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VOL. 41 | NO. 2 | Friday, January 13, 2017

Channel 2 weatherman says goodbye Nashville, viva Las Vegas

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Justin Brousse, aka Justin Bruce, with his longtime Channel 2 morning show colleagues Neil Orne and Dawn Davenport. Bruce has left Nashville after a dozen years to take a similar role in Las Vegas.

-- Submitted Photo Courtesy Of Neil Orne

Justin Brousse really isn’t pushing his luck by insisting he takes Justin Bruce along with him to his new job in Las Vegas. They’re inseparable.

If you don’t know it, “Brousse” is pronounced “Bruce” and “Brousse” became “Bruce” on the air thanks to his first boss in a wind-swept prairie town three-quarters of the way to nowhere.

Justin was eager to please because, after all, that boss was the only one who responded in 2003 when his freshly printed Penn State meteorology degree was his calling card to airtime honchos nationwide.

He was both grateful and happy to change the television spelling – but not the driver license spelling – of the name he had since his New Orleans youth.

“I sent out 35 resumes and VHS tapes of me doing the weather, and the only one that answered was KDLT, the NBC affiliate in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

They offered $20,000, and I said ‘I’ll take it.’” This obviously shrewd salary negotiator laughs loudly at himself, the frequent butt of his own jokes and those of his colleagues.

“My boss at my first job said he didn’t know how to spell my last name,” says the 36-year-old East Nashville devotee during a long interview from the car he has idling in Shelby Park, not far from the box-filled home he and wife Jaime recently sold.

That first boss told him he was going to spell it “BRUCE” for show biz purposes. Didn’t bother Justin, because that BRUCE guy would be the one bringing in those massive paychecks.

Justin carted that moniker to Channel 2 here in Nashville a dozen years ago. And now he’s taking it to Vegas, when he rolls the proverbial dice by taking a new weatherman’s job out there.

“It’s been a nice way to keep a little buffer between me on TV and me in real life, especially when it comes time for buying and selling houses or using credit cards,” Mr. Brousse/Bruce says. (I’ll simply use “Justin” from this point on because, as far as I can discern, there is no dispute about how to spell his first name).

A smile lights his voice when he changes the subject briefly to talk about his sidekick in the parked car. “We bring Hank out here a couple of times a week, so he’s comfortable,” he says of the napping child.

“He’ll be 2 in March. He’s 21 months old, at an annoying age when you have to give his age in months instead of years,” says the former WKRN-Channel 2 meteorologist who on Jan. 2 signed off rather quietly from his long-time Nashville gig.

“Since that was the official (New Year’s) holiday, there weren’t that many people at work, so I was sad, but not as much,” he says of that final bow. “We’d already had the official goodbye, and that was tougher.

“We had decided it would be better to say my goodbyes before the holidays,” when the entire crew – “Good Morning Nashville” heart and soul, damn nice guy and resident smartass Neil Orne and the amazingly talented and lovely of smile, spirit and soul Dawn Davenport (Justin’s sidekicks) – were at work with him before beginning any holiday vacations. The whole behind-the-cameras crew also was there.

“So that’s when we did it, in the middle of December, so I could say ‘goodbye’ to the whole team on the air.

“My wife Jaime (a freelance writer and P.R. pro who was a News 2 producer when they first became a couple) and our son were even on the air a little bit that day.

“I had a hard time holding back my tears then,” he admits.

Actually, I’m not sure he really did successfully hold them back. A regular viewer of that morning news show and something of a friend of the cast and others at the station, I was watching the program – which last autumn was redubbed “Good Morning Nashville” after many years as “New 2 This Morning” – when it was announced he was leaving.

I also was watching the next day or so when a rather large chocolate cake, baked by a mourning morning (or vice versa) viewer, was delivered to him at the station.

“If I get a chocolate cake every day, I may have to change my mind about leaving” – or words to that effect, he said (I’m writing this part from memory, as I seldom keep notes while enjoying my morning pot of triple-strength, percolator-reinforced coffee).

The “we’re just joshing” informality accompanying the cake delivery had that same unfiltered, self-effacing, not-ready-for-prime-time, chuckles-and-grins aura that has made that morning air team successful for the last half-decade or so.

Justin actually moved to mornings from the weekend weather desk about six years ago, joining Neil and Julie Kroenig.

A bit more personnel shifting – including bringing my favorite local sportscaster, Dawn, to the morning desk with Neil and Justin – occurred five years ago, when Julie took maternity leave.

