Close to the Action: Bruce Beck

For sports anchor Bruce Beck, attention to detail and hard work have given him a highlight reel of a career.

WNBC-TV's Bruce Beck prefers getting out on the field to being tethered to his anchor desk.
WNBC-TV's Bruce Beck prefers getting out on the field to being tethered to his anchor desk.
Photo courtesy of NBC Universal

Bruce Beck has a thing for manila folders. The lead WNBC-TV sports anchor shows up for virtually every assignment with a folder packed with information under his arm. Last-minute notes are written on the folder in large letters. Beck always uses a Sharpie pen; that way, he has learned, the notes won’t run in the rain. When the assignment is done, he files the folder for future reference.

Beck, 58, admits his storage medium is old-fashioned, but it works for him.

“When I walk into Staples, people fight over greeting me,” says Beck. “I save everything. Just ask my wife. Luckily, it has not cost me my marriage.”

Another old-school guy, football Giants coach Tom Coughlin, understands Beck’s game plan. “Bruce is a real detail guy,” says Coughlin. “Just look at all of those folders. He must buy those places out. That puts him in the moment. He leaves nothing unturned.”

Born in Newark and raised in Livingston, Beck has built his broadcasting career on attention to detail and hard work. Along the way, he has won eight New York Sports Emmys and seven New York State Sportscaster of the Year awards. Since 2002, he and Ian Eagle, the TV voice of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, have conducted a popular summer camp for aspiring young sports broadcasters at Montclair State University.

Beck has raised two sons (Jonathan, 29, and Michael, 25) with Janet, his wife of 34 years. He works with about 20 charities, among them Coughlin’s Jay Fund, which supports families affected by childhood cancer.

Along the way, Beck has been witness to some of sports’ greatest recent moments. He was there in Arizona in February 2008 for David Tyree’s helmet catch, when the Giants upset the previously unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Six months later, he was covering  the Beijing Olympics when swimmer Michael Phelps won eight gold medals. He worked the game when Derek Jeter got his 3,000th hit at Yankee Stadium in 2011. Back in 1997, he was the color commentator on the world TV feed when Mike Tyson bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

At this point in his career, Beck could comfortably sink into his chair at the WNBC anchor desk and read the scores. But he keeps hustling to ballparks and arenas. “Going out in the field is the way you build relationships,” he says.

Indeed, Beck remains a familiar face to the coaches and athletes of New York’s professional and collegiate sports teams, and not just because they catch him on the 11 o’clock news. They see him at news conferences and in locker rooms.

Mike Vaccaro, a sports columnist for the New York Post, recently wrote of Beck: “[He] somehow manages to be just about everywhere, just about every day.”

And the manila folders keep piling up. Beck has five large filing cabinets in his house, each brimming with folders. More folders reside in a rented storage space “so large you could drive a car into it,” he says.

There was never any doubt what career Beck would pursue. By age six, he was a big fan of Marv Albert, then the distinctive, staccato radio voice of New York Knicks basketball. With his mother, Doris, as his audience, Beck would turn down the sound on a Knicks telecast, grab a fork for a microphone and do the play-by-play. (Doris Beck was on the Livingston town council for eight years, serving twice as mayor. Beck’s father, Felix, was chairman and CEO of Margaretten & Co., a mortgage banking company.)

Beck broke into broadcasting, in a sense, by doing the morning address as a ninth-grader at Mount Pleasant Junior High School. At Livingston High School, he played basketball and tennis. (These days, he’s a golfer with a single-digit handicap.)

After graduating from Ithaca College in 1978 with a degree in business administration/accounting—he also worked for the student radio station—Beck landed his first broadcast job with Suburban Cablevision’s TV3 in New Jersey, where he did play-by-play and covered more than 100 local high school and college athletic events yearly.

“He knew every athletic director, football and basketball coach—every coach,” says Matt Loughlin, who worked with Beck at TV3 and is now the radio play-by-play voice of the New Jersey Devils. “His work ethic, even then, was: in early, out late.”

The MSG Network took note of Beck and hired him as a staff broadcaster in 1982. At MSG, he covered it all: Knicks, Rangers and Yankees; college football and basketball; professional and amateur boxing; tennis, track and field, even horse shows. He began freelancing at CN8, the Comcast Network, in 1994, many of the same events and more—calling harness racing and the early Ultimate Fighting Championship telecast.

At CN8, Beck met Dave Siroty, the station’s public relations director. The two stayed in touch after Beck moved to WNBC-TV in 1997 as a sports reporter and weekend anchor. In 2002, Siroty came to Beck with the idea of creating a sports-broadcasting camp.

At the time, there were only two such camps in the United States, in California and Tennessee. Siroty also recruited Ian Eagle, an Essex Fells resident who calls NFL games on CBS-TV and Nets games on the YES Network. Like Beck, Eagle had spoken to classes taught by Siroty at Seton Hall, but he and Beck were mere acquaintances—and they had no books to guide them in the new venture.

“We were both really nervous,” says Beck. “We didn’t know how it would evolve. It was like being a freshman in college.”

Thirteen years later, the Bruce Beck & Ian Eagle Sports Broadcasting Camp has doubled from the original 40 kids to more than 80 last year in a session for beginners and one for advanced students. This year’s camp will be held July 20 to 24 at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center at Montclair State.

Beck and Eagle show up for every camp activity, including exercises, workshops, and a field trip to a Somerset Patriots minor-league baseball game, where the campers call the action into tape recorders. “We can’t just roll out a ball and tell them to play,” says Eagle. “They get to know us as people. We’re not just speaking to them for an hour a day, then handing it off to someone else.”

Beck wouldn’t have it any other way. “I tell them three things are most important: number 1 is attention to detail. Number 2 is preparation. Number 3 is building relationships.” The formula has worked for Beck—and for the campers. Several have become professional sports broadcasters, calling minor-league games and working as reporters or anchors for television stations from Connecticut to Iowa.

Another of Beck’s dimensions can’t be taught. Doug Safchik, coordinating producer on the Sports Final show that Beck anchors Sunday nights on Channel 4, says viewers find Beck likable and believable. He’s not just another guy reading scores off a teleprompter. And while the Giants, Jets, Yankees and Mets are his bread and butter, Safchik says Beck pours as much effort into a report about a local Olympic hopeful or a college basketball team’s run to the NCAA Tournament, as he does when covering the big leagues.

Hard work also means keeping up with new technology, such as social media. Beck often posts from sporting events on his Facebook page and his Twitter feed, @BruceBeck4NY. Still, he has not abandoned the old-school methods that brought him sucess. Fellow broadcaster Loughlin recalls watching a post-playoff-game interview this spring as the media crowded around Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

In the corner of the TV screen, Loughlin spotted a manila folder marked up with a Sharpie. Loughlin could not see who was holding it, but that didn’t matter. “I could guarantee it was Bruce,” says Loughlin. “And I knew he’d be there.”

David Caldwell frequently covers sports and outdoor recreation for New Jersey Monthly.

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