Holt, Lester 1959–

views updated May 17 2018

Lester Holt 1959–

Broadcast journalist

After two decades as a broadcast journalist and news anchor, Lester Holt became an overnight sensation during the disputed 2000 U.S. presidential election. The Florida vote recount was the biggest and most complex story of the MSNBC anchor's career, and he covered it live on television in his shirtsleeves, confidently explaining every judicial twist and turn. MSNBC's ratings went up 215 percent, and its audience increased by 407 percent. Entertainment Weekly dubbed Holt the “Scud Stud of the Electoral College crisis.” By 2007 Holt was also anchoring NBC Nightly News and coanchoring Today, Weekend Edition.

Started as a Radio Reporter

Born on March 8, 1959, in San Francisco, California, Lester Holt was the youngest of four children of an Air Force master sergeant. His mother was a regional planner. As a child growing up on military bases Holt was very interested in the news. He would sit on his bed with a tape recorder and read the newspaper aloud, pretending to be a reporter. His older brother worked in radio, and for a time Lester wanted to be a disc jockey. His baritone boomed the morning announcements over the public address system of his high school in Rancho Cordova, California. He told the Palm Beach Post: “They called me the voice of the Cordova Lancers.” Holt talked his way into a job covering the fire and police beat for a Sacramento radio station while majoring in government at California State University.

Holt dropped out of college to work as a reporter for the CBS radio affiliate in San Francisco. In 1981 he moved to New York City and became a reporter for WCBS-TV. The following year Holt transferred to its sister station, KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, as a reporter and weekend anchor. By 1984 he was back at WCBS-TV, anchoring the weekend news.

Holt began working at WBBM-TV in Chicago in the midst of a boycott by Operation PUSH following the station's demotion of the African-American anchor Harry Porterfield. During his fourteen years at WBBM Holt anchored the evening news and reported from El Salvador, Haiti, Iraq, Northern Ireland, and Somalia. He told Quill: “Somalia was very difficult both as a journalist and as a human being. I was in Somalia at the height of famine and civil war. There was no govern- ment, no law, and it was clearly in anarchy. As much as we try to be detached, it's hard as a father to watch children starving or to see people in such desperate straits.”

Moved to MSNBC

During the 1990s Holt received some national exposure playing a newscaster on television series and in the films Primal Fear, The Fugitive, and Miracle on 34th Street. He gave it up, he told Quill, when he realized that “journalistically, this doesn't wash.”

Holt and his wife, Carol, had decided to stay in one place while their children were young. However, after fourteen years at WBBM, the station dropped Holt as their main anchor and slashed his salary. It was time to look for a new job. Rejecting an offer from a station in San Jose, California, in July of 2000 Holt moved to MSNBC, NBC's twenty-four-hour cable news network. A few days after his arrival, an Air France Concorde crashed after take-off near Paris. Holt later told the New York Daily News: “I'm kind of a plane geek. If I hear one overhead, I can probably tell you what engine is in it. So they put me on camera with the anchors, and before I knew it, the anchors had left and I was in the seat.”

Holt was the lead daytime anchor for Decision 2000, MSNBC's coverage of the 2000 presidential election. On election night he moved to primetime, and his easy-going, knowledgeable on-air personality boosted the station's ratings. Holt told MEDIAWEEK: “If I sounded comfortable with all the material, it's because working in Chicago fourteen years, everyone becomes a political reporter.” With the contesting of the election, the situation changed so rapidly that Holt often found himself ad-libbing. He told the New York Times: “It's so cool. We've thrown away all the usual trappings. This is a true breaking story, and it's just raw reporting.”

Dubbed “Iron Pants”

With the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the war in Afghanistan, and the approaching Iraq War, Holt became MSNBC's lead anchor for daytime news and breaking news coverage. From October of 2002 until March of 2003 Holt anchored Countdown: Iraq, the station's nightly news coverage of the impending invasion. As the Iraq War intensified, Holt became chief war anchor from noon until 6 PM and again from 9 PM until midnight. Often he was back at 7 AM to substitute on NBC's Today show. In April of 2003 Holt began cohosting Weekend Today. He was working seven days a week at the two stations.

On the Today show in July of 2003 Holt's guitar backed up the pop music duo Captain and Tennille on “Do That to Me One More Time.” His wife complained to People that for two weeks he practiced the song twenty-five to thirty times daily: “I was walking around with my hands over my ears screaming, ‘Noooo!’”

