Legendary Iowa broadcaster Bob Brooks dies at 89

Mark Emmert, and Andrew Logue
Hawk Central

Bob Brooks, the dean of Iowa’s sports media, died Saturday at age 89, the University of Iowa confirmed in a news release.

The Cedar Rapids native and 1948 graduate of Iowa broadcast Hawkeye sports for 57 years and was also a fixture at high school games in his hometown. He continued working, for the past 15 years at KMRY radio, until a recent illness. “Brooksie,” as he was affectionately known, even traveled to Pasadena, Calif., to cover Iowa’s appearance in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, his sixth such trek.

Bob Brooks was the 229th member of the Des Moines Sunday Register’s Iowa Sports Hall of Fame.

Brooks graduated from Franklin High School in Cedar Rapids in 1944 and was already bitten by the broadcasting bug, starting with an internship at a local radio station that year and continuing through his four years of college. Eventually, he worked for KCRG, KHAK and KMRY, his raspy and beloved voice familiar to generations of Eastern Iowa radio listeners and TV viewers.

Through his seven-decade career, a host of Iowa athletes also came to admire Brooks, who was always present at games and practices, a dapper gentleman lugging an oversized tape recorder.

Derrell Johnson-Koulianos talks to broadcaster Bob Brooks at Iowa Hawkeyes football media day in 2010.

“I don’t think I’ve ever in my life seen him without a suit and tie on… and that big tape recorder,” recalled Jess Settles, a basketball star at Iowa from 1993-99 who now works for the Big Ten Network. “It just goes to show you the different eras that he went through, but he always stayed true to his roots.

“And you talk about a hard worker. I was on a show with him last year, and he just wasn’t going to put the big tape recorder down until the very last minute.”

Brooks covered his first Rose Bowl with the Hawkeyes in 1956, joined by another broadcasting legend-in-the-making in the late Jim Zabel.

“That was a thrill,” Brooks told the Register in December. “We were standing out in the courtyard waiting for our luggage and I turned to Jim and said, ‘Did you ever think in our lifetime we’d be out here?’ ”

Brooks’ career was filled with big sporting events, but none were too small either. He covered everything from preps to the Cedar Rapids Kernels minor-league baseball team to the Olympics and was honored as Iowa’s Sportscaster of the Year 10 times. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004, is on Kinnick Stadium’s media “wall of fame” and in 2011 witnessed his name permanently emblazoned on the press box at Kingston Stadium in Cedar Rapids.

His son, Rob, followed in his footsteps as a sportscaster. Brooks is also survived by his wife, Susie.

“I just always enjoyed my conversations with him, because he was a very warm, friendly person, and a great broadcaster,” said John Walters, the radio voice of the Iowa State Cyclones.

“What a storied career, I mean, all the way to the very end. I was always amazed that he still had the energy to do it in his late 80s. To still be right there in the mix. That just shows his passion for it.”

Brooks represented an era of broadcasting that is rapidly fading, of a reporter who was content to let the players and games take center stage without injecting his own personality. But he was unabashedly a booster for the Hawkeyes and the high schools he covered, never leaving his hometown to move on to bigger markets and unfamiliar teams.

“He was as much a fixture in Iowa City as Kinnick Stadium itself, really. He was just always there,” said Chris Hassel, who grew up in Muscatine listening to his grandfather, Robert, praise Brooks as his favorite before becoming a broadcaster himself, first for WHO in Des Moines and now with ESPN.

“It was clear everyone respected him, when after games, like an Iowa football loss, Kirk Ferentz is sitting up there and he’s maybe irked at the loss. As soon as Bob Brooks speaks up, every media member shuts up and Kirk Ferentz’s attention turns right to Bob. Because he’s earned it. He was an icon.”

An icon who was down to earth and friendly to everyone from rookie reporters to famous coaches.

“I think he saw the humor in life. He saw the fun in sports,” said Tom Davis, who coached the Hawkeyes men’s basketball team from 1986-99. “He was the best. He makes me smile just thinking about him. In coaching, there is some long nights and some tough nights.

“Bob Brooks made them better.”

Details regarding a memorial service for Brooks will be announced at a later date.