From the anchor desk to the open road: Out newscaster David Brown tackles Harbor to the Bay ride
David Brown, the anchor of Channel 5’s Eye-Opener newscast, doesn’t believe in doing anything halfway. When the organizers of the Boston Marathon called the station in 2006 to ask if any of the reporters were interested in running to benefit Children’s Hospital, Brown signed up and spent the next six months training for his first marathon. When AIDS Action asked him to emcee the annual AIDS Walk a few years ago, he not only took on the emcee gig but also ran the Larry Kessler 5K run to raise money for the organization. So when the organizers of Harbor to the Bay, an annual Boston-to-Provincetown HIV/AIDS charity bike ride taking place Sept. 20, called Brown in July and asked him to emcee the festivities, it was clear that he would be doing more than wishing the riders well from the stage during the opening ceremonies.
He recalled being asked to emcee the event’s opening and closing ceremonies and then being offered the chance to actually do some pedaling.
"I don’t know if they were serious about that, but if I do something with an organization I really like to be involved," said Brown, who is openly gay. "So I’m going to emcee the opening ceremonies at 6 a.m., get on my bike at 6:25 and ride to Provincetown, and then emcee the closing ceremonies at 7:00, 7:30 at night."
Brown said he hopes to arrive in P’town in one piece to welcome riders for the closing ceremony.
"I’m not worried about being out of breath. I’m just worried about cramping. I’m eating bananas, upping my potassium, and all that," said Brown.
Brown is one of a handful of high-profile riders taking part in the ride’s sixth year. Other big-name riders this year include Rebecca Haag, the executive director of AIDS Action Committee, and interior design guru Dennis Duffy. Led by the late Michael Tye, former president and CEO of United Liquors, the ride’s organizers founded Harbor to the Bay in 2003 in response to complaints about the Palotta TeamWorks AIDS rides from Boston to New York. The Palotta rides, which folded in 2002, became the target of intense criticism after it was discovered that much of the funds raised by the ride paid for the overhead expenses of putting on the event, rather than going to the HIV/AIDS charities that were the ride’s beneficiaries. The Harbor to the Bay ride, by contrast, donates all of the funds raised by riders to the beneficiary organizations, which include Fenway Community Health, AIDS Action, Community Research Initiative, and AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod.
Prior to signing up for the ride Brown said his biking experience consisted solely of going on leisurely rides with his 8-year-old son. With just two months to train for the 125-mile ride Brown went out and bought a new bicycle, new biking clothes, new sneakers, and began an aggressive training program with a friend of his who is also doing the ride.
Despite having a Boston Marathon under his belt, Brown said he expects the Harbor to the Bay ride to be a challenge. His longest training ride thus far has been 80 miles; Brown said training for Harbor to the Bay has been much more of a logistical challenge than training for the marathon.
"Unlike running, in which when you run, you literally put on your running clothes and go outside and do your mileage, with riding you have to worry about your bike, you have to worry about the maintenance of your bike, you have to get the appropriate clothes, you have to not only map out a path but then you also have to worry about the additional traffic," said Brown. "I’m amazed by trying to maneuver around the traffic that’s out there and the condition of the roads. Each town where I’ve ridden has a road condition that goes from fine to poor."
Some of those poor roads have taken their toll on his bike, and Brown said he’s quickly become a do-it-yourself repairman. On a recent training ride Brown got a flat tire out in Bolton, far from his home in West Roxbury. He sat by the side of the road, pulled out his repair kit, inserted a new tube in his tire, patched and re-inflated the tire, and continued on his ride.
Brown first got involved with HIV/AIDS charity work through Channel 5, which sponsors the AIDS Walk and Harbor to the Bay, but like many of the more than 300 riders taking part in this year’s ride he also has a personal connection to the fight against AIDS. About 20 years ago, when Brown was working as a meteorologist at a station out in Sacramento, he got word that a friend of his named Charlie had died of complications from AIDS. Brown said he and his friends were shocked, because Charlie had never told any of his friends that he was battling the disease.
"All of a sudden I found out Charlie had died, and then you find out that he had HIV, and he had AIDS, and it was 20-some years ago, right when AZT was coming out. So you think about people like that," said Brown. "I’m kind of the generation which I feel at times that it skipped me, luckily; however, when you think about the new infection rates coming out, it’s still out there. I always think of Charlie."
Brown first joined the NewsCenter 5 team in 1995 as a meteorologist, but last year he made the shift to the anchor desk for the station’s early morning newscast. He said he has been out publicly about being gay from day one in Boston, and he was also out in the two previous cities where he worked as a meteorologist, Milwaukee and Sacramento. He was less open about being gay at his first two jobs in the field, in Terre Haute, Indiana and Chico, California, but Brown said once he became established he found it much easier to be out.
"In the small TV markets you lead a closeted life, and then the more comfortable you are, the more established and confident you become in your career ability, the more open life you lead," said Brown.
He said his work as an openly gay anchor in Boston has been entirely without controversy, and he credited openly gay Boston media forerunners like the late David Brudnoy and WHDH anchor Randy Price with paving the way.
"It’s all on not only their shoulders but their hard work and bravery," said Brown.
For more information on Harbor to the Bay or to make a donation visit www.harbortothebay.org or call 1.877.422.2453.