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After 20 years, 'Morning Edition' will sound different. Hear the outgoing and new hosts reflect on it

Mitch Wertlieb and Jenn Jarecki at Vermont Public's headquarters in Colchester.
Nathaniel Wilson
Vermont Public
Mitch Wertlieb and Jenn Jarecki at Vermont Public's headquarters in Colchester.

After 20 years, this is Mitch Wertlieb’s last day hosting Morning Edition for Vermont Public.

He’ll be succeeded by Jenn Jarecki, who previously hosted All Things Considered for us.

Mitch wanted a chance to reflect on his Morning Edition tenure, and explain why he’s moving away from the show to instead host our daily news podcast The Frequency. Meanwhile, Jenn wanted to share a little about herself before taking on Morning Edition full time.

So the two sat down to talk.

Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Jenn Jarecki: I mean, Mitch, I got to ask you the thing that I thought the very first moment I heard that you were considering stepping away from Morning Edition to do something new, which is, "What? Why is this happening?" Can you tell us more about like, why right now feels like the right time?

Mitch Wertlieb: Well, you know, I've been asking myself that question, Jen. No, it's true. And I think the thing I really want to get across is that this was not an easy decision. For me, it was really kind of agonizing in a lot of ways, because as I wrote in the blog post about this, this is the best job I've ever had. I love it so much. Why would you step away from something you love so much?

But the really honest answer is that it is a difficult job to do consistently on a daily basis. And then I looked up, and it was 20 years later, which astounded me. But I started to feel, around the time that COVID hit in 2020, a little bit more of the weighing down of the job physically, emotionally, and psychologically. You know, the news is not easy. It never is. I'm not saying that it's harder now than it ever has been. It's just that there was a lot that was wrapped up in COVID that made it difficult for me to come in every day and not feel the weight of it all.

I'm going to miss knowing that a snippet of a song I played resonated with somebody, or that somebody who doesn't necessarily like sports enjoyed what I said in the sports report... And I'm going to miss that sort of invisible connection with Vermonters.
Mitch Wertlieb

And I started thinking about, could I do something different? You know, I have a family; I want to be there for them. And most importantly, the Vermont Public listening audience deserves somebody who can come in and have the kind of energy and dedication to do this job every day. And to give them their 100%, as cliched as that sounds. And I felt like if I couldn't keep doing that, it wasn't fair to the people who give me their time to listen.

Jarecki: How does it feel now that it's that it's out there? That it's gone from, you know, like two to three years of thinking about it? It does sound like it was an agonizing decision. And I certainly know it's been some agonizing news for many of us here, who have enjoyed listening to you for the past two decades. Yeah. How's it feel?

Wertlieb: The short answer is I don't know yet. Because I have a lot of trepidation about this too, for one thing. And maybe a lot of people feel this way — I'm not great with change. And it's frightening. And I'm going to be doing some things that I am not, let's say as naturally attuned to as I am doing Morning Edition. I've been in radio now for almost four decades. When you go back further in time, from when I was at WBUR in Boston, and Monitor Radio and then in WMVY on Martha's Vineyard — I've been doing radio a long time, and I love it. But what I'm used to doing is the kind of thing that I do on Morning Edition. And I'm going to be taking on some new challenges. And that's scary. And I really want to do right by the audience and my colleagues. So I feel a lot of pressure in that sense.

But I also believe that change brings growth, and growth can be really good. And it is time for me to try something new. So you know, old dog new tricks — that's what I'm worried about. But it feels right. And now that it's out there, and people know about this, it feels like I've made the right decision. And I know I have to go forward with it.

Jarecki: What are you going to miss most about hosting Morning Edition?

Wertlieb: Oh, I am going to miss so much. Oh my. I'm going to miss just knowing that there are people out there listening. I have to tell you that the whole theater of the mind thing again, as cliche as that might be, is something I believe so much in. I think radio is different than any other kind of media. It takes the visualization of somebody taking the act of listening, you speaking, the magic of it all wrapped up in this microphone and how the voice gets out there to other people. To me, I've never lost that feeling that that was some kind of magic.

