NPR has named the fourth host for one of its defining shows, Morning Edition: A Martínez will become the network's newest voice at a time when it is trying to attract more Latino listeners. He comes from Southern California Public Radio, where he has been a leading presence for the past nine years.
"I'm just super-stoked that NPR called me, and that NPR picked me," Martínez says. "I can't wait to meet America."
Martínez, co-host of KPCC's Take Two since 2012, joins co-hosts Steve Inskeep, Noel King and Rachel Martin in presenting one of the nation's most popular news shows on radio. Martínez replaces David Greene, who stepped away from the network voluntarily last December after 15 years. Along with his new peers, Martínez will also host the popular morning podcast Up First. The audiences for the show and the podcast do not overlap much. And Up First draws more than double the proportion of Latinos listeners than Morning Edition.
Like Greene, Martínez will be based at NPR's studios in Culver City, Calif.
In interviews, NPR News executives say that Martínez complements the current hosting team's strengths.
"He's got real journalistic acuity. He's got a natural warmth. He's got a really authentic curiosity," says Sarah Gilbert, NPR's vice president for news programming. "He's very comfortable with who he is and what he stands for. And he brings the total self to the table. And that really shines through, I think, to a listener."
"He's got that West Coast sensibility," says Kenya Young, executive producer of Morning Edition. "And when he's off the show, he'll be able to go out in the field and report stories there, and particularly of underserved communities in the area."
Martínez arrives with an unconventional career arc for an NPR host, as he is the first to acknowledge.
"I went to four junior colleges," Martínez says. "I went to a state school. I didn't get great grades and I went into sports radio. It's not considered a great place for intellectual pursuits."
Martínez was hosting a sports talk-radio show for ESPN's Los Angeles station when Southern California Public Radio (also known by its call letters, KPCC) recruited him to co-host a show with Madeleine Brand, a former NPR host herself. Instead, the announcement led to Brand's departure. She now hosts a show at the station's cross-town rival, KCRW, in Santa Monica.
KPCC had actively solicited a grant for the show that called for a person of color to be hired. That, along with Martínez's background in sports talk radio, led some critics to question his presence. Martínez says the backlash led him to wonder if he was right for the job.
Instead, Martínez stuck around. He became an integral part of public radio in Los Angeles. He also served as a fill-in host for Morning Edition earlier this year.
Morning Edition is a tentpole show for NPR, and is the third most listened to news radio show in the country. (NPR's All Things Considered has the biggest audience of any radio news show in the U.S., according to Nielsen's fall 2020 ratings estimates, the most recent available.) The hosts help set the tone of the show and guide its journalism.
"He brings a great energy to every interview," says Rachel Martin, a co-host for Morning Edition. "We are four really different people. I think that's important for a morning show that's supposed to reflect America. I'm excited to see what he's going to do."
In sketching out his own interests, Martínez points to a recent KPCC program on former President Donald Trump's efforts to curb legal immigration - as opposed to the more visible crackdown on people entering the country without proper documentation. The station termed it an "invisible wall."
For Martínez, the interest is personal: he says his mother was deported when he was two years old, and his uncle was permanently deported more recently, both to their native Ecuador. "It's very different when you have family - people you love - in those situations," Martínez says. "There aren't a lot of Latinos in public radio. I joke some days that there's a lot of a unicorn quality in my role at KPCC."
The hosts of NPR's news programs are notably diverse: among the 13 anchors of its main news shows, the network offers four Black Americans, now two Latinos, and an Asian American journalist. Just four of the 13 are male, including Martínez. (The shows include Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, and Here & Now.)
That is a relatively new development, however, And NPR's newsroom is 72 percent white. (Women make up a clear majority of the journalism staff at the network.) CEO John Lansing has made a clarion call for greater diversity, equity and inclusion a part of his mission since arriving in 2019, and has undertaken steps in order to attain it. NPR has given greater support to podcasts led by journalists of color, named new fellowships, expanded databases of sources from diverse backgrounds, and also developed ways to track the diversity of people quoted on the air and in text. African American, Asian and Latino journalists have been added to the team.
But like many other newsrooms, particularly over the past year, NPR staffers have pushed for greater efforts to diversify both their ranks and the journalism they produce. NPR executives say Martínez's hiring represents in part an effort to help the network reach a broader audience and fulfill a broader mission.
Martínez is called Jorge by his mother and George by his wife; his given name is George Louis Martínez — the Anglicized spelling of his name on his birth certificate was important to his immigrant grandfather. He says his nickname comes from his time as a board operator for a local news radio station in Los Angeles. Colleagues who didn't bother learning his first name called out "Hey, Martínez" and the moniker stuck. There is no period after the letter A in his name, as it is not an abbreviation.
Disclosure: This story was reported by NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik and edited by NPR media and technology editor Emily Kopp. No senior news executive or corporate executive at NPR reviewed this story before it was published.