Starting listeners’ day is latest challenge for local news buff

Most people in their mid-50s tend to be settled in their careers and may even be thinking ahead to retirement. Taking up a new pastime or tackling a new job is rarely on the radar.

Summit Hill resident Vineeta Sawkar is not one of those people.  

A couple of years ago, Sawkar decided to emulate her son and play hockey. “I took a Women’s Hockey 101 class from Winny Brodt,” she said. “I’ve always loved hockey, and life is short. So I decided to give it a shot.”

Vineeta Sawkar
Vineeta Sawkar at the microphone during her morning news show at 830 WCCO. Photo by Brad Stauffer

One thing led to another and Sawkar soon found herself playing on a team with several other women on Sunday nights. “I can’t skate backward, so I guess I have to be a forward,” she said with a laugh. “I know where I’m supposed to be on the ice. I just have to figure out how to get there.” 

Playing hockey is Sawkar’s weekend gig. Her weekday gig is considerably more diverse.  

On January 3, Sawkar moved into her new role as host of “The Morning News” on 830 WCCO. From 6-9 a.m., she sits in the director’s chair that was held for three-plus decades by Dave Lee. It’s now her job to inform listeners on everything from snow emergencies to the latest doings at the state Capitol. The nature of the freewheeling show means she might be talking politics with Governor Tim Walz (a first-day guest) or sports with Mike Max.  

“I’ve been a radio listener for years in the morning,” Sawkar said. “The beauty of this job is nothing’s scripted. It’s conversational radio. I hope to fill a niche that hasn’t been filled.”

Sawkar, a native of Kansas, has been on the Twin Cities media scene for more than two decades. She spent 18 years at KSTP-TV before she was informed one day that her services were no longer required.

“I’m a news junkie,” Sawkar said. “That was always the challenge of doing the morning news show at KSTP. What I loved about TV is often you get thrown a curve.”  

“When you’re let go from a job, you have to re-evaluate yourself,” she said. After doing that, Sawkar went to work at the Star Tribune in various roles, including as an online newscaster.  

That led to a regular weekly spot on FM107 with Kevyn Burger—also a KSTP alum. Later, Sawkar did a stint in corporate public relations before moving to the University of Saint Thomas as public relations director.  

She was perfectly happy there when WCCO, which had been using a variety of on-air personnel in the morning slot since Lee’s retirement last April, came calling.

“I had interned at WHDH in Boston,” Sawkar said, “so I had an idea already of the inner workings of radio.”  

Sawkar immediately started doing her homework to prep for the assignment. She had lunch with Lee and picked the brains of other former colleagues who went from being in front of a camera to behind a studio microphone. In addition to Burger, that list included Angela Davis (now at MPR) as well as fellow WCCO colleagues Cory Hepola (whose show follows hers) and the afternoon tandem of Jordana Green and Paul Douglas. The advice from all of them was the same: Just be yourself. 

“I’m a news junkie,” Sawkar said. “That was always the challenge of doing the morning news show at KSTP. What I loved about TV is often you get thrown a curve.”  

Such is likely to be the case in her new role, and Sawkar said she happily anticipates such moments.

“The show is organic,” she said. “Something is said or happens and my producer (Jimmy Erickson) will tell me we’ll have a guest on that topic a half hour later.” 

Sawkar is still getting used to her new surroundings, but she quickly discovered one unanticipated facet to the job. Thanks to the internet, WCCO can be heard all over the world.

“I’ve been hearing from people everywhere and I’m overwhelmed by the support of my friends,” she said. “High school classmates listened and texted me. I’ve heard from folks in Winnipeg and Washington. That was a surprise, but it’s been a lot of fun as well.”

— Dave Wright

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