The Rock on The Desk

July 14, 2003 - Posted at: 10:04 p.m. CDT

CONWAY, Ark. -- He holds the record for the most time on the anchor desk at KAIT. His name is Tony Brooks. The former educator became the face of Region 8 news during his long stint that also saw him trek the nation in bringing the news home.

He took the news on the road; appealed to our compassion for children at Arkansas Children's Hospital; recognized the hard work of area teachers; and, long before P. Allen Smith was on the scene, Tony brooks had us "Growing Smart."

"I received more mail about Growing Smart than anything I did because we talked about how you planted your tomatoes," said Brooks, the anchor at KAIT from 1983 through 1999. "What you put on them for fungus, what you spray your roses with for black spots. It was stuff that people could use."

Tony served up news that people could "use" for nearly 16 years. First as a reporter who, by himself, served as the Kennett bureau for K8 News.

"Probably those years were the most creative years of my life," Brooks said. "I remember the first story they ever sent me out on was the Arbyrd labor day parade. And it was an old Sony one tube camera and I had trained on it for about two hours and they sent me to cover this parade and they had covered all aspects of how to shoot, but no one had showed me how to turn the camera on.

"So when I got to the parade, I had to call back to the station and asked, how do you turn this thing on?"

His sense of humor, and being able to laugh when things went wrong, proved endearing to viewers. So did his credibility as a reporter.

"They want somebody they can believe," said former sports director Dick Clay. "It's got to be real and they've got to think of you as their uncle, their daddy, or their son. That's the deal and that's the way people are."

Sometimes, it's that right mix of people, chemistry, that makes it all come together.

"Bix Smith, who was the artist at KAIT did a drawing for a promotion for a newspaper ad that had a house and it had all the KAIT anchors and reporters doing different things in the yard and in the house and you know that said aloud. Those characters said that there's a family who work together and live in the same house and we did. KAIT was that house and we were family. We were happy," Brooks said.

"I know there for about a 7-year period where there was Dick Clay, Terry Wood and myself at ten," Brooks said. "And Dick Clay used to call us the "ten men," or the "three amigos," and we just went on and did the news and had fun. And we were just ourselves. What you saw was what you got.

Times change and people move on. Tony left the station in 1999. Today he is deputy director of AETN, the Arkansas Educational Telecommunications Network, based in Conway.

"It's been quite a change," Brooks said. "Moving from commercial television into public broadcasting."

Now, instead of reporting on political candidates, he's working with them.

"Part of my responsibility is to work with the legislature because we are a state agency," Brooks said. "So I'm still there. But, I'm kind of like I am right now. I'm on the other side of the camera."

But, does he miss the life of a television journalist?

"There's not a week goes by that I don't think about it, that I don't miss it," Brooks said. "You know, election night. Being with you and doing returns or breaking news."

But, Tony's job now allows him something he didn't have here: more time to spend with family. And, the girls that were babies when he started at KAIT, are now all grown up. Audra is a sophomore in college, while Sarah is a sophomore in high school.

"I miss the people and when I get back to Northeast Arkansas and I go out in town and I run into people and they say, 'I miss ya,'" Brooks said. "That's the best compliment that they could pay someone like us that they invite into their homes to say that they miss us. That really touches you when people say that."

Brooks was honored many times for his reporting, receiving many awards from the Arkansas Associated Press. He is credited with starting KAIT's Golden Ruler Award and being the journalist behind a controversial series on Missouri's death penalty.