On the air and in song, morning star Meade connects to country

Long before America woke up to Robin Meade as the star of HLN’s Morning Express, Chicago couldn’t get enough of the former beauty queen-turned-anchorwoman. Among numerous fansites she inspired during her six-year run at WMAQ-Channel 5 was one actually called “Can’t Get Enough of Robin Meade.”

It’s been more than a decade since she left the NBC-owned station, whose history of sacrificing its loveliest ingenues to network renown extends from Jane Pauley and Deborah Norville to Ginger Zee and Paula Faris.

But to her credit, Meade, 42, hasn’t lost a bit of the sunny disposition and infectious enthusiasm that colleagues and viewers here found so endearing. Both qualities come through in Brand New Day, her critically acclaimed debut album of country music songs.

Ten months after it first went on sale at Target stores, the CD is being re-released this week exclusively at Walmart stores and on iTunes.com. The new version features two bonus songs — a cover of the Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun and an original tune called The Truth. All 14 tracks were recorded in Nashville under the supervision of producer Victoria Shaw, who’s written and/or produced for Garth Brooks, Cristina Aguilera, Ricky Martin and Lady Antebellum.

With a nod to her Chicago fans, Meade included a duet with Bo Bice of Right Here Waiting, the ballad written and originally recorded by Chicagoan Richard Marx. And with a wink at her profession, Meade delivered a wicked remake of the Eagles’ Dirty Laundry, Don Henley’s indictment of TV news. Six of the songs were compositions Meade co-wrote.

“Putting out an album is something I've wanted to do for a while — and I don't intend to be a one-off,” she told me, adding that she and Shaw already are working on the next one. “After learning to write songs, I found that songwriting strikes me as a form of journalism. We do stories for the news about people's lives — wins, losses, emotions and struggles. Songwriting tells the same type of stories, but in a different form.”

A native of Ohio and graduate of Ashland University, where she majored in radio/television production, programming and performance, Meade was crowned Miss Ohio in 1992 and went on to become a Top 10 finalist for Miss America. After on-air stints in Ohio and Florida, she joined NBC 5 as morning news anchor in 1995 and was promoted to weekend news anchor in 1998. In 2001, CNN beckoned with an offer to join Atlanta-based Headline News, since renamed HLN.

Meade still has fond memories of her time at NBC 5. “I'll never forget being the newbie hanging with Ron Magers covering the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta,” she said. “We worked our tails off around the clock. I was grateful to do so, and relished the opportunity to prove myself. Magers was supportive, funny and a pro. He and Carol Marin were fantastic mentors for me as I arrived in that Chicago newsroom at the green age of 26.”

Among her pals here, Meade remains close with Art Norman, with whom she co-anchored mornings for three years. “This man taught me more by example than any book about journalism,” she said. “Art is the kind of person who would stay up wayyy too late during the week doing a charity event and burn the candle at both ends to be on the job in the morning and go out and report all day. He showed me that your marriage, even while you work crazy hours, must remain a priority.

“And one of my favorite things he taught me is: ‘No is a complete sentence.’ In other words, you don't have to qualify your answer when you're being asked to do too much and you just can't stretch yourself anymore. Just say no and don't qualify your answer. Love that.”

Morning Express with Robin Meade airs from 5 to 11am weekdays on HLN.


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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)