Michelle Stark leaving WHNT News 19 and broadcast news, Melissa Riopka joining morning team

We have some bittersweet news to share about a longtime member of the WHNT News 19 family.

WHNT News 19 This Morning anchor Michelle Stark is getting out of the news industry; is the new Marketing Director for Red Sage Communications.

WHNT News 19's morning anchor and technology reporter Michelle Stark is moving on from broadcast news after 15 years in the business; more than seven of them spent right here in the Tennessee Valley.

"This was a hard choice," Michelle explained, while announcing the change on WHNT News 19 This Morning, "But these hours just aren't compatible with my family life anymore. My two girls are growing up so fast, and I want to be there for them. They only have one mom. At the same time, I know I have a lot to offer professionally. So, when the opportunity arose for me to join an innovative company and live a more normal life, I couldn't pass it up."

Michelle will be the new Marketing Director for Red Sage Communications, a Decatur-based marketing agency specializing in web development and online visibility.

“We couldn’t be more excited about Michelle joining our team in a key leadership role," President Ellen Didier shared, "Her expertise in messaging, communications and relationship building will help our company grow, and continue to provide powerful marketing results for our clients."

Michelle arrived at WHNT News 19 in 2010, joining Steve Johnson and Ben Smith on the morning newscast. Over the years, the trio have become a family; sharing the highs and lows of the television news business together.

"Steve and Ben are both every bit as terrific in person as they are on-air, and I'll miss their smiling faces so much," Michelle said. "I am truly lucky to have worked with them, and so many other amazing people at the TV station who really care about doing a service for our community."

Saying goodbye to loyal viewers and fans will also be hard.

"It's sad to think about about signing-off for good. I'll never forget the people who sent well-wishes when both of my daughters were born; some even made beautiful blankets and keepsakes for us. I'll cherish those memories."

Michelle has been honored with a number of awards for anchoring and reporting while at WHNT News 19, including an Emmy® Award nomination for her series on technology in Tennessee Valley schools.

She's most proud however, of championing The Great Diaper Drive. Started in partnership with RocketCityMom.com, the annual event now collects 100,000+ plus diapers and wipes for local babies in need, and led to our area's first-of-its-kind "Diaper Bank" at The Food Bank of North Alabama.

"When we started this initiative, I'd just had my first child, and the idea of helping struggling parents really resonated. Thanks to this community's generosity, we've made a lasting impact together. And I'm proud of that," Michelle explained.

Michelle hopes fans and friends will continue to connect with her on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram. She's planning to share news, family and parenting updates as often as possible. Her last day with WHNT News 19 will be Friday, October 20th.

Melissa Riopka has been named the new co-anchor of WHNT News 19 This Morning, beginning Monday, October 16th.

As Michelle makes her departure, we're excited to welcome a familiar face to the morning anchor desk -- evening anchor Melissa Riopka!

Having worked mornings previously at WHNT News 19, she's excited to rejoin the team.

"Mornings can be so hectic (I know they are at our house) but it's also my favorite part of the day. At least, once I'm done hitting snooze!" Melissa said.

"The promise of the new day, the sunrise, the coffee (not necessarily in that order), I look forward to it all. Now, I'm looking forward to spending that time with our viewers.  Bringing them what they need to know to make the most of their days, it's a dream job. Of course, working with Steve and Ben only makes it sweeter!"