Get to know NPR Morning Edition host A Martinez
Michigan Radio hosted a special event Wednesday with NPR Morning Edition host A Martinez as part of our speaker series.
Martinez joined NPR in the summer of 2021. He had a wide-ranging conversation with Michigan Radio Morning Edition host Doug Tribou about growing up in Southern California, his radio career, reporting from Ukraine, and more.
Here are some highlights from that conversation.
Doug Tribou: Let’s start with some basics. Your grandfather brought his family, including your mom, to the United States in the late 1960s from Ecuador. Tell us a little about your family and growing up in Los Angeles.
A Martinez: In 1969, my grandfather had enough of his business getting ransacked in Ecuador, so he decided to pick up roots and take everyone to the United States. New York and Miami is typically where Ecuadorians go. But he wanted to have nicer weather, so he chose Los Angeles and he established himself here.
We always lived somewhere in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Koreatown. That's where my family still lives. And so that's where I grew up ... in an area that was extremely multicultural. Hopefully that's something I can use, or have been able to use in public radio.
DT: For Morning Edition, you recently traveled to Ukraine [before the start of the Russian invasion]. Tell us a about where you were and what you saw while you were there.
AM: I got to go to Kyiv and mostly just in the city. I think back and there was this sense of [from Ukrainians] of not wanting the rest of the world to know - if they were scared - that they were scared.
I asked them, “So what would be different if Russia were to invade? What would be different about the last time they invaded in 2014, when they annexed Crimea?”
And to a man and to a woman, they would say, "They they're going to meet a completely transformed Ukraine, one with a bigger sense of national pride and duty to what the country was trying to become."
And we've seen it.
DT: At the start of every hour, we hear the Morning Edition theme song and after promoting what stories are coming up in the show, one of the hosts does a sort of "this day in history" or today’s birthday thing. You have a lot of fun with yours, throwing in some lyrics from a singer’s songs, things like that. A couple of weeks ago, and you did one of those entirely in Spanish. I'd love to have you tell a little bit about that moment and that decision to do something in Spanish and not translated into English on the national show.
AM: It was the birthday of a Mexican comedian who had passed a few years ago, but his name is Roberto Gomez Bolaños. He created a character called Chespirito. Chespirito was a TV show on Mexican television, but it was all over Latin America and in Los Angeles, where I grew up. And [we watched] in my household, where all I spoke was Spanish until I got to the first grade.
Chespirito had a few different characters. One of them was El Chapulín Colorado, which is translated to The Red Grasshopper. And he was a bumbling superhero who would always fall down and not save the day and always do something silly. Every time he would fall down, he would say, “Todos mis movimientos están fríamente calculados,” which, translated, means "All of my movements are coldly calculated."
I got a little flak on Twitter and a couple of emails asking me to translate what I said. I also got a lot of tweets and emails from people who knew exactly what I was talking about and loved hearing Spanish on Morning Edition. So for the people that wanted me to translate, I said, you know, I'm not going to do that because sometimes I think if you're expressing your culture, I don't know if it's on that person to have to make it easy for the person that maybe was uncomfortable hearing it or maybe didn't understand it.
[Editor's note: A mentioned he was never a public radio listener before he started working at KPCC in Southern California.] DT: You made a big switch in 2012. Sports radio to news, issues, and culture in public radio. What was that transition like?
AM: That's the kind of listener that public radio has been going after, the kind that maybe has never been exposed to public radio. And if you just give them a second to put it on their listening plate that maybe they'll find room for it in their day or in their commute.
So I figured that's the way I would take it. I would take it as I'm that new listener that public radio's trying to attract, except that I'm the host in this situation. I think that's been the biggest problem with public radio, public media over the decades. And hopefully that's changing because I can kind of see a little bit of it now, the reaching out a little bit more. And that's only a good thing.
DT: Well, I'm looking forward to hearing much more from you. I've been enjoying listening over these past several months. Thanks so much for doing this tonight.
AM: Thanks and thank you for giving us [former Detroit Lions now L.A. Rams quarterback] Matthew Stafford, by the way. L.A. loves Detroit this year!
DT: [laughing] We're trying to end this on a positive note, A!
AM: It is positive for L.A.!
Editor's note: Questions and quotes in this article were excerpted from a longer conversation and edited for length and clarity for this format.