Robin Meade’s authentic joie de vivre marks 20 years at HLN’s ‘Morning Express’

Robin Meade on the set of "Morning Express" at HLN in 2019. HLN
Caption
Robin Meade on the set of "Morning Express" at HLN in 2019. HLN

Credit: Jeremy Freeman

Credit: Jeremy Freeman

She started on 9/11 and is the remaining news legacy of a network now focused on true crime.

Turn on HLN any time between 11 a.m. and 6 a.m. and it’s a steady dose of true crime, mostly repeats of “Forensic Files.”

But every weekday between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. is a five-hour news block hosted by Robin Meade, a chipper Ohio native who recently celebrated 20 years on the air.

Meade’s length of tenure as host of a national morning TV news program is historically only exceeded by Matt Lauer on the “Today” show, who lasted just shy of 21 years before issues of sexual misconduct took him down in 2017. Come September of 2022, she’ll edge ahead of Lauer and become the leader of morning longevity.

Her path to HLN was pretty typical for the time. Out of college, she worked at progressively larger TV stations in Mansfield, Ohio; Columbus, Ohio; Cleveland; Miami; then Chicago. At age 32, she nabbed the national morning host job at what was then called CNN Headline News, the type of job many broadcasters hunger for.

If anything, her on-air start date at HLN was memorable: 9/11. But she overcame that emotionally taxing beginning to shape the show over time in her image: bright, breezy, vibrant and no nonsense. Her tagline she says at the top of every hour encapsulates her persona: “Good Morning Sunshine!”

“I always joke, ‘I can’t believe I haven’t been fired yet!” Meade said in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But I’m very grateful. It is the most surreal experience when someone says, ‘I’ve been watching you since junior high,’ and they’re 30 now! I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the viewers.”

Over the past two decades, Meade’s network struggled to adjust to a changing world where folks no longer needed to watch “headline news” and relied on smartphone news alerts and social media feeds while seeking opinion and punditry on other cable networks. By 2008, the network dropped “Headline News” and became HLN. In 2018, the network largely gave up on live news during the day, ceding 19 hours to true crime repeats.

Meade’s “Morning Express” was the lone survivor. She was too popular to cancel.

“She’s so darn good,” said Ken Jautz, CNN executive vice president responsible for HLN. “She’s a burst of energy every morning and she can connect with viewers like nobody else. Her longevity is a result of authenticity and hard work.”

That connection is apparent in the ratings: she reaches about six million people every month and in the key 18-49 demographic, she will often beat her brethren at CNN’s “New Day” John Berman and Brianna Keilar.

“Her warmth, wit and beauty all make her very likable and credible,” said George Franco, a former Fox 5 reporter who is now an auctioneer. “She talks with people, not at people.”

Hal Eisenberg, a Cumming resident who runs a tutoring program, said he has been a dedicated Meade viewer for two decades: “Robin has a great delivery, which keeps you vested in whatever story she’s talking about,. She also has the ability to go from lighthearted to serious without it feeling too heavy handed.”

Caption
Robin Meade came from WMAQ-TV in Chicago before coming to what was then called CNN's Headline News in 2001. PUBLICITY PHOTO

Credit: PUBLICITY

Robin Meade came from WMAQ-TV in Chicago before coming to what was then called CNN's Headline News in 2001. PUBLICITY PHOTO
Caption
Robin Meade came from WMAQ-TV in Chicago before coming to what was then called CNN's Headline News in 2001. PUBLICITY PHOTO

Credit: PUBLICITY

Credit: PUBLICITY

Any given hour, Meade will often touch on at least 25 different stories covering a broad array of topics. This past Thursday’s 6 a.m. hour show included stories about business (supply chain issues), crime (Brian Laundrie’s disappearance), the pandemic (Sanjay Gupta talking vaccines on the Joe Rogan podcast), pop culture (William Shatner’s trip to space), health (FDA’s new guidelines regarding salt) and inspiration (a video of a cop saving a man from a burning car.)

