-air debut as a "Morning Edition" anchor has yet to be finalized.

For the record:
11:06 AM, May. 30, 2021: An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated that A Martínez became solo anchor of “Take Two” when Alex Cohen left KPCC for Spectrum News 1. In fact, Cohen left the show a year earlier to become a “Morning Edition” host.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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