Most of Alaska was no doubt asleep at 3 a.m. Monday, but the rest of the country -- or at least those watching NBC's "Today" show -- was waking up to weatherman Al Roker broadcasting from the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage.
Anchorage was the first stop in Roker's 10th annual "Lend a Hand Today" road trip. By the end of this week he is planning to dispense more than $9 million in cash, goods and services during his segments of the show in five cities, including Las Vegas, Houston, Birmingham, Ala., and Charleston, W.Va.
The Anchorage event was unique in a couple of ways, Roker told the Daily News. "It's the farthest west we've been, the first time we've broadcast outside the contiguous 48 states." Also, "it's our biggest day ever. We're giving away $1.9 million in donations today."
The recipient of Roker's charity largess was AK Pride, a teen-oriented group founded by former Arizona Cardinal defensive tackle Mao Tosi.
"We try to improve youths' chances for success after high school by teaching leadership and confidence," said Tosi, a graduate of East High School. "We use music, sports, whatever they find interesting."
Donations included major cash contributions from Alaska Communications, United Airlines and other companies. The Arizona Cardinals anted up for a sound system through NFL Charities. There were athletic shoes, guitars, clothing, baby strollers and office furnishings. FedEx and Lynden Transport provided the shipping -- and there was a lot to ship. Trucks rolled next to Tiulana Lake at the Heritage Center with a rash of outdoor recreation equipment, tents, sleeping bags, kayaks, a Honda ATV and a bright red Toyota Tundra crewcab pickup.
The truck was particularly welcome, Tosi said. "I haven't been driving. My car broke down. For the last two weeks I've been getting to work on a skateboard."
Not everything would be used by his group, Tosi said. The 30,000 pounds of Smithfield hams, for instance, were going to the Food Bank.
The broadcast began with Roker doing a tease from the Alutiiq site, accompanied by the Heritage Center dancers performing a traditional Yup'ik song, "Howling Spirits." Bright lights illuminated the lake and the totem poles at the Southeast Indian site.
Roker informed America about the national weather patterns: hot temperatures on the East Coast, hail and thunderstorms in the Midwest. But, after a touch of drizzle at midnight, the day dawned calm and clear in Anchorage.
Roker said he'd been in Alaska since Saturday. It was his first trip.
"I had to add Alaska so that I could have slept in all 50 states," he said.
While here, he spent time fly-fishing, walking on Knik Glacier, spotting wildlife and relaxing when he could. "I saw a bear. I saw a bald eagle. I got a massage," he said.
The show included a break dance performance by members of AK Pride, a visit with Petersburg chef Rob Kinneen, who served fireweed and elk, and a short sled ride with Iditarod champion John Baker and some of his dogs.
As friends of Tosi performed "The Electric Slide," Roker exchanged quick hugs and posed for photos with Alaskans at the scene before zipping off to catch a plane at 7:30.
Reach Mike Dunham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4332.
By MIKE DUNHAM