Forty years ago next month, the Northeast power grid overloaded and blacked out New York City. “Nobody had portable generators back then,” recalls Stan Brooks, then the news director for 1010 WINS, which earlier in 1965 had become the city’s first all-news station, to much skepticism. A WINS engineer hooked up a phone to a transmitter in New Jersey. “We were on the nineteenth floor. Our reporters had to do their reporting on the street and then run up the stairs to the studio because we couldn’t record anything. I think we were the only station on the air. That night put us on the map.”
Before the blackout, the notion of a 24-hour media cycle seemed preposterous to most. Yet WINS’s brash style of breaking stories as they occurred—like an uninterrupted, talking tabloid—became increasingly relevant. Two months after the blackout, WINS reporters inadvertently helped end a transit-workers strike when they provided an on-air link between the picket line and Mayor John Lindsay. Brooks, 78, has reported live from the Attica prison riots in 1971 and ducked for cover under a desk as Councilman James Davis’s killer shot up City Hall in 2003.
On weekends, he decelerates by listening to NPR. “Sometimes it seems overly long, but I’m jealous when I hear these fourteen-minute stories.” In the mid-seventies, he did a regular segment on WINS called “Stan Brooks’ New York,” a whimsical, Studs Terkel–like report from lunch counters, taxi stands, and TV-repair shops that went on for an eternal four and a half minutes. “But then it was, ‘Can you get it down to two and a half minutes, can you get it down to one … ’ Eventually, it just fizzled.”
Nevertheless, the man-on-the-street interview remains WINS’s signature—a good way to put its own spin on stories it just picked up from the dailies. And unlike NPR’s careful, somewhat whiny liberal-arts-college cadences, it keeps the station sounding like the city. “When I was in management, I didn’t want the golden voices,” says Brooks, whose own Bronx accent has softened (somewhat). “I wanted people who talk like New Yorkers talk.”