Patrice King Brown ends her reign as KDKA-TV anchor
January 30, 2011 5:00 AM
Patrice King Brown from her early days at KDKA.
Patrice King Brown and fellow anchor Ken Rice look at photos as he works on a segment on her retirement.
Paul Nemiroff and Ms. Brown at Nemacolin in 2005.
Patrice King Brown and fellow KDKA-TV anchor Stacy Smith talk from their cubicles in the newsroom.
By Maria Sciullo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It was not a promising start.
When Patrice King Brown walked into the KDKA-TV studios in Gateway Center for her first day on the job in 1978, she was a little nervous, a little uncertain of her duties as co-host of the talk show "Pittsburgh 2Day."
Still, she'd been in front of crowds and cameras all her life. Why worry? With brothers Brett and Dave, the "Three Kings" siblings of Sheraden "were the obnoxious kids who were always doing shows in our backyard, or on the front porch," she said.
A few hours before the broadcast, however, something happened that had not occurred before, or since.
She was quickly dispatched to a doctor in the old Jenkins Arcade complex, where she received a shot of a very strong antihistamine.
"So I was itchy and sleepy -- not a great combination," Ms. Brown recalled, laughing. "[The hives] didn't really get to my face so much, but all up my neck, and my torso was really raging."
When the long, hard day was over, she emerged from the studio to find her car had been towed.
Things had no place to go, but up. And of course, they did.
Ms. Brown said goodbye to her on-air home of more than 32 years last Friday, flanked by longtime co-anchor Stacy Smith, chief meteorologist Jeff Verszyla and Jon Burnett, her former co-host of "Pittsburgh 2Day." Sharing boxes of Kleenex and tearing up, each shared favorite memories as she closed out her 6 p.m. anchor shift.
Earlier, through the 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. broadcasts, KDKA ran a series of tributes from colleagues and even former Mayor Sophie Masloff.
"The tears tell you -- I won't forget a minute of it. Thank you," Ms. Brown said as her friends applauded. She ended her long news career by adding "Go Steelers!"
Ms. Brown, 56, said she wanted to spend more time visiting her son Guy, mother Dolores, brothers Brett and Dave and their families, all of whom live in California. Her daughter, Lauren, works in New York City.
She and husband of three years, Paul Nemiroff, own a vacation home out west but said that for now they are staying put in Gibsonia. A cancer surgeon who once was short-listed for the position of surgeon general, Dr. Nemiroff and Ms. Brown met when he began working at the station as a medical reporter.
"I thought 'If I'm going to do anything else, if I want to enjoy some family time'... looking forward to whatever else comes my way without the constraints of three newscasts a day," she said.
That could include voice work nationally or locally. Perhaps she might even narrate books on tape ("Everybody can't have Meryl Streep to read their book," she said, hopefully).
Ms. Brown had been working without a contract for about a year, a conscious decision that played to her growing desire to make some changes in her life.
Her Jan. 18 announcement to co-workers caught some by surprise, although KDKA general manager Christopher Pike said they previously had discussed the possibility.
"We [also] discussed some alternatives to keep her here but, of course, we respect her decision," Mr. Pike said.
For now, KDKA will use a number of newsroom personnel to co-anchor at 4, 6 and 11, as it did when Ms. Brown was on vacation or had extended leave.
Kristine Sorensen, Jennifer Antkowiak and Stephanie Watson are among the candidates to pair with Stacy Smith -- Ms. Brown's longtime co-anchor -- and Ken Rice.
"I don't think you can really replace her, but life goes on," Mr. Pike said.
"In truth, it's like trying to match a fabric. It almost looks worse if you get 'almost there' as opposed to all the way," he said of the search to come.
The next chapter of Ms. Brown's life has been put on hold for at least a week while she and her husband visit family in California. Back in Pittsburgh will be another story for the woman used to getting home at 12:30 a.m. each day.
"See, that's the exciting thing: I'm not quite sure what comes next," Ms. Brown said.
Mr. Smith, who recalled his leaving a previous news position in Kansas City in 1983, said he can empathize with Ms. Brown: "Leaving is not an easy thing to do when your whole life is tied into this particular job."
When Ms. Brown began working in television three decades ago, the few African-Americans on air were usually reporters. She was one of the first to anchor the news.
As a woman, she said, she tried to be sensitive in her delivery. It was a talent that held her in good stead the night of Sept. 8, 1994, when a US Airways flight nosedived into a Hopewell Township field.
"I had taken my daughter to dance school ... when I got a phone call: This plane has crashed and you need to get in here," she said.
On air without interruption for four straight hours, she and Mr. Smith were charged with delivering the increasingly bad news.
"It kept going through my mind that 'I want to tell them the way I would want to hear it.' And I think that's what we were able to accomplish.
"There were no survivors, and we eventually got to that stuff, but I wanted it to be as gentle a blow to our audience as possible."
The station earned an Emmy award for its coverage.
Looks for accountability
Yet since then, the nation's appetite for news is served in increasingly different ways. Online news sites, blogs and social media don't rely on scheduled newscasts, creating a hyper-competitive world of what's first, what's fast, yet who knows what can be trusted.
"The business has changed dramatically," Ms. Brown said. "Not that it's bad, but it's really different. Some of it is not easy for me, I think."
She said the lack of accountability that appears to permeate new media is disturbing.
"Nobody ever asks them for sources, and they can say anything they want and it's on the Internet forever. And that kind of immediacy, that kind of freedom, is a little bit unnerving for an old anchor like me."
New technology brought other big changes to the business. But thankfully, she said, the introduction of high-definition broadcasts wasn't as painful as she'd feared.
"I was expecting it to be really horrible, because they say it's the 'anchor's enemy.' It shows every pore, every freckle, whatever. And lo and behold, it does!"
But thanks to genetics -- she has her mother and grandmother's exceptional complexion -- "it's not as frightening as it could be."
"She and Lauren could pass for sisters," said colleague Mary Robb Jackson.
Working at another station when Ms. Brown arrived at KDKA, Ms. Jackson said, "all I remember is this image of this staggeringly beautiful woman with this long curly hair.
"She was a traffic-stopper back then and I don't think she's changed much."
Indeed, YouTube clips of "Pittsburgh 2Day" show an 1980s-style Ms. Brown, but she looks remarkably similar to the woman of today. And the current hairstyle is much better.
"She's just a beautiful lady inside and out, and I think that has come across, that 'genuineness' is what people will miss," Ms. Jackson said. "It's a rarity in television, when you come right down to it."
"That friendliness you see on the screen is really the way you see her in real life," said Mr. Pike, whose challenge now is to replace a popular figure in a viewing market that prizes longevity and niceness.
"If you're honest with [viewers], they'll come back," said Ms. Brown, who managed to make the occasional verbal flub sound charming. "If you pretend you never make a mistake, they'll come gunning for you.
"I like to say that what you get on TV is exactly who I am. I am not two different personalities."
Early in her career -- possibly on that first disastrous day -- a floor manager gave her some advice she took to heart.
"He said, 'Don't buy anything on time.' And, 'It ain't brain surgery. You mess up, nobody dies.'