Faces Of NPR showcases the people behind NPR--from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You'll find out about what they do and what they're inspired by on the daily. This week, we feature A Martínez, host of Morning Edition and Up First.
Name: A Martínez
Twitter Handle: @AMartinezLA
Job Title: Host, Morning Edition & Up First
Where you're From: Los Angeles, CA.
How has your transition to NPR been?
Really fun. Also, really eye opening. I've been doing local radio my whole career. Doing a big national show and seeing how the engine works and the mechanics of it all, and just seeing how dedicated and smart as a whip and fast on their feet this group is, it's really amazing to see it up close like this. If a Morning Edition fan could be in my position, they would be geeking out all the time. Because this is such an intricate engine that moves so flawlessly each and every day. It's amazing.
What surprised you most about NPR?
It's the power. When I got hired, I got like 2,000 extra followers on Twitter immediately. I didn't do anything to get them. They made the announcement and bam, people were all of the sudden following me. And then the engagement that people have on social media with the NPR brand. People really just locked into what this show is and what NPR does and what they put out there. And I kind of thought that's how it was going to be, but to see it on the screen and to see and feel it happen, that's a different thing.
Were you surprised about NPR's audience, or did you know that the audience was what they are?
KPCC — that's the station I worked at before — it's an NPR audience. I kind of had an idea of what the audience was like. It's been an eye opener, but it's also been kind of nice. Because in the end, I think public radio listeners all have something similar in their DNA; they all kind of have something that they share. Maybe they can't put a finger on it, but it's this mindset, it's this way of looking at news and kind of appreciating the way NPR handles this news and processes and puts it out there for people. I think there's a shared value in it that I think is really nice to see and hear and read.
You said that public radio changed your perspective on life. Could you give me some more insights of what you mean?
I was a sports person my whole life and career. I grew up as a little kid who loved sports. That's all I thought about, all I wanted to do. Then when I got to high school, I thought: Well, I could make this my whole life. Either I'm going to play Major League Baseball or I'm going to write about Major League Baseball. One or the other is going to happen. I don't know which, but one or the other is gonna happen. Then I lived my dream. I traveled with the Dodgers for 10 years. I was their embedded reporter. I was doing the pregame show, the postgame show, I was filing stories after these games, traveling on the plane with them, in the hotel. Everywhere they went, I was. So that's like living the dream that I wanted. I was basically part of the baseball team and chronicling their history. And then from there, I moved to ESPN. And after a while you think: Okay, well, this is going to be my life. I'm going to be this person, the sports person, forever. But then when I got to KPCC, and now NPR, I didn't realize that I was capable. That was something that I had in me, to be able to expand myself past just sports into all kinds of things, because that's what public media is about. It's a curiosity to explore all kinds of things, things that may seem strange to others. It's that curiosity that's always there, that shared value, that I think public radio listeners, and the person that works on public radio, has. I never thought that was me. Having this happen in my life, it showed that I am capable of a lot more. It's nice to see that other person.
What do you feel like your main duty as a journalist is?
Number one, I found that I have a curiosity about a million different things. And so I want to share that curiosity with the listeners to go into a story, asking questions that they have, asking questions that they want answered. Sometimes I think we as journalists get into journalism mode too much to the point where we forget who we're doing this for. And we are these audiences' representatives. But as a journalist, I think that I need to make sure that I'm not selfish about what I want to know about, but understand this particular person and what the listeners want to know about too, because I can make everything about what I want to find out.
What would you say is the most challenging and rewarding part of your job?
The challenge for me is coming up with pitching stories that I think are interesting, or that I think would benefit the listener. Sometimes I think this could be just me, but I'm under confident when it comes to: I wonder if people would want to know about this? Is it just me? Or is it something that people want to know about? But I gotta just kind of dive in and forget about it and just pitch things. And usually it works out.
And then rewarding?
When I take the leap and respond to it, that's because that's the feedback. That's where your instincts were proven right. And ideally, you build on it. Ideally you think: Well, you know what you're doing, right?But doubt always comes back. And then the validation comes when people engage and say: Hey, that was really interesting. I didn't know about that, or I didn't think of that. Or, you know: I'm so glad you asked it that way. You really challenged that person to come up with an answer. You know, that's the most rewarding stuff about this.
Is there anyone you still want to speak to or a story you still want to cover?
So when I first came on my very first show, Noel King asked me that question on the fly; I didn't know she was gonna ask me that. So I just said there's one person I do want to talk to: Eddie Vedder, the singer from Pearl Jam. I don't know, there's just something about the way he handled himself in his career that I kind of want to try and crack that nut open, because he's always been so quiet and secretive that I've always wanted to talk to him. But there's a long list of people that I still would love to have like 15 minutes with. I'd love to talk to Dave Chappelle for 15 minutes. I don't know what I'd ask him. I don't know if I'd be too nervous.
I'd love to talk to Jennifer Lopez for 15 minutes, only because, aside from the fact that she's awesome, she has made an incredible career out of what a lot of people would say is like, Well, you know, she can't sing that great. She's a mogul based on people doubting her.
To have a few minutes to talk to someone that brings joy in someone's life, I think that's just as valuable.
November 2022, The Flash film is scheduled for release. I want to interview Ezra Miller in my office.
Can you tell me about your toy collection?
I can show it to you. I can walk over...
