Stan Brooks: Radio Newsman On the Move
By Eve Berliner
1010 WINS Senior Correspondent, Stan Brooks, with then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, on the steps of the Federal Courthouse in Foley Square, New York City, 1988.
By Eve Berliner
He’s the voice of the city, on the move, a part of its pulse, its passion, its tragedies great and small, ace radio newsman Stan Brooks for over 40 years a part of the city’s very insides.
He was a child of the Bronx, small and shy, 182nd Street and Walton Avenue home ground, played in the streets, stickball, hockey (on roller skates), marbles, urban baseball (against the walls) and for a 13th or 14th birthday, was given a fortuitous little printing press out of which was born “The Walton Avenue News,” the inception of his journalistic career.
He listened to Uncle Don and the old radio serial shows, his favorite, NBC’s stentorian-voiced Kenneth Banghart. His real interest was in the newspapers that his father would bring home with him each evening: The New York Post, The Journal American, PM, Compass, Star.
He wrote for his high school newspaper, “The Clinton News”[DeWitt Clinton H.S.], a general news column entitled, “Babbling Brooks,” which he presented in a Walter Winchell staccato of dots, dashes and bulletins.
His heroes were Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, the Brooklyn Dodgers and his brother, Alan Brooks, sports editor of “The Heights Daily News” at NYU, his inspiration, [now a doctor].
In later years, it would be the great New York Times reporter Meyer Berger who commanded his high respect. (“He would dance on tables.”)
And then, there was the trombone (add Tommy Dorsey to that list of idols) which now sits on a stand in his bedroom, a gift from his three sons who had it repaired, repolished and relacquered, sitting ready, in suspended animation, for his not imminent retirement when he plans to seriously return to its study.
Brooks had been drafted out of City College into the Infantry in 1945 landing him overseas post-World War II as a trombonist in a dance band entertaining the troops in Hawaii! The aspiring trombonist returned to the states, graduated from Syracuse University and became a reporter and editor at Newsday for the next 11 years. His son George, a virtuoso jazz saxophonist, took up the mantle of music.
They were the rock ‘n roll days of the sixties, 1010 WINS, home of the Top 40 and Murray the K, a godlike figure known as the 5th Beatle; three big rock stations on the airwaves: WINS, WABC and WMCA, The Good Guys, Stan Brooks at the helm as director of news at WINS:
“Westinghouse had a serious commitment to news but disk jockeys like Murray the K didn’t want any news. The December 1962 newspaper strike that lasted 114 days changed all that. We beefed up news – ½ hour at 5:30 every evening, the usual 2½ minutes on the hour raised to five, five minutes on the half hour expanded to ten.”
It was the brainchild of Joel Chaseman, vice president and general manager of WINS, subsidiary of Westinghouse Broadcasting. The idea had been germinating in his mind for some time. Clandestinely, he came down to Stan’s office late in 1964.
“How about going all-news?” he asked.
“What’s all-news?” responded Brooks.
“I was sworn to secrecy, a real cloak and dagger kind of situation. He and I were the only people at the station who knew about this. Didn’t want the disk jockeys to know, the outside world. One of the networks might get the early jump on us. It was a top secret operation.”
Brooks surreptitiously journeyed by train to Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, searching for talent, listening to “the morning rush,” amassing a staff of broadcasters and engineers and formulating a plan for the station: its format, its conception, its content. It would be a revolution in news, the immediacy of breaking stories as it happened 24-hours-a day, man in the street interviews, people who talk like New Yorkers talk, keep the station sounding like New York.
The station signed off on April 18th as a music station at 5:30 in the evening and reawakened the next morning as the first major all-news radio station in the nation: April 19, 1965.
It was the Great Northeast Blackout of ‘65 that put it on the map and secured its place in history``0.. WINS was the only radio station to stay on the air. An engineer had managed to hook up the phone line directly to a transmitter in New Jersey.
The studio, on the 19th floor of 90 Park Avenue, had no lights, no electricity; they worked by candlelight.
“Everything had to be live. You couldn’t record anything. There was no power. Reporters had to go down 19 flights to get the story and then walk up 19 flights to go on the air. They did it all night long. Then stations began calling up from all over. ‘Give us feed on the blackout. Ready 3…2…1…’ “New York City was plunged into darkness …” adlibbed Brooks in a night of frenzy to remember.
Six weeks later Mike Quill took the Transit Workers out on strike, bringing to a halt all subway and bus service for the subsequent 12 days, the city paralyzed and weary, an ominous beginning for the mayoralty of John V. Lindsay. WINS became for New Yorkers the crucial voice in the crisis and even helped facilitate a settlement by acting as a kind of mediator between Quill and his arch foe “Lindsley,” both utilizing the air waves to send messages to one another.
He has covered the most significant stories of our time: The civil rights crises, the Watts riots, the William Calley trial of My Lai infamy, Chappaquiddick, the turbulent Vietnam War demonstrations of the 60’s when he was tear-gassed outside the Justice Department after a tumultuous rally on the Washington mall, the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968, the bloodbath on the streets, Malcolm X’s funeral, the Clay Shaw/JFK assassination trial, Hurricane Camille, the Swiss America plane crash at Peggy’s Cove, Newfoundland, (he was there on vacation, first reporter on the scene), the crash of TWA Flight 800, Cape Canaveral, 1967, when Gus Grissom and two other astronauts were killed on the launch pad in a raging fire – and his six day trip to Saudi Arabia in the initial days of Desert Storm to cover the Harlem Hell Fighters, National Guardsmen from the 142nd St. Armory in New York.
But it was Attica that was the most wrenching, the uprising, siege and slaughter inside Attica Correctional Facility which began on September 9, 1971 and ended four days later in a barrage of gunfire by New York State Police that left 29 inmates and 18 hostages dead with 89 wounded, the final storming of the prison at the behest Governor Nelson Rockefeller after days of tense and unrelenting, but hopeful, negotiation.
“Attica was the most emotional for several reasons. I was there for five days outside the prison wall, 4 hours sleep a night, 15/16 hour days. Flew up 12:30 on the first day. Didn’t leave until 2:30 the next morning. Up again at 5 or 6. The families of both guards and prisoners gathered at the gates. The prisoners all black and Hispanic from the area, the guards all white country boys, farm boys from Attica and Batavia. Rumor had it that guards were being held at knife point and that one had had his throat slashed but it turned out not to be true. I could feel for everybody. I wanted to cry for these people.”
“9/11, of course, was emotional in a different way, stunning, startling, horrific.”
Blockaded at Foley Square by cops who prohibited him from moving closer to the catastrophic scene, he would witness the exodus of thousands of people from Ground Zero, the distraught evacuees covered with ash, the firetrucks racing up the streets spewing the stuff, trucks with searchlights going in, finally finding a working telephone in a Chinese laundry behind the courthouse, his wife Lynn frantic as she fled the Municipal Building where she worked, headed uptown toward home, running into an electronics store in the Village to purchase a radio, her heart beating profusely until she heard her husband’s voice and knew he was alive.
Through it all, his love for his work. Stan Brooks, 78 years of age, a cub reporter at heart, full of energy and radiance, always searching for the next great story as he oversees the procession of mayors from Beame to Koch to Dinkins to Giuliani to Bloomberg, from his cat’s eye vantage point in City Hall.
“I have no idea what each day brings,” Stan Brooks notes quietly, “My life is not my own. Wherever they send me, whatever they want to do with my body,” he laughs.