WCCO Radio Names Vineeta Sawkar as New Morning Host
It took the better part of a year, but WCCO Radio finally has hired Dave Lee’s morning drive replacement. Lee retired at the end of April and Vineeta Sawkar’s hire was announced today, highlighting the long and frustrating process the station trod in replacing him.
Sawkar is best known for her nearly two decades as an anchor for KSTP Television, which she followed with a stint as an online newscaster for the Star Tribune, then spending the last half-decade in corporate communications.
“The thought of sitting in that big chair that legends have occupied is overwhelming and exciting,” says Sawkar, in an interview with TCB. “Dave Lee has such a positive nature and I’d like to carry over his sense of joy and positivity and fun.”
Station management interviewed several dozen candidates to replace Lee, many prominent talent at competing media organizations, but was unable to seal the deal with a prospect until Sawkar. Several offers were made by the station, only to be used to improve candidates’ contract terms at their current employer.
One WCCO staffer who knows Sawkar personally but was not at liberty to speak on behalf of the station describes her as “an awesome person, a hockey mom, someone involved in their neighborhood and schools, perfect for the Good Neighbor.” Sawkar is new to radio, but will host morning drive on her own, without a co-host.
The difficulty in hiring Lee’s replacement speaks to WCCO’s challenges in the marketplace, detailed earlier this year in TCB, including historically dwindling listenership and a dial position on the atrophied AM band. Despite Lee’s departure, WCCO morning drive ratings have held up in his absence, giving the station less urgency to replace him.
Most of WCCO’s recent hires have been from television, from Cory Hepola to Paul Douglas, to several now departed hosts, reflecting the dwindling bench of prominent talk radio talent in the marketplace. And more changes could be in the offing, say sources in the industry, who expect WCCO’s new brand manager Brad Lane to work to shore up some of its underperforming day parts, now that morning drive is finally settled.
“No one can replace Dave Lee,” Sawkar said in a statement. “He is a broadcasting legend and a friend as well. … I hope the ‘Good Neighbor’ station you once listened to in the mornings for school closings is the place you can continue to listen for news and information to get your day started…with some fun, too.”