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Celebrating Three Decades Of Sam Baker On KERA

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KERA
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KERA Assistant Producer Rebekah Morr works with Sam Baker on Morning Edition. Rebekah asked colleagues to share how working with Sam has impacted them to mark his 30th anniversary at KERA.

Sept. 23 is a momentous day for our Morning Edition host, Sam Baker. On this day 30 years ago, he joined KERA.

Over the years, Sam Baker has become our morning guide through the moments that have defined our lives and our region — from the Sept. 11 attacks to the deadly police shootings in Dallas in 2016, from the Ebola virus arriving in North Texas to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sam, a Beaumont native, is determined and dependable. He gets up in the middle of the night each day to bring listeners the news. Nothing stops him: Not bad weather, not icy roads. In fact, we can’t remember the last time he took a sick day.

I had the privilege of talking to some of Sam’s current and former colleagues and admirers about his impact on them.

An Authoritative, Trusted Voice

Bob Ray Sanders worked at KERA in 1991 when Sam hosted the KERA-TV program On the Record. Sanders said he was instantly jealous of Sam.

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KERA
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In addition to hosting Morning Edition, Sam has also moderated a number of debates and for several years hosted a show on KERA-TV, "On The Record."

“Not because he was tall and handsome, which he is, but he had a voice that was just incredible, that was authoritative and powerful, but one that had compassion and kindness,” Sanders said. “He had this ability to relate to people, and it was like they were talking to an old friend.”

John McCaa, who spent decades anchoring at WFAA-TV in Dallas-Fort Worth, said during his time as an anchor, he would always listen to Sam’s morning broadcasts to see how he was reporting the news of the day.

“Sometimes in the news, there’s more than one really bad story that’s going on and in those moments I think viewers and listeners turn to a soft, calm, understanding, trusting voice,” said McCaa, who's a guest host on KERA’s Think. “For me, that has always been Sam Baker.”

Diligent & Consistent

One of the many things Sam’s colleagues at KERA admire about him is how consistent and diligent he is in crafting compelling stories and delivering news to listeners.

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KERA
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Sam Baker gets out of bed before the sun comes up to host Morning Edition, and has almost everyday since the early '90s.

Education reporter Bill Zeeble said even though the early morning gig requires a certain level of discipline, Sam is still flexible and able to deliver the news despite unforeseen obstacles.

“Throw the pandemic into the mix, move his workplace, tell him to write and anchor from home, and see if it sounds the same,” Zeeble said. “It does.”

And as digital producer Elizabeth Myong points out, he never misses an assignment. Ever.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him miss a Vital Signs post since I’ve been here, even if he’s going on vacation,” Myong said. “I find that kind of diligence very admirable.”

A ‘Razor Sharp’, Elegant Writer

Sam is also notorious in the newsroom for his top-notch writing and editing. Courtney Collins, senior editor for special projects, said she’s constantly in awe of it.

“[His writing and editing] is razor sharp and always gets to the heart of the story,” she said. “I often go back and look at features I’ve written and compare my intros to the ones Sam puts on the air. The way he cuts right to the most important information while still writing so elegantly is inspiring!”

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KERA
Sam Baker with his mother, Frances when he was honored with the North Texas Legends Award from the Dallas Press Club in 2018.

And Sylvia Komatsu, KERA’s chief content and diversity officer, notes that he somehow manages to do so under tight deadlines.

“He’s a clear, elegant writer and a superb editor,” she said. “I marvel at all he juggles in the morning under deadline pressure — while still sounding so calm and reassuring on the air.”

‘He Cares So Much’

In addition to his journalistic integrity and proficiency, Eric Aasen, KERA’s managing editor, said Sam also cares deeply about the work he does.

“He cares about getting the story right, he cares by holding editors accountable and questioning why we are (or are not) covering certain stories,” Aasen said. “He cares about helping make the news as clear as possible He knows morning listeners are busy getting ready to start their day and he wants to make it as easy as possible to digest what he’s telling them.”

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Something listeners may not know about Sam Baker is that he has a great sense of humor.

King Of One-Liners

Krys Boyd, host of KERA’s Think, said many listeners probably wouldn’t know that Sam has a great sense of humor. She calls him the king of one-liners.

“It’s kind of a dry sense of humor, but when Sam says something everybody laughs,” she said. “It’s a great thing to know about someone who has this kind of grave, authoritative presence on the air, which is exactly what you want from your morning anchor.”

Sam is also a lover of jazz and movies — which he gives the best recommendations for, by the way. He used to volunteer his time to produce the weekly series Jazz in Words and Music for Reading and Radio Resources, an agency serving the visually impaired.

A Mentor & Friend

When I moved to Dallas from Central Illinois five years ago, I sought out the local public radio station to help inform and educate me during the transition to my new home.

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Sam Baker hasn't just reported the news on KERA Radio — he's also hosted news programs on KERA-TV.

Sam quickly became my guide to North Texas, helping me understand the news of the day on my long commutes to and from college, putting me at ease as I started each day.

Little did I know he would later become my colleague, an incredible mentor and a friend.

I consider myself very fortunate to learn from and work beside him each morning. And I can’t thank Sam enough for all the guidance he’s provided over the years — well before he ever knew me.

On behalf of the entire KERA staff and all of your loyal listeners, congratulations on 30 years of exemplary service, Sam.

Rebekah Morr is KERA's Morning Edition producer. She came to KERA from NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she worked as a news assistant at Weekend All Things Considered.