Longtime radio newsman Stan Brooks, who started working at 1010 WINS in 1962 and continued working there up until last month, died Monday at the age of 86. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One On 1 profile of Brooks in November of 2005.
You know the voice, but you probably don't know the face unless you like to scour pictures of reporters in a scrum.
“I'm short, and I don't have a long arm reach, so I've got to scramble to get in there and try to get my mic[rophone] in there,” says 1010 WINS reporter Stan Brooks. “I either go through peoples legs, or push my way in there."
Stan Brooks has been getting the 1010 WINS mic "in there" for more than 40 years. If it's happened in New York, Brooks has been there, usually right alongside the newsmaker.
The 1010 WINS motto, "you give us 22 minutes, we give you the world," is part of New York's vocabulary. But it also means that Stan Brooks doesn't have much time to tell his story.
"I have 35 seconds to tell a story, and I've got a mass of information coming at me, and I've just got to cut it all away and just get to the core of the story,” he says. “Maybe get in a little bit of color, a little bit of some background, and that's it."
Brooks came to radio from a print background, working 12 years at Newsday. The man who now has 35 seconds once told his stories in 2,000 words.
“I think the compensation is that you get on the air immediately,” he says. “I'd come home and I'd tell my wife, 'There was so much information, and I couldn't get it in there.’ She said, 'Yeah, but if you were still working at Newsday it would be in the paper tomorrow.’”
All-news radio is a staple for many New Yorkers, and 1010 WINS is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Before 1965, it was WINS, a rock 'n roll station, and a pretty popular one at that, with the famed Murray the K, the self-proclaimed “Fifth Beatle.”
As news director, Brooks knew months before just about everyone else on the staff that the station was going all news. He'd have to leave town on a national hiring trip, hush-hush, on the QT.
"I ducked out of the office as fast as I could because my program director came in and said, 'I understand you are going out of town. Where are you going? What's it all about?’" he says. “I think the next day I told my wife, 'If anybody calls and wants to know where I am - you're puzzled too.’"
When the story became official, it prompted two questions that now seem unfathomable.
“When it was an announced we were going to become an all-news station, people said, 'What's an all-news station? And what are you going to do when you run out of news?’" Brooks says. “And I don't think I had the answer to either question."
Starting with the blackout of 1965, running out of news would not be a problem.
“We were in the middle of the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations, we were in the middle of the civil rights developments - it never stopped,” Brooks says.
Covering New York is not for the feint of heart, the meek. The job requires a certain toughness, and Stan Brooks knows it.
Ironic, when you consider one part of his personality as a kid growing up in the Bronx.
"I was shy as a kid. I probably still am a little bit shy, and I thought being a reporter would get me out of that," he says. “I also though if I was going to be a biologist or a bacteriologist looking into a microscope, I'd never stop being shy. And I thought going out and having to talk to people and interview people might do it."
Brooks went to City College in the mid-40s, was drafted and trained to be a rifleman. But World War II ended before Brooks saw combat, and when he did go overseas, it was as a trombonist playing in a dance band to entertain the troops in Hawaii, possibly a precursor to his son George, a world renowned jazz musician.
Brooks worked at Newsday through the 50s and early-60s, then joined WINS in 1962 as an assistant news director. He wasn’t on the air, until that first election night.
“He said, 'For state news, let's go to Stan Brooks for news at the state desk.’ I gulped, I was hoarse,” he says. “The next day a friend of mine from Newsday calls up, and the managing editor was Allan Hathaway, and my friend called up the next day and said, 'Allan says if you want your old job back it's yours.’"
In the late-'60s, Brooks served as a national correspondent for WINS’ parent company Group W. He reported from the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968, the Watts riots in 1965, and so many other major stories.
NY1 joined Brooks at 1010 WINS to listen to some old tapes. Among the most memorable stories he covered was five days in 1971 at the upstate prison at Attica, the site of a prison revolt that that ended in the deaths of 10 corrections officers and 29 inmates. As soldiers went in to take back the prison, Brooks spoke to attorney William Kuntsler.
“The helicopters have come in, laid down tear gas, and now armed servicemen are going inside. What are you feeling at this moment?” Brooks asked Kuntsler.
The attorney responded: “I'm so damned ashamed to be alive in this country. They are going in to murder and kill in the name of law and order."
“Attica was an incredible story,” Brooks says. “The inmates were all black and Hispanic, basically. It was a secure prison. They were there for robbery, murder, for serious crimes. The guards were all white, from Attica, Batavia, and the surroundings. They were really country boys who didn't understand the city ways. They were terrified of the guys they were guarding."
By 1971, Brooks had actually become a bit of an expert on an unpleasant subject, the result of covering several ant-war demonstrations.
"[Getting tear-gased is] scary and strange and you can't talk, you start crying, and in fact you're sniffing and your eyes are running,” he says. “It was strange. At one point I remember after several times telling my wife, 'It wasn't as bad this time as it was the other time.’ And I thought, when did I become a maven on tear gas?”
Once Brooks came back to report in New York, he covered all of the mayors, including Ed Koch taking on a heckler on the Brooklyn Bridge during the 1980 transit strike who told Koch, “They know better than the crap you put out.”
Koch told the heckler: “They're all walking to work, and we're not going to take the crap of a couple of wackos.”
“Then you rush off the bridge and say, ’I have a great story!’” Brooks.
But there was nothing funny about the story Brooks was pursuing on the day NY1 spent with him at City Hall. Bone fragments had been discovered at one of the buildings being taken down near the World Trade Center, and Brooks was contacting families of 9/11 victims for their reaction.
“I feel like a ghoul sometimes talking to these people,” he says. “[Do I ever get accustomed to it?] No, not this. I get very emotional about this. [It’s] difficult to talk to them.”
But Stan Brooks, 78-years-old, still a shy guy from the Bronx, has found it easy to talk to all of us for so many years, and more to come.
"I get asked just about every day when I see somebody, they say, 'Oh, you're still working? When are you going to give it up?’" he says. “I don't golf and I don't want to live in Florida. I like living in New York, and as long as I'm living in New York, I want to be active, and I think the most active and the most fun thing I could do is this."
- Budd Mishkin