By 2004 Holt was anchoring a daily MSNBC program, Lester Holt Live, which covered breaking news as well as updates and analysis for a relatively small audience of about 200,000, as well as cohosting Today, Weekend Edition. He was also sitting in for the weekday Today hosts and for Tom Brokaw on NBC Nightly News and continuing to work as a reporter. MSNBC's Mark Effron told People: “Around here the nickname for Lester is Iron Pants, because he can sit down and anchor for hours.”

In 2004 Holt hosted NBC's coverage of the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. He covered the Democratic presidential primaries and was a cohost of Democratic presidential candidate debates. He conducted a one-on-one interview with Dick Cheney, in which he questioned the vice president about such topics as the Iraq War, Osama bin Laden, and gay marriage.

At a Glance …

Born Lester D. Holt on March 8, 1959, in San Francisco, CA; son of Lester and June Holt; married Carol; children: Stefan, Cameron. Education: Attended California State University, Sacramento.

Career: CBS radio affiliate, San Francisco, CA, reporter, 1979-81; WCBS-TV, New York, NY, reporter, 1981-82, reporter and weekend anchor, 1984-86; KCBS-TV, Los Angeles, CA, reporter and weekend anchor, 1982-84; WBBM-TV, Chicago, IL, evening news anchor, 1986-2000; MSNBC, Secaucus, NJ, daytime lead anchor and breaking news coverage, 2000—04; NBC News, New York, NY, Today, Weekend Edition, co-anchor, 2003—, NBC Nightly News, weekend anchor, 2007—.

Memberships: National Association of Black Journalists; Screen Actor's Guild.

Awards: Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, 1990, for “48 Hours: No Place Like Home” (CBS).

Addresses: Office—NBC News, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112.

Holt anchored an NBC News school special, June 6, 1944: As It Happened, a reenactment of the Nor- mandy Invasion during World War II, as if it were occurring as breaking news in 2005 with satellite and videophones. Ironically, due to the segregation of American armed forces in the Second World War, Holt's was the only black face in the film.

Hit the World's Hot Spots

In 2005 Holt covered Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi and Hurricane Rita in Texas. In addition, he became a commentator for the Westminster Dog Show on the USA Network.

The following year Holt reported from the front lines of the war in Lebanon between Israel and the Islamic organization Hezbollah and from London on the terrorist threat to U.S.-bound airliners. He also hosted a one-hour documentary, “Coming Home,” about U.S. soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Holt also covered human-interest topics. In 2005 he hosted a Sci Fi Channel special on the Bermuda Triangle. He hosted a video blog from the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. He worked on the NBC News series “Sleepless in America” and blogged about his own sleep disorder. Weekend Today sent him off to pilot a glider plane and have an anxiety therapist treat his fear of snakes. Holt wrote on his blog: “I am not a wimp. I have done stories dangling 90 floors above Chicago in a window-washing rig on the Sears Tower. I have pulled 9-Gs and done loops and rolls with the Thunderbirds and Blue Angles. Heck, I had bombs falling around me in Lebanon a few months ago. But snakes are different.”

Named NBC Weekend News Anchor

Holt had played electric and upright bass since junior high. He continued to play rock music with friends and occasionally sat in at New York jazz clubs, so he jumped at the chance to sit in with an amateur music group of television personalities who raised money for charity. In March of 2007 Holt joined the “Band from TV,” a group led by the English actor Hugh Laurie, at the historic Capitol Records Studio in Hollywood to record for the Fox Network program House, which starred Laurie.

In 2007 the Today producers asked Holt to do something special with his mother in honor of Mother's Day, so the TV cameras followed them to Jamaica, where they walked across the plantation that his triple-great-grandfather had owned and found his grave. Holt's grandparents had emigrated from Jamaica, so he had had some exposure to Jamaican culture as a child, but when he and his mother visited the Caribbean nation he became seriously interested in his heritage. Holt wrote on the MSNBC Web site: “[Without] a doubt the most poignant and emotional moment for both of us was the discovery of the house my grandmother and her seven siblings were raised in.”

