Vineeta Sawkar is breaking boundaries with her new gig at WCCO Radio

A Q&A with the station’s morning-drive host.

By Neal Justin Star Tribune

June 19, 2022

Vineeta Sawkar is breaking boundaries with her new gig at WCCO Radio

A Q&A with the station’s morning-drive host.

Photo by Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

Dan Gladden is missing in action.

The former Twins star forgot about his scheduled call to WCCO Radio this spring morning, forcing the show's relatively new host to scramble.

No sweat. Vineeta Sawkar is more than ready to pinch hit.

During her time as a KSTP-TV anchor, the 54-year-old broadcaster had to ad-lib during major new stories, including the I-35W bridge collapse. Plus, she's one of Minnesota's most enthusiastic sports fans. For the next few minutes, she expertly dissects the team's current record and progress 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 the Star Tribune's digital team. That was followed by stints doing public relations for HealthPartners and the University of St. Thomas.

She was as surprised as anyone when WCCO asked her to return to the big leagues, tapping her to take over for the beloved Dave Lee as he retired. That makes her the first woman and person of color ever to steer the station's prestigious morning-drive slot.

As Sawkar explained in the green room after the show, she's making the most of the new gig — and being out of the house.

How was the pandemic for you?

It was really tough. I'm an extrovert. I get energy off of other people. I love walking into a room where I don't know anyone. So it was really hard to suddenly not be able to do anything. Obviously, there are more serious things related to the pandemic, but to a lesser degree, it was really hard for people like me. I can certainly now empathize with people who suffer from depression.

Did you deal with depression?

Not in the technical sense. But it was hard to snap out of the sadness. I was envious of people who were introverted. I could see how much they almost enjoyed being in their homes and not dealing with social situations.

Were you social as a kid?

As soon as I started talking. I was always the one who gathered the neighborhood kids for plays or was the game-show host. When I lived in India, I played Little Red Riding Hood in a play because I was the only one who could speak English well.

How much time did you spend in India?

I was born in the United States, but we moved to India when I was 4. My parents were born and raised in India. They came to New York City with eight dollars to their names. That's where I was born. Then my dad, who was an oncologist, had a change of heart, so he went back to India and we lived in Bangalore. After a year, my dad changed his mind again and found a great setup in Kansas City. That's where I grew up. I think I was sort of pressuring them to come back. My parents say I was adamant about it.

Is Kansas City where you developed your love of sports?

I was a die-hard Royals fan. I liked the Chiefs. I've always admired people who have great athletic ability. I've told my husband that when I retire, we're going to see the Wild in every arena in the United States.

Who is your all-time favorite athlete?

Wayne Gretzky. No one has dominated sports like he has. He's the one that got me into hockey back 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 assists record. He set people up for success.

Favorite vacation spot?

Sanibel Island and Captiva Island in Florida. I do love the beach. I've never been to Europe. My dream destination is Santorini, Greece. It looks so intriguing to me, the clear water, the Mediterranean food.

Favorite local restaurant?

I love the bar at The Lexington. It's classic. But our go-to place is Sakura in downtown St. Paul. We are there for anniversaries, birthdays, graduations. Every special occasion.

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 up pretty big.

Radio, and WCCO, doesn't have a great record when it comes to spotlighting women and people of color. Does that put extra pressure on you?

I hope people see what a big step this is for WCCO Radio. It's been white men in this chair for 80 years. So it's exciting to be a part of that change. When I was on television, I always felt like kids of color looked up to me and thought, "If she can do it, so can I." When I got fired, I always felt like I had 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 to the gut and the ego. But I don't have any bitterness. It's a brutal business. That was one of my hesitations about coming back. But now I'm not scared. I know if something were to happen, I can always go back to the private sector. I'm just going to go for it and enjoy it as much as I can.