I'm going to miss that doing it on a daily basis. I'm going to miss knowing that a snippet of a song I played resonated with somebody, or that somebody who doesn't necessarily like sports enjoyed what I said in the sports report. I'm going to miss all that. And I'm going to miss that sort of invisible connection with Vermonters — that's going to be tough.

Jarecki: I think you converted a whole bunch of people that didn't know they loved sports.

Wertlieb: It was always in them! See, everybody's a sports fan at heart.

I gotta tell you, Jenn, getting to know you just even in the past couple of weeks as you've been transitioning into the job, it's a delight for me. We share a love of movies it turns out. I think you're gonna do some incredible interviews with Vermont's arts community. It's going to be amazing.

And I'm just curious, I know you weren't born in Vermont, but you've been here a long time. What is your connection to the state?

Jarecki: Yeah, it's true. I was not born here. I'm from California originally before making my way to North Hero, which is a magical space for me. And, you know, did the rest of my grade school in North Hero before heading over to Rice Memorial High School, which is where I graduated from high school. And I think we were talking about this Mitch — I gave myself this challenge the other day of like, could I name all the Vermont towns I've lived in in order? Let's see. We got North Hero, South Burlington, Burlington, Richmond, Montpelier, Jonesville, Duxbury, Monkton.

Wertlieb: And I want to get a little bit more into, if you don't mind, what is it about news that you're passionate about? Why did you want to move into this role?

Jarecki: My parents were public radio listeners, so I was definitely like a backseat listener as a kiddo. But you know, at that time, I'll admit it, I was into 95 Triple X, was listening to the top five. And I'm dating myself here, but I would tape it from the radio, put it onto tape.

And so I think for me, it really developed actually in some of the moments where I've moved away from Vermont. So although I've had the privilege of living here for most of my life, I have left a couple times too, and I was dog walking in Pittsburgh and had a lot of time to listen. And I think it was sort of my my time in Vermont, leading into that move. And then really having all this time with a bunch of creatures that were not talking back to me to be able to listen to public radio. And just did the deepest of dives to the point where I just felt like we were then intertwined, totally connected, couldn't imagine a day without it.

I think what I can say that I'm bringing to [Morning Edition] is a love of the program, a love of public media. A need to know what's going on, like most listeners.
Jenn Jarecki

And so when I came back to Vermont, my husband was in graduate school. When I came back, I felt like there was just so few options of places I wanted to go, then [Vermont Public Radio] was number one on my list. And I saw a position in Seven Days and went for it. And now five years later, shockingly enough, I am sitting across the table from Mitch Wertlieb talking about hosting Morning Edition. It is bananas.

Wertlieb: What is your approach to Morning Edition going to be? This is going to be your chair now — how are you going to approach the public news ecosystem?

Jarecki: Well, that's an easy question.

Wertlieb: Not to put you on the spot or anything.

Jarecki: I like to put myself in the listener position, because as I've told you, I've been listening to you for years and years and years — the show is important to me. So from the listener perspective, delivering the show to people, making sure that all the T's are crossed and I's are dotted at the very least at a baseline that listeners are — whether you're streaming, whether you're tuning in in your car, or however it is you find us — that you're going to get the Morning Edition that you expect. So that is baseline.

I think within that, Mitch, I am going to do something that I think was harder for me to access earlier in my career, which is be patient and open to growth. I think I an earlier version of myself would have been like, "OK, on day one, what's new, what's different? What are we doing?" I don't think that's going to serve listeners. And maybe you could ask me in a year and I would have an idea of exactly sort of where we're headed.

