“NBC Nightly News” will broadcast live from Anchorage on Monday, with anchor Lester Holt hosting a special edition of the newscast focusing on the Alaskan NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) Region.
Holt — who has a personal connection to Anchorage — said in an interview with the Daily News that the decision to focus on the nation’s air defense stemmed from February’s incident in which the U.S. shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon. The balloon first passed through American airspace in Alaska north of the Aleutian Islands. Federal officials monitored the balloon as it traveled through Canadian and American airspace, floating over the Lower 48, before the U.S. military shot it down off the coast of South Carolina.
“We wanted to focus on NORAD,” he said. “We really wanted to focus on the decision-making, what America’s capabilities are to protect our borders, and that grew into a discussion of, you know, maybe we should go pay NORAD a visit. So we did that. We went to Colorado to NORAD headquarters. ... But Alaska is, you know, it’s where the rubber meets the road in all of this.”
Holt said the reporting will focus on introducing people to what’s happening in Alaska, the threats that NORAD has encountered and how they respond. As part of the trip, Holt will travel to an early warning radar site in the Aleutian Islands.
“The military has put a lot of concern into that part of the world, its strategic value,” he said.
The Monday night appearance at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson was preceded by a special — which aired Thursday — where Holt toured the NORAD and United States Northern Command headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado. There, he interviewed NORAD commander Gen. Glen VanHerck, who told Holt: “The environment that we are seeing is the most dynamic and challenging that I’ve seen in my 36 years of service.”
Holt has his own history in Alaska. He was born on California’s Hamilton Air Force Base, where his father served in the Air Force, and Holt later spent about four years in Alaska while his father was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base during the Vietnam War.
Holt has returned to the state for both personal and professional pursuits since then. He said Monday’s broadcast will likely include observations on his time in Alaska.
“Those were formative years,” he said. “I was there from the time I was 8 to about 12. ... Even when I was there, Anchorage was a strategic and vital place. It still is today, in some ways for different reasons and in some ways for similar reasons.”
Anchorage was also where Holt got his first taste of the broadcast world. His brother Mike Swanigan was a disc jockey at an Anchorage station and invited Holt in when he was working his on-air shift.
“That’s kind of when I got the bug,” he said.
“NBC Nightly News” is scheduled to broadcast Monday at 5:30 p.m. Alaska time on KTUU.
(Correction: A previous version of this story had incorrectly listed the call letters of the station Mike Swanigan worked at in Anchorage.)