A Martínez toy collection
A Martínez toy collection
A Martínez toy collection
A Martínez toy collection
A Martínez toy collection
A Martínez toy collection
So glad this office had the space for it. But I didn't realize how much I had until I actually moved it.
Do you know how many you have?
I know I have at least 200. So here, I'll start right here...
So that's your favorite character?
Yeah, I mean. I was a kid in the 70s and 80s. And so what every kid in my school loved was one of two people: It was Superman or Batman. Everyone was like, I'm Batman; I'm Robin. My uncle once brought home a bunch of comic books, and some of them were the Flash. And I was like, he can run really fast. And I could run really fast too. In my neighborhood in Koreatown, I was like one of the fastest kids there. It's like, he does something that everyone has done at one point in their lives. Everyone has tried to run as fast as they can. He doesn't have super strength. He was actually one of the only superhero scientists. He's a criminal scientist. And he's not massively big. He's not bulky. He's this small guy who runs fast. That was me as a kid, a small kid who ran. And it's like, I didn't bully; I ran away from bullies. I don't know if you saw the movie Justice League. The one that came out a few years ago with Ezra Miller, he plays the Flash. There's one scene that I thought he nailed the Flash personality more than anything else. And it's the scene with Batman and Wonder Woman, and they're all gonna go into battle. And the Flash is looking at him, and he goes: You guys look like you're ready for battle. I don't do battle. I just push people and run away. It's like, that's the Flash right there. He just pushes people and runs away.
How do you celebrate your heritage?
The LA Rams... There are hardly any Ecuadorians in LA. So it's hard to find it. There isn't an Ecuadorian community in Los Angeles. There's one Ecuadorian restaurant I know in all of LA. So it's not easy for my family to have that sense of community. At home, like at my grandparents house, that's where we eat our foods. They have a satellite connection to the news station in Ecuador. That's how we stay connected that way. But you know, my grandfather is the one that put us here. He brought us here. He could have taken us somewhere else. To celebrate my own family's heritage, it's really just in the family.
So your grandfather's the one that came here?
Yeah, my grandpa was. He made shoes, like he was an actual guy who made leather dress shoes. But his shop was vandalized over and over and over again. And finally, in 1969, it's like, hell with this, I'm leaving. I can't keep putting money into this place and have people destroy it and steal from it. So he just picked everyone up — and this is him and his nine kids, my mom included — and went to the United States. Only because he knew one person in LA, he chose LA. He didn't want to pick New York or Miami because the weather's too rocky in both places.
Did he open his shop back up in LA?
No, see, that's the thing. That's how the immigrant experience goes. You can be a doctor in some other country, then come here and you're just another immigrant. So even though he had an incredible amount of skill in working with leather, he wound up just being someone that put leather tool belts together in a factory. The funny thing is that he was in this factory in Hollywood, along with other people who had careers — like big careers somewhere else. But when they arrived in the United States, they're just another immigrant that could put something together. He was fine because he felt that he was finally building something. I'll just come here, work this job, and then maybe my kids, my aunts and uncles, my mom, maybe they can build something in a place where maybe they won't get torn down. And to his credit, almost all my aunts became LA Unified school teachers. My uncle worked for the City Ballet. He drove a sanitation truck for 30 years. So everyone made something of themselves, even if he had to not do what he was doing before. He kind of sacrificed that so that his kids wouldn't have to feel challenged, or at least not feel like their work was taken from them.
Does your family listen to you on the radio?
Well, no. My mom does, but no one else. Only because they're all nervous for me. It's been 25 years, you know, you don't have to feel nervous for me. When they hear me they're like, Oh, no, no, no. What if something happens? But yeah, they get very nervous hearing me. My mom will always listen whenever she can.
You have four grandchildren?
Oh, well, my wife had two children when I met her. And so they were 7 and 5. We've been together now for 25 years. You can't pick when you become a grandparent. It's up to someone else to make that choice. And so I became a grandfather at 39. My oldest [grandchild] is 11. When it happened, I was like, Oh, my gosh, how's this gonna work? My wife is just like, Oh, no. But it turned out better. Because we were young grandparents. You know, we were super young grandparents. And we were able to do a lot with the first two, that maybe we wouldn't have. So my youngest [grandchildren] are 2 and 1. And now I'm 50, and my wife's a little older than me. We're tired. It's hard to keep up with them. So imagine if my two kids had just gotten started now? We'd be 60 something when they're 11 or 12. As much as it felt like a strain back then, like a strain in the future, it turned out to be better that we started that young. We were able to just have fun and do young grandparent stuff as opposed to old grandparent stuff, you know?
So how was it growing up in Koreatown?
I'm so glad. That's where my grandparents are, still in the same house. It has been 50 years, the same place in Koreatown. One of the cool things is that, that particular spot in Koreatown, it wasn't quite Koreatown in that there were a ton of Koreans there in the 70s. In the 80s, that's when a lot of Koreans started flooding there. And then that's changed too, because that was an area that's in the north part of Koreatown, that's now Little Bangladesh. So seeing that area just change over the decades, that's been the best part, just seeing how people move in and move out, seeing all these different forces at work. It was a real education on how urban life is and how different things wind up being culturally different, just because of the way a city works. I'm really glad that I was lucky enough to live right in the center of a big city like that.
Do you plan to move to DC? Are you going to stay in LA?
I've been here my whole life. One of the reasons why this job was so appealing is that they said, we want you to be the person at NPR West. But I'm glad I get to stay in my hometown cocoon, but be a national voice. It's the best of both worlds.