Tom Brokaw Biography

Home > Notables > B > Brokaw, Tom > Biography

Birth Name: Tom Brokaw
Born: 02/06/1940
Birth Place: Yankton, South Dakota, USA

Born Feb. 6, 1940 in Webster, SD, Brokaw grew up in the southern city of Yankton. His father was a construction worker; his mother a clerk with journalistic aspirations. A member of the debate team at Yankton Senior High School, Brokaw also served as a disc jockey at the local radio station. During an interview with Miss South Dakota 1959, Brokaw met and fell for his future wife, Meredith Lynn Auld, a fellow student. Brokaw began studies at the University of Iowa in 1958 before transferring to the University of South Dakota a year later. While finishing up his studies, Brokaw worked as a newscaster, weatherman, and staff announcer at KTIV in Sioux City, IA before receiving his B.A. in political science in 1962. Upon graduation, he and Auld were married. Brokaw began his journalistic career later that year as morning news editor at Omaha, NE's KMTV. Brokaw next began what would become a lengthy and distinguished career in television news anchoring. After moving to Atlanta to report on the civil-rights movement, Brokaw began work at WSB-TV as anchor and editor of the local late-night news broadcast. Relocating to Los Angeles, he joined KNBC-TV in 1966.

Reporting on many important events of the time, Brokaw covered the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and was one of the first reporters to cover the emerging hippie counterculture of the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco. Prompted by NBC veteran anchor John Chancellor, Brokaw relocated from California to Washington D.C. From 1973 to 1976, Brokaw served as anchor of NBC's national "Saturday Night News" broadcast as well as a White House correspondent. Next, NBC promoted Brokaw to host of "Today" (NBC, 1952- ) in 1976 after Barbara Walters' departure to ABC. Always considering himself a serious journalist, Brokaw viewed the promotion as something of a "left turn." He co-hosted the show with staunch liberal Jane Pauley from 1976-1981 before moving out of the morning show seat and on to a more appropriate job. After sifting through multi-million dollar offers by all three major news networks, Brokaw decided to remain with NBC and in 1982, was paired with CBS veteran Robert Mudd as co-anchor on the "Nightly News." The pairing proved to be an unsuccessful attempt at recreating the popular co-anchor dynamic of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. Mudd soon fell out of favor with audiences and was dropped by the network in 1983, leaving Brokaw as sole anchor of the program, a position he filled for 21 years until his departure in 2004.

A former NBC News floor reporter for both the Democratic and Republican conventions in the late 1970s, Brokaw anchored coverage of the primaries, national conventions and election nights in both 1984 and 1988. He also served as moderator of the presidential debate between Vice President George Bush and Michael Dukakis in 1988. In the duration of his time as "Nightly News" anchor, Brokaw reported on a number of ground-breaking stories. Conducting the first one-on-one American television interview with Mikhail Gorbachev, Brokaw won the Alfred I. DuPont - Columbia University Award in 1987 for his excellence in journalism. Also that year, Brokaw wrote The Arms, the Men, the Money, investigating the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. A year before, Brokaw was critical to comforting Americans who witnessed the space shuttle Challenger explode shortly after take-off, killing all seven astronauts, including first teacher-in-space, Christa McAuliffe (the shuttle disaster was one of the few times his personal feelings bled into his reporting, having had a friendship with mission specialist, Judith Resnick, who perished as well). Brokaw also reported on the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

In addition to the "Nightly News," Brokaw also anchored a number of investigative series. In 1992, he anchored "The Brokaw Report" (NBC, 1992-93), a series of primetime specials devoted to critical issues. In 1993, Brokaw hosted a primetime news magazine alongside Katie Couric aptly titled, "Now with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric" (NBC, 1993-94). During this time, the seemingly distinguished anchor demonstrated a sharp sense of humor with his appearances on "Saturday Night Live" and David Letterman's talk shows. In subsequent years, Brokaw reported on the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and received the first American television interviews with Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2001, Brokaw helped viewers come to grips with what they were witnessing, as the World Trade Center collapsed and general chaos ensued following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The anchor became a post-9/11 news story himself, when a letter containing anthrax addressed to the news anchorman arrived at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Though Brokaw was not harmed, two NBC employees were infected, including his assistant.

An accomplished writer, Brokaw wrote articles and essays for numerous publications including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and Newsweek. In 1998 he authored the national bestseller The Greatest Generation, a lavish tribute to the men and women who rallied to defend the nation during World War II, and he subsequently appeared in several capacities as an expert on the wartime generation. Due to the success and overwhelming response to the book, Brokaw followed it up with another, The Greatest Generation Speaks in 1999. In 2001, Brokaw also authored An Album of Memories: Personal Histories from the Greatest Generation.. Reflecting on his adolescence, Brokaw then wrote his fourth best-selling book, A Long Way from Home: Growing Up in the American Heartland, in 2002.

Always on the top of his game, Brokaw was the first American newscaster in 2003 to break the news that the war with Iraq had begun. Just a month later, in April 2003, Brokaw landed the first television interview with President George W. Bush after initial combat had commenced. Announcing his planned departure from "Nightly News" in 2002, Brokaw signed off after the 2004 presidential elections in December of that year. Amid the nostalgic hoopla of Brokaw's send-off, he signed a 10-year contract to remain with NBC as a reporter and producer of documentary news pieces. His final sign-off drew 15.7 million viewers. Brokaw went on to conduct a series of in-depth reports titled the "Tom Brokaw Reports" (NBC, 2005- ). His hour-long piece "The Long War," documenting the war on terror, marked his return to NBC primetime in 2005. The June 2008 death of "Meet the Press" moderator and Brokaw's good friend, Tim Russert, signaled the retired anchorman's return on an interim basis to any weekly program. After much discussion by the NBC brass, Brokaw was deemed the appropriate host of Russert's beloved Sunday morning panel program, "Meet the Press" until the end of the 2008 Presidential Campaign.

Ultimately, Brokaw's tenure on "Meet the Press" was only temporary, and following the election, he passed the torch to veteran NBC White House correspondent David Gregory. Once again, the venerable anchor returned to serving as the host of TV specials like "Global Warming: The New Challenge with Tom Brokaw" (Discovery Channel, 2009) and "American Character Along Highway 50" (USA Network, 2010), in which he spent 10 months traveling the country to cover how the recession had affected Americans. Meanwhile, Brokaw made appearances as a correspondent and an anchor on the long-running news magazine broadcast, "Dateline NBC" (1992- ), and one again joined Bob Costas to serve as a chief correspondent for the opening ceremony to the 2012 Olympic Games. Right on the heels of the Olympics, Brokaw pivoted back to news correspondent to cover both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention in late August and early September 2012 for MSNBC. But on the second day of the DNC, Brokaw had a brief health scare when he was rushed to the hospital in Charlotte, NC, after reportedly feeling light-headed while on the set of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" (2007- ). Following a series of tests and evaluations, he was released that same day and deemed to be in great health. Brokaw later tweeted that he had mistakenly taken a dose of Ambien that caused his sudden ill feeling.