Dan Gladden is missing.
The former Twins star forgot his scheduled call to WCCO Radio this spring morning, forcing the show’s relatively new host to make do.
No sweating. Vineeta Sawkar is more than ready to hit hard.
During her time as an anchor for KSTP-TV, the 54-year-old anchor had to improvise during major news stories, including the collapse of the I-35W bridge. Additionally, she is one of Minnesota’s most enthusiastic sports fans. For the next few minutes, she expertly dissects the team’s current record and moves forward on her own, as if that was the plan all along.
Sawkar never expected to be back in the media lineup. After KSTP let her go in 2013, she joined Star Tribune’s digital team. This was followed by periods of public relations for HealthPartners and the University of St. Thomas.
She was as surprised as anyone when WCCO asked her to step back into the big leagues, calling her to take over for beloved Dave Lee as he retired. This makes her the first woman and person of color to lead the station’s prestigious morning driving slot.
As Sawkar explained in the Green Room after the show, she’s making the most of the new gig — and isn’t home.
How was the pandemic for you?
It was really hard. I am an extrovert. I draw energy from others. I like walking into a room where I don’t know anyone. So it was really hard not being able to do anything anymore. Obviously there are more serious things related to the pandemic, but to a lesser extent it was really hard for people like me. I can certainly sympathize now with people who suffer from depression.
Have you faced depression?
Not in the technical sense. But it was hard to come out of the sadness. I was jealous of people who were introverted. I could see how much they almost enjoyed being at home and not having to deal with social situations.
Were you social when you were a kid?
As soon as I started talking. I was always the one who gathered the neighborhood kids for plays or hosted the game show. When I lived in India, I played Little Red Riding Hood in a play because I was the only one who spoke good English.
How long have you spent in India?
I was born in the United States, but we moved to India when I was 4 years old. My parents were born and raised in India. They came to New York with eight dollars to their name. This is where I was born. Then my father, who was an oncologist, changed his mind, so he moved back to India and we lived in Bangalore. After a year, my dad changed his mind again and found a great facility in Kansas City. That’s where I grew up. I think I was kind of pressuring them to come back. My parents say I was adamant about it.
Was it in Kansas City that you developed your love of sports?
I was a die-hard Royals fan. I liked the chefs. I have always admired people who have great athletic abilities. I told my husband that when I retire we will see the Wild in every arena in the United States.
Who is your favorite athlete of all time?
Wayne Gretzky. No one has dominated the sport like him. He was the one who introduced me to hockey in the 80s when I was going to Boston University. He scored a lot of goals, but what I really liked about him was his assist record. He prepared people for success.
Favorite vacation spot?
Sanibel Island and Captiva Island in Florida. I like the beach. I have never been to Europe. My dream destination is Santorini, Greece. Sounds so intriguing to me, clear water, Mediterranean cuisine.
Favorite local restaurant?
I love the Lexington bar. It’s classic. But our favorite spot is Sakura in downtown St. Paul. We are here for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations. Every special occasion.
Your favorite kind of music?
I’m a 70s and 80s person. It takes me back to a certain time in my life. I recently saw the Scorpions in Las Vegas. I was kind of a metalhead in college. Aerosmith, AC/DC, Ratt. I could tease my hair pretty big.
Radio and WCCO don’t have a great track record when it comes to spotlighting women and people of color. Does it put extra pressure on you?
I hope people see what a big step this is for WCCO Radio. They’ve been white men in that chair for 80 years. So it’s exciting to be part of this change. When I was on TV, I always felt like kids of color were looking at me and thinking, “If she can do it, so can I.” When I got fired, I always felt like I let them down.
How difficult was it when KSTP let you go?
It was hard. Being on TV was the only thing I wanted to do since I was in fifth grade. When they called me into the office and said they were going to get rid of me in a year, it was a sock in my gut and ego. But I have no bitterness. It’s a brutal business. It was one of my hesitations to come back. But now I’m not afraid anymore. I know that if something should happen, I can always go back to the private sector. I’m just going to go out there and enjoy it as much as I can.