She had a light moment with meteorologist Bob Van Dillen, who has been with Meade the longest of anyone on air: 19 years. They mock-argued over how to pronounce “foliage” as she teased him on his New Jersey roots. “Oh, you saying I don’t pronounce things right?” Van Dillen said, putting on his Jersey accent for a moment. Meade let out her signature giggle.

“I say he’s aged me and he says I’ve aged him,” she said in the interview.

Caption
Robin Meade doing her "Salute to the Troops" segment October 14, 2021 during the 6 a.m. telecast. HLN

Credit: HLN

Robin Meade doing her "Salute to the Troops" segment October 14, 2021 during the 6 a.m. telecast. HLN
Caption
Robin Meade doing her "Salute to the Troops" segment October 14, 2021 during the 6 a.m. telecast. HLN

Credit: HLN

Credit: HLN

One of Meade’s most enduring daily features is the “Salute to the Troops.” It was 2003 and troops were deploying to Iraq. She remembers holding up a mug one morning celebrating a branch of the military and was soon sent mugs from other branches.

“We have a lot of military involved viewers here,” Meade said. So she began giving military families a chance to give video shout outs to their loved ones overseas.

“We still do that every morning, every day,” Meade said. “It evolved naturally and has staying power.”

And the origins of that “morning sunshine” line? She credits her dad Linro when she was a kid. “He’d give me one chance to get up,” she said. “It was cheerful. He’d clap his hands and say, ‘Morning sunshine!’ If he had to come back a second time, it wasn’t quite so sunny. It was just a normal way to start the day. I hope it conveys that feeling of warmth in the morning.”

She said no matter how she personally feels any given morning, she carries a responsibility for her viewers’ emotions. “They could go anywhere to read information,” she said. “They tune in for a feeling. It’s not only my job to get the information, I have to get you feeling like you want to take on the day.”

She said she isn’t there to feed viewers a steady diet of fear and mayhem.

“We’re very choosy on how we present it,” Meade said. “You may need to know someone was stabbed but do you need to know they were stabbed 27 times? Maybe not. It’s my job to be emotional guardian in the morning.”

Caption
Robin Meade poses with her new CD, “Count on Me,” in her offices at CNN in downtown Atlanta. MELISSA RUGGIERI / MRUGGIERI@AJC.COM

Robin Meade poses with her new CD, “Count on Me,” in her offices at CNN in downtown Atlanta. MELISSA RUGGIERI / MRUGGIERI@AJC.COM
Caption
Robin Meade poses with her new CD, “Count on Me,” in her offices at CNN in downtown Atlanta. MELISSA RUGGIERI / MRUGGIERI@AJC.COM

While all major CNN weekday anchors have moved up to New York over the past 20 years, Meade has stayed put in Atlanta. While there were rumors a few years back that CNN chief Jeff Zucker tried to get Meade to go to New York, she said that is not true.

“I’ve never been asked,” she said. “I don’t feel the need to go to New York. Even though I don’t say it, there is an energy understanding that I’m not coming out of the same 12-block area in Manhattan as the other shows. You want that different sensibility. I understand the person who has to drive to work or is caught in traffic or stuck behind a combine in Middle America. That’s me.”

Meade is also a musician who has recorded two CDs and has performed multiple times at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur. For her, songwriting is a form of “musical journalism.”

But she said her HLN job was so taxing during the pandemic, she hadn’t been able to get back to her music. She also postponed her annual Christmas shindig this year at Eddie’s Attic.

“It’s such an intimate beautiful space,” she said. “Who knows? It may end up being an Easter show. I look forward to the end of this pandemic.”

Caption
Robin Meade has performed regularly at Eddie's Attic in Decatur. (Melissa Ruggieri / mruggieri@ajc.com)

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC

Robin Meade has performed regularly at Eddie's Attic in Decatur. (Melissa Ruggieri / mruggieri@ajc.com)
Caption
Robin Meade has performed regularly at Eddie's Attic in Decatur. (Melissa Ruggieri / mruggieri@ajc.com)

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC


WHERE TO WATCH

“Morning Express With Robin Meade,” weekdays from 6-11 a.m. on HLN

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