Back to you, Bill

Longtime news anchor Bill Brown returns to TV—but he hasn’t quit his day job as a visual artist

Bill Brown is back on the air at Channel 2, but he still makes time for his artistic pursuits.<br>

Bill Brown is back on the air at Channel 2, but he still makes time for his artistic pursuits.

Photo by David Robert

Surely there are gaping voids on the power-suit racks in the men’s department now that Bill Brown is back on Reno television news. Approaching his third decade in broadcasting, the veteran anchorman comes full-circle with his June 16 return to KTVN-TV, Channel 2. After a three-year absence from Reno television news, Brown co-anchors the weeknight news on the local CBS affiliate, where he worked for 12 years.

Kicking back at Park Lane Mall’s Hot Wix, where Brown’s visual artwork is displayed, the unsung news anchor/artist looks fit and relaxed as he talks about being back on the air.

“Feels like I never left,” Brown says. “It’s really comfortable. I guess anchoring is something that’s in your blood or it isn’t. The first day I sat down, it felt good. It took awhile to get back to the exact rhythm of where I want to be, but I think I’m getting there.”

Brown, who describes his age as “50 going on 21,” is a Reno High School graduate who attended the University of Nevada, Reno’s Reynolds School of Journalism. But as a student, he ended his pursuit of a bachelor’s degree for the promise of involvement with news coverage far from the Silver State.

“I left in the middle of my senior year to go to Washington, to work for [Democratic Congressman] Jim Santini,” he says. “I did come back after a tour of duty on Capitol Hill, but then went straight into television. I’m kind of an anomaly: I’m one of the last guys who can be an anchorman at a decent-sized market, without a college degree.”

As a UNR freshman, Brown did his first show on cable, University Focus.

“It was an old Mike Wallace format,” he says. “Limbo-lit, which is two lighted chairs, dark room. A one-on-one interview format show. You talked to your guest for a half-hour [without] any commercial break. All the rest of the time you had to fill. That’s where you learn how to interview. We had a lot of feedback on that show, got a lot of information out.”

It was neither glory, nor some grand mentoring force, says Brown, that attracted him to broadcast journalism.

“I love to talk,” he says, laughing heartily. Then he dons a journalistic persona.

“It’s really a very selfish reason,” he says. “Since I was a kid, I always loved to be the first person to find out something that nobody else knew, and tell them about it. If I can provide someone with information that they can use to make an informed decision, then I feel better. I think it’s beneficial to the audience as a whole, because they’re getting information that they can use to make decisions in their lives—just like I do. It’s just that my gift, if you will, is to present that information to them in an unbiased way, to give them the real facts.”

Brown made the rounds in Reno, working for channels 8, 2 and 4, before leaving the business to start Conception Media, a Web site and software design firm. Destiny came calling, though, when an old friend from broadcast picked Brown’s brain about returning to the news desk.

“It was a true act of providence,” Brown says. “I love the business, and had missed it since I retired. It was the perfect opportunity to go back, with a young, exciting, aggressive team. They’re good at what they do. So it’s a pleasure to be there.”

He has many fond memories of working in the Reno area.

“I bluffed my way into the news at Channel 8,” he says. “They had an opening for a photographer, and I went in and talked to the news director for two hours on a Friday afternoon. He said, ‘OK, you’re hired. I’ll give you the job.’ I thought, ‘This is pretty good, since I don’t know the first thing about a camera.’

“I got up to walk out, and the news director said, ‘You don’t know anything about shooting, do you?’ I turned around and said, ‘OK, I have to be honest with you, no. I don’t. I never said I did.’ He said, ‘I know. But I like your B.S., so you’ve got til Monday morning, 8 o’clock, to learn.’ That entire weekend, I was 12 hours a day until I couldn’t keep my eyes open.”

For much of his life, Brown has reckoned with his creative forces. Besides being a local journalist, he’s also an accomplished artist with typically humble beginnings.

“I was in college and couldn’t afford to give Christmas presents,” he says. “So I drew a picture of a ship for Mom and Dad, and saved enough money for a mat and frame. It wasn’t very well done, but … they immediately put it on their wall. Somebody tried to buy it, so I figured maybe there’s something there. I get so much more out of a pencil than I can any other medium. I can coax that pencil to do things that hopefully are pleasing to the eye. It’s a passion with me.

“I only draw wildlife, and only animals on a white background with very little scenery. Almost all of the animals I draw are endangered.”

When the public schools observed Oceans Week, Brown lectured on whales, which he says fascinate him. He also warned about environmental losses.

“The earth is round,” he says he would tell kids. “Imagine that to be a closed chain, and for each animal that disappears, that’s a link out of that chain. The chain’s getting smaller and smaller. Guess who it’s finally gonna choke? You and me.

Browns’ sense of protection extends beyond animals to people. He’s the father of an 11-year-old girl.

“The more we ravage our environment and destroy the species we share this planet with, we’re going to make it uninhabitable,” he says. “Now how we get there, whether your politics are liberal, conservative or whatever, doesn’t matter. … My contribution is preserving [the environment] for children of future generations. A lot of these animals I draw—whales, wolves, cheetahs, snow leopards—children will never see alive, because they’re so close to vanishing. Or they’ll only see them in limited ways, in captivity, and captivity alters the species. It’s my way of helping the world realize that we’re partners on this planet.”

GNU Gallery is an online exhibit of Brown’s work, and although the focus is on images of endangered creatures, it serves another purpose.

“A percentage of all sales go to the Angel Kiss Foundation, for families with children with cancer,” Brown says. “I’m on their board. Insurance essentially covers all medical costs associated with cancer, but you have to travel to a center that treats [it]. You have to pay for gas, hotel rooms, the power bill. This organization helps these families do that, when they have nowhere else to turn. I went public with my work on this level [so] I can generate more money for the foundation.”

Between making time in the morning to draw and keeping up with his on-camera duties at KTVN, Brown is naturally a busy man. Like a finely tailored Armani, it suits him.

During the years that Brown was off the air, people would come up and constantly say, “We saw you on the news the other night.”

“And I thought, ‘That’s a cute trick, since I haven’t been on for three years',” he says. “But I’d say, ‘Thank you,’ because they relied on me so much as a source of information they still think I was there.”

And now, many in the community are happy to see that Brown’s back.

“The calls and emails I’ve received since I’ve been back on the air—this outpouring of support—has been remarkable," he says. "It’s wonderful, and I thank everybody. I love being back at Channel 2, because it’s like going home."