In May of 2007 Holt became the regular weekend anchor for NBC Nightly News, in addition to coanchoring Today, Weekend Edition, serving as substitute anchor and correspondent for NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and Today, contributing to MSNBC, and taking on special assignments across the news division. On the MSNBC Blog site, Holt said he now held “two of the best jobs in television news.”

Selected works

Television series

Decision 2000, MSNBC, 2000.

MSNBC Live, MSNBC, 2000-04.

Countdown: Iraq, MSNBC, 2002-03.

Today, Weekend Edition, NBC, 2003—.

Lester Holt Live, MSNBC, 2004.

NBC Nightly News, 2007—.

Television specials

“Feeding the Beast: The 24-Hour News Revolution,” Trio, 2004.

“The Bermuda Triangle: Startling New Secrets,” Sci-Fi Channel, 2005.


The Fugitive, 1993.

Miracle on 34th Street, 1994.

Primal Fear, 1996.


June 6, 1944: As It Happened, NBC News, 2005.


“Lester Holt: To Jamaica with Mom,” allDAY,http://allday.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2007/05/11/189148.aspx (accessed November 16, 2007).

“Like a Bird—Taking Flight in a Glider,” TODAY, Weekend Edition,http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16226197 (accessed October 19, 2007).

“Thinking About Snakes … On a Plane,” TODAY, Weekend Edition,http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15221700 (accessed October 19, 2007).



Entertainment Weekly, November 24, 2000, p. 14.

Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2003, p. E14.

MEDIAWEEK, November 20, 2000, p. 26.

New York Daily News, May 13, 2007.

New York Times, November 19, 2000.

Palm Beach Post, November 27, 2000, p. E1.

People, May 24, 2004, p. 89.

Quill, September 2006, pp. 18-19.


“Band from TV,” MSNBC,http://allday.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2007/03/16/91722.aspx (accessed October 19, 2007).

“The Daily Nightly,” MSNBC,http://dailynightly.msnbc.com/lester_holt/index.html (accessed October 19, 2007).

“Lester Holt,” Today,http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3688725 (accessed October 19, 2007).

“NBC Universal Raises Diversity Profile,” Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education,http://www.maynardije.org/columns/dickprince/070510_prince (accessed November 16, 2007).

—Margaret Alic

Holt, Lester 1959–

views updated May 29 2018

Holt, Lester 1959–

(Lester D. Holt)


Full name, Lester D. Holt; born March 8, 1959, in San Francisco, CA; father, an air force noncommissioned officer; married Carol, 1992 (some sources cite 1982); children: two. Education: Attended California State University, Sacramento (also known as Sacramento State). Religion: Christian.

Addresses: Contact—International Speakers Bureau, Inc., 2528 Elm St., Suite 200, Dallas, TX 75226.

Career: Broadcast journalist. WCBS-TV, New York City, broadcast journalist, 1981–82, 1984–86; KCBS-TV, Los Angeles, broadcast journalist, 1982–84; WBBM-TV, Chicago, IL, reporter and anchor, 1986–2000. Worked as a radio news reporter in San Francisco, CA; public speaker at various venues; participant at benefits.

Awards, Honors: Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, 1990, for "48 Hours: No Place Like Home," 48 Hours; Lamp Award, Abilene Christian University, 2005.


Television Appearances; Series:

Anchor, MSNBC Live (also known as MSNBC Dayside and MSNBC Right Now), MSNBC, 1999–.

Anchor, Newsfront, MSNBC, beginning 2001.

Presenter, Lester Holt Live, MSNBC, 2002–.

Cohost, Weekend Today, NBC, 2003–.

Substitute news anchor and cohost, Today (also known as NBC News Today and The Today Show), NBC, 2003–.

Also worked as a correspondent for 48 Hours (also known as 48 Hours Investigates and 48 Hours Mystery), CBS.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Himself, Feeding the Beast: The 24-Hour News Revolution, Trio, 2004.

Host, The Bermuda Triangle: Startling New Secrets, Sci-Fi Channel, 2005.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Newscaster, "Fate," Early Edition, CBS, 1999.

Film Appearances:

Newscaster, The Fugitive, Warner Bros., 1993.

Newscaster, Miracle on 34th Street, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1994.

(As Lester D. Holt) WBBM anchor, Primal Fear, Paramount, 1996.



Parade, August 8, 2004, p. 18.


MSNBC Online, http://www.msnbc.com, February 12, 2004.

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