Julie never came back, and by then the obvious chemistry among Dawn, Justin and Neil was engaging viewers.

So Dawn stayed on that shift (she continues to flourish as a freelance sidelines reporter for national sports broadcasts). And, over the years, she has comfortably added some news chops to her own professional resume.

A young Joe Ghianni appears on the monitor (upper right) in front of the WKRN weather map through the magic of green screen technology. Meteorologist Justin Bruce welcomed the young student to the station.

-- Tim Ghianni | The Ledger

Justin and Dawn and Neil – who serves as something of a master of ceremonies or perhaps circus ringmaster during those broadcasts – quickly became fast friends with each other and with viewers.

Purple lament sneaks into Justin’s voice when our conversation focuses on that team. “I will say that leaving coworkers, who are friends first and coworkers second, gives me pause, because that’s a real good situation.”

As any viewer knows, this trio has been pretty magical. Justin jokes that the morning frivolity (which changes to “just the facts” stern news tones when death or disaster strike) perhaps is allowed because there’s a certain liberation in the hours they keep. Daily, they have been getting up around 1 a.m. and arriving at the office around 2. If a big weather story was brewing, Justin generally would get up at midnight to get to the studio.

“We may be extra honest when we’re on the air, because we are very tired. I can be myself around them.”

A personal note here: Justin earned his way into the hearts of my family – or at least this crusty old newsman – many years ago when then-Channel 2 entertainment reporter Brad Schmitt arranged for my son, Joe, then a young, aspiring meteorologist, to visit WKRN early one Saturday.

Joe can’t remember how long ago that was, just that he was a Metro schoolkid.

All those years ago, we watched as Justin concluded his air time, and then turned his morning completely over to one-on-one time with Joe.

Finally, the fact Justin was leaving WKRN gave me an excuse to tell that story as I write about the weatherman, who by the time you read this has already completed his second morning on the air in Sin City.

Justin had left the WKRN building on Murfreesboro road for good and was packing up Nittany Lions knickknacks, furniture and hot wings or whatever by the time we connected.

I’d been trying to track him down for this column, but he was plenty busy, as he regards his family’s future more important than random FaceBook messages from relative strangers. I didn’t blame him. But I also figured if anyone could coax him out of his packing and honey-do frenzy, it would be old friend Mr. Orne, one of my favorite news broadcasters.

Neil got on the phone for me and within minutes Justin called from a parking lot at a Home Depot where he was getting more boxes, if I understood correctly. Anyway, we set up a time for a conversation later in the day.

Finally Justin called me from Shelby Park, where his son was napping in the car, catching some rest after accompanying his dad on the morning’s pre-moving errands … picking out boxes and the like.

Justin Bruce, wife Jaime and their 21-month-old son, Hank, who will grow up with his maternal grandparents close by in Las Vegas.

-- Submitted

“Yes, Nashville is a difficult place to leave,” was Justin’s answer to my first, hard-hitting journalistic query.

Conversely, he didn’t hesitate a dozen years ago when the opportunity arose for him to leave his job in South Dakota.

“Sioux Falls was a great place to cut my teeth, because the weather is pretty extreme. Winters are very cold. Summers very hot,” but he didn’t plan on staying long. He probably hadn’t even unpacked his “Old Farmer’s Almanac” when he began circulating resumes and sample tapes “to some headhunters.”

“I got a random call from the Channel 2 news director on a Saturday morning when I was sitting in my apartment. It was a pretty big jump from Sioux Falls to Nashville.”

There was a bit of self-doubt in his baggage when he flew to Nashville. When he got to the luxury hotel where the station was putting him up, he gained confidence.

“I knew they were a little serious about it, even though I was 23 and a little raw. They put me up in the Hilton downtown. Back then, the Schermerhorn was just a big hole in the ground (across from the hotel). That was the state Nashville was in back then,” he says.

He has seen that big hole filled with classical music and many other changes during his tenure.

“It is interesting to watch Nashville’s national reputation grow, and I think it’s impressive that people around the nation are very aware of Nashville as a fun place to visit.

“And it’s a city where music and creative professions are valued. That gives the whole city kind of a fun vibe. It’s been really interesting watching the skyline change.”

There had been occasional nibbles from bigger-market stations. But Justin and wife Jaime, the former news producer he married in 2010, had a short list of places they’d consider.