But I think what I can say that I'm bringing to it is a love of the program, a love of public media. A need to know what's going on, like most listeners. and I want that in a unbiased, fact- and science-based way. So I want to maintain that connection and hopefully also deepen the work that that I'm able to do in terms of talking to Vermonters. I think speaking of that, I really want to hear from listeners. And knowing our listeners, I have no doubt that we will hear from you all. But seriously, you know, keep us posted. What are you looking for for Morning Edition? What are you missing? But truly, I love wherever the show heads to be collaborative with the people within this organization, but most importantly, the people who are listening.

OK, Mitch, I got to ask you — the Grateful Dead. Can you walk us through the journey? I mean, how it began, how it stood the test of decades, and how it became a staple of your Morning Edition routine.

Wertlieb: We totally don't have the time for that answer! But I'm going to tell you as quickly as I possibly can that the very first time I heard the needle drop on American Beauty — and think it might have been "Friend of the Devil" — like I was instantly hooked. Whatever that sound that Jerry Garcia's guitar was making spoke to me and hit the pleasure center in my brain right away. And I never looked back.

Props to my mom who brought me and my best friend to my first Grateful Dead show at Nassau Coliseum in 1979, when I think I was 14, maybe 15 years old. Chaotic atmosphere for a kid that age. I can't believe my mom took me there. But it was amazing. And I've been on the bus ever since. The music to me is — it's just everything. It got me through the pandemic during the hardest times. I listened to it at least once a day.

And I took a shot that maybe some Vermonters would like it too, and started playing it on the air. But they were wonderful. They responded in kind — turns out there's a lot of deadheads in Vermont. And yes, there are those who can't stand it. For those of you who can't: guess what, it's OK. Now you can come out from under that rock you've been hiding under, it's safe to listen to Vermont Public again.

I would say what excites me about [The Frequency] is doing something that gets me out of my comfort zone... I will always love live radio... But given the reality of the way people live now, podcasts have become really important.
Mitch Wertlieb

Jarecki: OK Mitch, so hosting The Frequency podcast. So we're going from Monday through Friday, live radio first thing in the morning to podcast life. I'm curious, what excites you most about this new chapter in your already amazing career?

Wertlieb: Well, you're kind. I would say what excites me about it is doing something that gets me out of my comfort zone. But I realize it's something that folks really want to hear. I mean, people listen differently now. I will always love live radio; that will always be my first love without a doubt. But given the reality of the way people live now, podcasts have become really important. And our podcasts here are wonderful.

And now The Frequency. And what I'd like to do is just, you know, start out first understanding how to make it — that's going to be tough. That's going to be a learning curve. But once I do that, trying to bring whatever it was that folks say they liked about hearing me on Morning Edition to The Frequency. So you're still going to be caught up to date on all the biggest stories that Vermont Public is running that day. I am really looking forward to speaking with reporters about those stories, and those things that couldn't quite get in for time purposes — because there's always something more.

If I can maybe work a kind of sports report into there. I don't know how that's gonna happen, because it's produced in the afternoon for the next day. It's not the morning after thing. So as you were saying before, Jenn, I'm looking for suggestions. So if folks have an idea of what they'd like to hear with a little bit of sports thrown into The Frequency, please let me know. I have some ideas of my own already, but I don't know if it'll be quite the same. But I'm looking forward to maybe infusing it with whatever kind of personality that I can, such that I have, and making it something that people look forward to getting each day. If they look forward to hearing me on Morning Edition. Thank you. And that's what I want — is to look forward to The Frequency as well.

Jarecki: I already do. And I couldn't leave this conversation without properly saying the most important two words to you I think I could, which are thank you. For your integrity, for your courage, for your dedication and consistency, and your puns, and your music beds and for the moments in which it really doesn't feel OK. And yet, there is an energy you bring to that magic of the air that you talked about. Hey, it may still not be OK, but I'm hearing it from Mitch and that's softening the blow.

Wertlieb: Well, Jenn, that's incredibly gracious of you. I really appreciate it. And I just want to add that one of the things that made this transition for me easier was knowing that you would be taking this chair. I did not want to just have anybody take this. The fact that you're doing this makes me feel so much better about the decision. So thank you for your kind words and for taking the time.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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