Potomac Two forty-five a.m. finds most people asleep, but for Potomac’s Monika Samtani the day is just beginning. That’s the time her alarm clock rings, launching her out of bed and out the door, all in time to arrive at the WUSA9 newsroom by an invigorating 3:30 a.m.
Along with anchors Andrea Roane, Mike Hydeck, and meteorologist Howard Bernstein, Samtani makes up part of the early morning news team at WUSA9. The morning show airs every weekday from 4:25 to 7:00 a.m. She currently produces “The Extra Mile,” a series covering major transportation news as well as top people in the industry.
Samtani has been back at the station for more than two years now after taking a break following the events of 9/11. The tragedy caused her to refocus her priorities, and she made the choice to leave her long hours and budding career as an anchor to stay home with her three young children. It wasn’t easy at the time to leave her award-winning job, and Samtani admits she’s had to work hard to rebuild a career and reboot. But, she says, it was well worth it.
She attributes freelancing to helping to keep her foot in the door. While it’s important to understand the challenges one faces when leaving a full-time job, she believes her experience shows it’s possible to come back to a career and to be even more successful than before.
“It can be difficult to have to prove yourself all over again, but I believe it’s never too late,” she said. “A big part of my identity is to raise good children, but to still have goals and a satisfying career. It’s important to find a balance. I feel good knowing I’m realizing my dreams while sending forth excellent human beings into the world.”
Nowadays, the most frequent question Samtani gets concerning her work is “what time do you get up?!” She laughingly admits that yes, it’s early, but liking what she does makes it so much easier. “I may say ‘ugh!’ when the alarm goes off, but once I get to the newsroom and become part of the buzz of a new news day it’s intoxicating. No day is the same, that’s what makes everything so exciting.”
So what exactly is her schedule? In a nutshell, it reads as follows:
2:45 a.m. Alarm goes off. She always pushes the snooze button twice, but she’s out of bed by 3. She prepares her clothes the night before, gets dressed quickly and applies basic make-up. “A common misconception is that the local newsroom still has a professional make-up artist. The reality is we apply our own make-up. This is a particular challenge these days in the high def world. It’s not an easy thing to learn the proper technique,” she said.
3:15 a.m. Departure. She throws on her coat and runs out the door. One advantage of leaving the house so early … no traffic. She is at work by 3:30 a.m. with time to spare. “I never have to stress about the roads,” she said.
3:30 am Arrival. The first thing she does upon arriving at the newsroom is to do her beat checks. These consist of calling all the different jurisdictions, checking in with the WUSA9 news desk and finding out what happened over night. “I’m on every 10 minutes, and produce and write everything I report,” she said. “It’s all done live without a teleprompter. It’s unscripted. I usually do about 20 reports a morning.”
4 a.m. Final prep. She finishes up her make-up and puts on her equipment consisting of a wireless microphone and IFB (interruptive feedback) earpiece, a monitoring and cuing device used in television and radio broadcast. Reporting in front of a green screen with the IFB and giving out info without a script makes for a challenge every day to make things appear natural. She can’t wear any green by the way.
4:25 a.m. Show begins. The show starts with all four members of the team taking their places at the news desk. During the two and a half hour broadcast, She is also on the phone receiving updates as well as continuously referring to feeds on line, at the news desk and from Sky Nine, the news helicopter that flies around the area all morning streaming information and photos. It’s hectic, busy, and the ultimate in multi-tasking.
7 a.m. Show ends. The show ends and she and Bernstein begin local cut-ins to the ‘CBS This Morning’ show with weather and traffic. They finish at 8 a.m.
8 a.m. Moving over to the central broadcast newsroom, she works on story packages for future broadcasts. She might go out with a cameraman to shoot a story or arrange for live interviews. She’s constantly looking ahead to the next broadcast and seeing what’s new.
A recent visit at 5:30 a.m. to WUSA9’s Broadcast House in Northwest, D.C. found the newsroom in full swing. In the studio, Samtani’s desk sits behind a large glass window emblazoned with the network logo through which can be glimpsed the backs of the anchors seated at the central news station. The high-tech set consists of a large, crescent shaped desk facing three broadcast cameras with teleprompters. Studio illumination is provided by masses of LED broadcast lights suspended from the ceiling while around the perimeter of the room are large banks of seamless video wall displays, “green screens,” and an interview area raised on a dais with two plush white leather chairs. An adjacent room boasts a larger green screen for weather and traffic reports as well as a fully outfitted kitchen and outdoor news deck with patio furniture and plantings.
The day finds everyone in a well-choreographed dance, moving fluidly from one news segment to the next. The team navigates back and forth between news sets on the periphery and the central broadcast desk, green screens, and other reporting areas. Weather and traffic segments are reported live in front of the green screen or as voice-overs with graphics. When not on camera, Samtani is constantly updating information received via six different monitors, while preparing segments for every quarter hour, creating “teases” in-between (voice-overs with graphics), writing headlines, updating her Facebook page and tweeting.
Quiet reigns during commercial breaks punctuated only by small bursts of conversation or happy banter among the group. “We’re all friends and have great respect for each other. We love what we do,” Samtani said. Before you know it, the day is over at 11:30 a.m. “One benefit to starting so early is that by late morning I’ve already been productive and accomplished so much. And I have plenty of time left to devote to my kids and their activities,” she said.
In addition to her packed news schedule, she also enjoys connecting with the community. She emcees events and makes appearances for worthy causes. She serves on the boards of the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital Foundation, and the local chapter of the global organization, TiE-DC, where senior level professionals focus on mentoring, networking, and education for entrepreneurs. Here she will also be providing media training for C-Level executives.
She hosts a blog on Facebook called “Fit After 40,” geared towards women raising children who are beginning to refocus on themselves. She is also Founder of “Launch Network,” a business that connects professional women through networking events while giving back to charity.
“We as women are our own best advertisers. We know how to network and create support groups with friends. We’re great multi-taskers. We’re capable of so much in our lives if we just give ourselves the chance,” Samtani said. “I feel more confident than ever in my 40’s.”
She moved to Potomac in first grade and attended Carderock Elementary School. She loves going to the Village, where she can often be spotted sipping coffee in the courtyard and chatting with friends. “I love the social aspect of Potomac and the Village. I’m a people-person. It’s a special place,” she said.
For more information on Samtani, or to contact her, visit https://www.facebook.com/MonikaSamtaniTV.