Las Vegas was pretty much at the top of the list, because that’s where Jaime grew up, where her family lives and she even attended UNLV. Plus it’s where her dad had made his own mark on local journalism.

“My wife’s dad worked in the newspaper business for a long time and he still works in broadcast journalism for the PBS station in Las Vegas,” Justin says.

It really was about location, location, location for the couple and the little fellow napping in the car during our interview.

“We have tons of friends here. And some of my extended family moved here after Katrina. But with my parents and family being in Pennsylvania and hers in Las Vegas, we were kind of in the middle, and it made it so there was a good chance we’d be raising a son without having the grandparents around.

Justin Bruce snaps a selfie in front of the family’s loaded moving van as he prepares to head out to Las Vegas.

-- Submitted

“The opportunity for our son Hank to grow up 10 minutes from grandparents made it that Vegas was worth exploring. This was the first time, when my (Channel 2) contract came up again, that we had seriously considered moving away from Nashville”

He says it’s pretty much “a lateral move” and he’ll be working the same shift out there.

“I’ll be doing morning and midday weather for KTNV-Channel 13, the ABC station.

“The only difference is that we go on out there at 4:30 instead of 4, so I’ll get a few minutes more sleep.” (By the way, his new show is “Good Morning Las Vegas.”)

And there is excitement at the prospect, mainly because he already knows the city, from a couple of visits a year to see his in-laws. And he likes it just fine. He’s not even worried about all the godfathers and goodfellas who populate the Las Vegas cliché.

“People have this image of Las Vegas. But it’s lot more than the strip. Just like people from outside think the row of honky-tonks on Lower Broad is what Nashville is like,” he says, adding that he and Jaime are just waiting to close on their Vegas home.

As noted, the day of our interview, he was running errands, Hank in tow, to get the finishing touches together for loading up the moving pod before flying off to their future.

Before I let him get back to his tasks with the moving pod (“we’re do-it-yourselfers”) I pressed him for some of his strongest memories of his time in Music City.

“The Gallatin tornado in 2007. I had been up at Vol State the day before and I talked to kids of all ages at a science fair.

“Literally the next day, the tornado happened. That was the first big storm I had where several people died. We were on the air for several hours. It opened my eyes to how dangerous the weather could be in Tennessee …. The next big tornado was a Super Tuesday outbreak. I think it was February 2008. That killed approximately 20 people up in Lafayette, as well as Castalian Springs.”

The storm hit after dark, and too many defenseless and oblivious folks were in the deadly crosshairs.

“When I found out about the fatalities, it was really numbing and heartbreaking,” Justin says.

He and the weather and news team had done their best to get information out to the threatened area, “but we can’t go to people’s houses, knock on the front door and say ‘Wake up, a tornado is coming.’ It’s frustrating and sobering,” he adds.

“And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the floods of 2010. We were on the air for who knows how long? A majority of three days.”

Water catastrophes – flash flooding in the washes, aka arroyos or dry creeks – does happen in the Vegas area, but, of course, rainfall is relatively rare in the desert and that will change his lifestyle.

He’s swapping what Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett called “the greenest state in the land of the free” for 120-degree summer days and parched soil. Not so many tornadoes, but he is going to have to learn how to cover the earthquakes that are more frequent out West.

“Whenever my father- in-law would come to visit here, he would be in awe of how green and how lush things are here. We have so much rain here.

“I won’t have any grass out there. What we have out there is called desert-scaping, with desert-tolerating flowers and weeds. It’s going to be different.

“I’ve got thousands of hours of mowing the lawn under my belt here in Nashville.

“Two of the things I had to sell before we left are my lawnmower and weed-whacker,” he says, without remorse.

He’s hoping that instead of those hours of weekly lawn maintenance in our sweat-sogged humidity, he’ll be able to go to the golf course, graduate from the duffer ranks.

There is room for improvement, Neil responds when I tell him about how Justin plans to improve his golf game out there in the shadow of Caesar’s Palace, Mirage and Mandalay Bay.

“Hmmm, comments about Justin’s golf game??? Not really other than at least now he may have time to get one.”

A former weatherman himself, Neil adds that it’s a sure thing that his old pal’s professional accuracy will improve out there in the land of casinos, mob bosses and showgirls: “Forecasting is sometimes a gamble. Seems like sunny and 70 Vegas may be a good place for a meteorologist to go and not gamble.”

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