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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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2/25/2014 6:00:00 AM
Camera ready
Ron Brooks brought style to Arizona sports broadcasts, but suffered racism much of his career
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Ron Brooks and his wife April are organizing his memorabilia from his TV days into scrapbooks, including photos of him with famous people such as Bill Cosby.
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Ron Brooks and his wife April are organizing his memorabilia from his TV days into scrapbooks, including photos of him with famous people such as Bill Cosby.
Courtesy photo
Below, Brooks was a TV sports anchorman for NBC Channel 12 in Phoenix in the early 1970s. Back then it was KTAR.
Courtesy photo
Below, Brooks was a TV sports anchorman for NBC Channel 12 in Phoenix in the early 1970s. Back then it was KTAR.

Joanna Dodder Nellans
The Daily Courier

Ron Brooks is one of those people who can celebrate Black History Month by sharing his personal history, since he helped break ground for blacks in the Arizona TV industry.

At the age of 23 in July 1971, Brooks said he became one of only two black TV news reporters in Arizona, and before the year was over he was the state's first black sportscaster.

He got a job editing film at TV Channel 12 (then KTAR) in January 1971, despite having no experience and a few years of business college. He had grown up in South Phoenix, working cotton and potato fields since the tender age of 6.

"Affirmative action was big time in the late '60s and early '70s," Brooks recalled. "They were really excited to get me started."

The news director noted that Brooks was the only black out of more than 100 employees, and told him he had what it takes to make it on the air.

That came true when a cameraman convinced Brooks to make a demo tape and the boss liked it. The station created a South Phoenix beat reporter position just for Brooks.

One night when the sports anchor couldn't get back in time for the evening news show, Brooks filled in so well that the station gave him that job and moved the other fellow to news, Brooks recalled.

The station sent Brooks to voice training to improve his articulation, but he never lost his trademark raspy sound.

"Turns out people recognize me more by my voice than my looks," he said, recalling how a gas utility worker and someone at the Prescott YMCA both recently told him they recognized him that way.

He doesn't look a whole lot different at age 65, either, especially when a ball cap covers his cropped white hair. Wrinkles have not befallen him.

"Black don't crack," as he likes to say.

Brooks ended up working 21 years as a TV sports and news anchorman in Phoenix, Tucson and Huntsville, Ala.

He heard occasional overused racist lines in Phoenix and Huntsville, such as "Smile so I can see you."

But in Tucson, he faced racism at a whole different level.

An unknown man repeatedly called him at work and threatened his life while making racist remarks and letting Brooks know he knew where Brooks lived.

"I had to hide my family for about a month, and I couldn't go home," he said.

Brooks left Tucson for a Seventh-day Adventist theology school in Huntsville and continued TV work there for a couple years before returning to Tucson in 1984. Two years later, he said he was let go for complaining after someone remarked that the newsroom looked like "Little Africa" with two blacks working there.

The firing sparked public protests against the TV station, Brooks recalled.

"It was ugly," he said.

The experience made him leave the TV industry and become a deputy sheriff in California, although he later briefly dabbled in independent TV there.

He spent part of his retirement in three different places before moving to Prescott Valley in November with his new wife April.

"Everyone we've met has been great, and they've accepted us as a couple," said April, who happens to be white.

Brooks can't help but notice that he's in a small minority in the Prescott area, but he's not bothered by it.

"I've been that way all my life, so it doesn't faze me," he said.

Despite periodic bouts with racism, Brooks has many happy memories of his early sports broadcasting days.

"I'm the only sportscaster to knock out Muhammad Ali," he noted. During a stunt in Show Low after a sparring session, Brooks challenged Ali to a round. The incident is visible on You Tube.

"Did he write his will?" Ali yelled from his corner before stepping out towards Brooks, according to a newspaper article Brooks has saved.

Ali swatted Brooks in the seat of his pants and then dropped to the ground from a fake hit.

"I am the greatest!" Brooks exclaimed.

"That (expletive for black man) is crazy!" Ali responded while still flat on his back.

One of the other highlights of his sportscasting career and personal life included his time with legendary runner Jesse Owens, a black man who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Besides interviewing Owens, Brooks recalled how the two men were friends who joined to give inspirational talks to minority youth when Owens lived in Phoenix.

Coincidentally, during Brooks' stint in Alabama in 1983 after Owens' death, he covered a story about the Lawrence County Commission denying the placement of a monument to Owens in the county of his birth, where he picked cotton in his youth just like Brooks.

The following year, Carl Lewis matched Owens' four gold track and field medals and Brooks recalls interviewing Jesse's brother Sylvester Owens of Prescott about the feat.

Throughout Brooks' retirement, he has continued his three decades of evangelism through the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

During the 10:45 a.m. Saturday service at Prescott's 7th Day Adventist Church, Brooks will talk about some of his own history in honor of Black History Month.

One racist once told him he'd never make it. He has some oft-repeated advice about what to do in response.

"You can't let somebody steal your dream," he said.

Party in the Pines PAYP

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Article comment by: Mark Rhoten

Have known Ron for about 10 years. We have played senior softball together on various teams, The first any member of my family met him he was classic Ron. She asked him if he had seen me, that I had just had two knee operations, and his response was, "honey, we have all had knee operations". He is a moral man of high integrity and lots of fun to be around. He has the gift to make you feel like he is your best friend. It's no wonder he has done so well, and been so successful. He is also an excellent shortstop, especially for a 95 year old man. Kidding aside, he and April are an excellent match she laughs at his jokes. Maybe someday he will introduce me to
April, that is if he remembers whether he has or not.
Know Ron and you understand why he was able to handle the racism as well as he did. He has had a life well lived and he has made better those he has come in contact with. Ron is better than the rest of us. No one deserves to be treated the way he and others were treated. I am glad you wrote this about him. I am happy to call him a friend.

Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Article comment by: Mark Rhoten

Have known Ron for about 10 years, playing senior softball with him. There is no better person. He is moral, has high levels of integrity and is fun to be around. He is a real character. Besides that he can still play shortstop as well as anyone else in the Senior Softball World. You would never guess he is really 95 years old.
He and April are a great match and someday he might just introduce me to her, that is if he remembers to.
Ron is living the life and he gets the most out of it. If you meet him, he will be your friend for life.
Thats why his early days are so difficult to understand. People are people, there is no excuse to treat people in any demeaning way. Ron is better than most of us, and shows that every day with the way he treats people with respect, joy and honr.

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Article comment by: Jack Jones

Congratulations, Mr. Brooks on a job well done ~ and a life well lived. Proud to have you join our community.

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Article comment by: Bruce Taylor

I worked with Ron back at KTAR in the 70's. I'd dearly love to make contact with him. Can anyone help?

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Article comment by: G C

Thanks for the update on Ron B. I remember when he was the sports reporter in Phoenix. It is sad the way he was treated in some cities. You think that times have changed then you learn that they haven't changed enough. I hope to run into Ron someday and think him for the great reporting job he did. I always enjoyed his style.

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