If there were a Mount Rushmore symbolizing the best radio reporters in New York City history, Stan Brooks would have to be on that monument!
Legendary isn’t a strong enough word for Brooks.
Not just a New York institution, Brooks is a 1010 WINS All-News original. He is celebrating his 50th year at WINS, having been hired as news director for the Top 40 format on Labor Day 1962. A month later, Westinghouse bought WINS. FishbowlNY will have more memories from Brooks later this year to mark the golden occasion. But 47 years ago today, WINS made the move to All-News, with Brooks leading the charge.
He recalls when Westinghouse acquired WINS, the station was the number-one rocker in New York, with an on-air staff that featured Murray the K., Stan Z. Burns, and Jack Lacy.
“But when Westinghouse bought [WINS] they’d never had a station in New York,” Brooks remembers. “And they had a big news operation around the world.
“The headquarters of Westinghouse Broadcasting was in New York, and I guess the executives didn’t feel good about it,” Brooks says. “They kept adding news to the station. Ultimately, it was incompatible. You couldn’t have lots of news and teeny-boppers listening.”
By late 1964, Westinghouse made the decision to add news around the clock: WINS would become the nation’s first All-News station. The timing was perfect for the flip. WINS was no longer a top-rated station, now trailing powerhouses WABC and WMCA.
In top secret, he was charged by Westinghouse exec Joel Chaseman with building the new on-air staff from scratch. It was so stealth, Brooks couldn’t even tell his program director Al Heacock about the plans for fear he would pass the information along to the DJs.
But outside of the WINS walls, Chaseman wanted to insure no other station got wind of this brand new idea.
“We don’t want anybody to know because we’re afraid that some networks, like NBC or CBS could jump in ahead of us because they have all the resources,” Brooks recalls the conversation with Chaseman.
Complicating the under the radar maneuvering, WINS was leaving its longtime studios at 7 Central Park West for new digs at 90 Park Avenue. But it was still unable to tip its hand as to the format.
“They built the biggest DJ studio, and they wouldn’t change it because they were afraid people would wonder why are we changing that? Brooks explains. “…Off the big studio we had a little space for a newscaster, which we lived with for the 19 or 20 years that we were there.”
Brooks says the new Park Avenue facility wasn’t ready until June 1965, and that was two months after the format flip.
Before that would happen, Brooks would criss-cross the country looking for newscasters to join the new venture. Brooks recalls WINS pre-All News had only news readers, Jim Gordon, who would go on to a successful play-by-play career with the New York Giants, and Lew Fisher.
“We’d go into a town, we’d into a hotel room, turn on the radio and listen to the morning newscasters,” Brooks recalls.
Brooks faced a delicate balance as would-be candidates would also be kept from the truth.
“We’re looking for one guy,” Brooks would tell prospective WINS anchors. “We need a new man for our morning news.”
So Brooks and his team brought numerous guys to New York for dry runs of the new format. Of course, taking such painstaking precautions to remain such so “hush hush,” could blow up in Brooks’ face at any moment.
“You’re going to have 20 people on a plane,” Brooks says. “If they ever start to talk, ‘I’m going to New York, I’ve got a job with WINS. They needed a morning news guy.
‘Yeah, me too. I’m going to work for WINS, they needed a morning news guy.'”
Once the group showed up, Brooks still managed to keep the plans secretive.
“I got some freelancers to do the news on the air, and took our regular guys off so they could sit-in on the dry runs,” Brooks says.
It took until the winter of 1964, with the new recruits in place, that the first story of WINS’ plans surfaced.
“We got inundated with tapes from people all over the country,” Brooks says.
Despite the crush of interest, Brooks was still left shorthanded in the newsroom, and hired several writers in the days leading up to the April 19, 1965 debut. One of Brooks’ new staffers had no radio experience, and didn’t understand how carts were used for on-air, leading to bouts of dead air.
“We solved that problem,” Brooks admits. “But there were all kinds of problems that we didn’t anticipate because we sort of rushed onto the air in a crummy place [without] seasoned staffers. But we got through that and we were on our way.”
WINS ended its run as a Top 40 giant at midnight. The new format, complete with its soon-to-be-famous ticker sound, launched at 5:30 a.m. with Jim Gordon doing a story about the Vietnam War.