Just after the sun rose Thursday morning behind the Gateway Arch, Al Roker broadcast part of NBC's "Today" show in front of a cheering crowd.
About 50 people — and one Post-Dispatch Weatherbird — stood scrunched in a fenced-off spot in Luther Ely Smith Square between the Old Courthouse and the new entrance to the Arch museum. In between live segments, Roker shook hands and posed for pictures with the crowd, including the 'Bird.
At one point he was seen holding a box of Imo's Pizza, but handed it off to the crowd behind him. He was fully aware the cheese was Provel, witnesses said.
He said of the Arch: "It is spectacular."
Roker was in town Wednesday to film segments about the renovated and expanded Gateway Arch museum and visitor center, which reopens Tuesday.
St. Louisans could watch Roker in person from 6 to 8 a.m. Thursday as he broadcast from between the Old Courthouse and the Arch. The “Today” show airs on KSDK (Channel 5) from 7 to 9 a.m.
A segment, taped Wednesday, showed Roker getting a tour of the Arch museum with Mike Ward, Superintendent of the Gateway Arch National Park, and and Eric Moraczewski, executive director of the Gateway Arch Park Foundation. He remarked on the cultural and racial diversity of the exhibits as he looked at them with Rhonda Schier, chief of museum services with the National Park Service.
The two of them then ducked inside an elevator to ride to the top. "Hang onto your hat," she said. "Picking up speed now, baby," he said.
Once at the top, they ducked and looked out the windows.
"Wow," he said, looking west.
He also got an exclusive view from the top of the cupola of the Old Courthouse, 197 feet up, from park service ranger Don Schwertfeger. "That was a hard climb, but it's worth it for that view," he said, and then joked about finding an elevator to ride down.
Before his visit, we spoke by phone with Roker, who says he had visited St. Louis several times but has never seen the Arch up close before.
Q • What does it take to take your show on the road? It has to be kind of a big deal to go outside of NBC’s headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York, right?
A • If you look at the “Today” show history, they were the first ones to really take America to different parts around the country and around the world. For me, I’ve got the easy part. I just have to get there. We have production managers and crews who are already there getting stuff set up. My job, I just have to kind of be there and greet folks and have a good time.
Q • 30 Rock is 850 feet tall. The Gateway Arch is 630 feet tall. You’re still making this trip for something shorter. What gives?
A • It’s shorter but more elegant. It’s just this iconic piece of architecture. I think there are certain monuments people should see in person, like the Lincoln Memorial, the Empire State Building, Mount Rushmore. I think the Gateway Arch is one of them.
Q • Are you going to be able to predict and broadcast the weather by looking through the Arch windows?
A • You know, I don’t know if they are going to let us do that. I think it depends on weather conditions. We’ll see.
Q • There’s a renovated and bigger museum under the Arch that tells the story of the westward expansion and the building of the Arch. Are you a history buff?
A • I think you need to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going. How you got to where you are. Unfortunately, I don’t think our children are learning enough about American history or history in general, so I think anything that you can do to bring that alive, not just for future generations, but for the current generation, is still better than experiencing it in a virtual world.
Q • This is kind of a rough time to be in the news business. There’s a lot of bad news to report, as always, and of course this is the fake news era. This is happy news you’re reporting. Why is this still relevant? Why do we need this kind of news?
A • I think you’re bringing America to people. You’re bringing people to people. I think it’s a palate cleanser, if you will. I think people intrinsically know what’s real and what isn’t. I think a lot of folks who run things in all places don’t give real people enough credit. I always bet on the American public.
Q • The Gateway Arch is the world’s tallest national monument. How about a short monument? Do you have any particular favorite?
A • Old Faithful. The geyser itself is basically a hole. You have something very impressive there.