It takes a special kind of person to be a morning-show host.
Not just the kind of person who can get up at 3 or 4 a.m. every day, but someone with a personality that the rest of America doesn’t mind seeing when they are tired, grumpy and have not yet had a first cup of coffee.
It is easy to forget the nation’s morning-show mainstays were regular folks once. As the latest installment of Reuters’ monthly First Jobs series, we asked a few top morning hosts about how they started their glittering careers.
Savannah Guthrie, Today Show
First job: Busing tables
“It was at a Greek restaurant in Tucson called Acropolis Gyro, and I was only 14 years old. I got paid $1 an hour to bus tables, and since I didn’t even have a driver’s license at the time, my dad had to drop me off in his truck.
“I learned a lot about Greek food, like spanakopita and moussaka. I always had to explain what a gyro was to people: ‘A 60/40 combination of beef and lamb, roasted and served on a pita with tzatziki.’ See, I still remember.
“Once I started gossiping with my dad about what was happening at work, and he said, ‘Savannah, that is called office politics, and if you are smart, you will stay out of it.’ At the time I didn’t know what he was talking about. Now I know exactly what he meant.
“That job catapulted me into another one three doors down at Cookie Incredible, where I gained 20 pounds eating raw cookie dough. But it all started in that little Greek restaurant.”
Rosanna Scotto, Good Day NY
First job: Chyron operator
“My first job out of college was working for WTBS Superstation, which was at the same location as CNN. We used to call it the ‘Ted Turner School of Broadcasting’.
“When you see words scrolling across a TV screen, that is being run by someone called the ‘chyron operator,’ and that is what I was doing. I was okay with names, but with sports scores, I had a real problem. I couldn’t decipher the different teams, I was doing it on the fly while the show was in progress, and I was screwing up left and right. I felt so bad for the sportscaster. Whenever I see him, I still apologize profusely.
“This was in Atlanta in 1980, and at that time and in that place, blond-haired and blue-eyed people ruled the world. There I was with dark hair and dark eyes, coming from Brooklyn, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. I even tried to pick up a southern drawl, just to fit in.”
Matt Lauer, Today Show
First job: Clothing salesman
“My first real job was working for a men’s clothing store in Greenwich, Connecticut, called Richard’s Men’s Store. It’s still there today. I first went in to ask them to sponsor our rec-league basketball team, and eventually they gave me a job as a stockboy and junior clothing salesman.
“It was fabulous. First, because I liked clothing, so that was cool. Second, because as a salesman, it forces you to make an instant connection with the people walking through the door. You have to strike up a conversation, not be overbearing, and figure out how to forge chemistry with a complete stranger. Honestly that skill has helped me my whole life, and with my career.
“They paid me $2.50 an hour, which I probably spent on old 45 records, because I was really into music at the time. I also used it to try to go on dates with girls who didn’t want to go out with me.”
Steve Edwards, Good Day LA
First job: Drummer
“I was in high school, playing drums in a band, and got hired by a small hotel in the Catskill Mountains. We were supposed to be their house band for the summer.
“We had a fantasy of what it would be like: Seeing lots of beautiful young girls, eating wonderful food, hanging out and just being cool musicians. It lasted three weeks. I don’t remember if they fired us, or if we quit.
“In those days there were some famous hotels in the Catskills, but this one was really third-tier. We slept in the same tiny room with all our instruments. We ate leftovers or rejected food from the dining room.
“We wanted to meet girls, but it turned out the average age of our audience was about 87. At 7:30 we would play waltzes and other slow songs, by 8:15 we would switch to rock-and-roll, and by 8:30 the place emptied out. Each night we went to bed earlier.”
Katie Couric, former host, Today Show; currently Global News Anchor, Yahoo
First job: Camp counselor
“My first paid job, after my senior year of high school, was as a summer camp counselor at Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind near Washington, D.C. My sister, brother and I were all counselors at this camp. We came from a pretty ‘Leave It To Beaver’ upbringing, and my mom wanted us to be socially conscious and help people who were less fortunate.
“It was a real cross-section of kids, from real affluent backgrounds in Maryland and Virginia, to the poorest neighborhoods of D.C. It taught me a lot about responsibility, and how to make a fun summer for those kids. We did all sorts of things you might not think of for the visually impaired, like bowling, swimming – even forming a band. I played piano.
“I remember going to see a production of Peter Pan that my sister produced, with an all-blind cast. I was so moved by it. That camp was an extraordinary experience for me, which still has a special place in my heart. It was also a lot of hard work.