Tony Perkins's mother has long suspected that he was destined for stardom. "Anthony always had a microphone in his hand, or whatever resembled a microphone, even before he could talk," says Constance Bellamy, recalling his childhood in Washington and Northern Virginia. "He would imitate the game shows on television. In fact, he took his first steps walking to the TV set during the old Price Is Right' show." Tony Perkins, come on down! Or, in this case, up. Two weeks hence, the 39-year-old Perkins, veteran radio and television broadcaster and popular "Fox Morning News" personality, will move from D.C. to New York -- and from local to network -- to become the new weathercaster on ABC's "Good Morning America." It will be a long -- possibly perilous -- leap when Perkins lands on the broadcast, leaving the comfort and security of his five-year home at Channel 5 to risk his career on a disaster-prone network show that for much of the 1980s and '90s owned the morning but these days trails NBC's "Today" by several million viewers. As WTTG's early-morning co-anchor and feature reporter in the field, Perkins is known for his unflappable geniality and his deep roots in the local area; he graduated from Alexandria's Mount Vernon High School and received his BA from American University. Among friends, he's famous as a former stand-up comic who during his college days perfected uncanny impressions of Mick Jagger and every single one of the Beatles -- about whom he is writing a book -- and has tried his hand at sitcom and movie scripts. He lives in Fairfax County with his wife of five years, Rhonda, a social services administrator. But now, facing the prospect of moving to an alien city and becoming an instant national celebrity, his face blown up alongside Diane Sawyer's and Charlie Gibson's on a colossal billboard looming over "GMA's" still-unfinished Times Square headquarters, he seems wracked with worry. "I find that I wake up earlier than I should, and it's hard for me to get back to sleep," Perkins confides over lunch at an Italian restaurant a block from the Fox-owned Channel 5 on Wisconsin Avenue. "I'm thinking thoughts of Good Morning America,' ABC, what this means, what's it going to be like and all that kind of thing. I think the anticipation makes me pretty nervous. I'm anxious. I really am." But his mom is calm. "It just seems very natural -- like this is his calling," she says. "Even when he was a child, he worried about everything. His father used to tell him, Anthony, I'm the father. You be the child. And don't worry about it.' " A Meteorological Rise And yet by signing with an also-ran striving to climb out of the cellar, Perkins has less reason to fret than if he were launching his network career at the top. Should "GMA" continue to improve its ratings -- as it has during the past four weeks with the much-praised pairing of Sawyer and Gibson plus news reader Antonio Mora -- then Perkins can claim his share of the credit. But if the show remains stalled at No. 2, he will hardly be the first person blamed. "They are doing everything that they can to fix the problems, and this is a good moment to join this broadcast," says Perkins, who started out as the morning weathercaster at Channel 5. "It is not a broadcast that is just languishing and no one cares about it. It's a broadcast that's getting a lot of attention, is the focus of a lot of concern at ABC, and a pretty significant effort to get it back on track. I think that's great. I think that's exciting." In its '80s heyday, when David Hartman and Joan Lunden were the monarchs of the morning, "GMA" conveyed the sort of inviting chemistry and smart content that the "Today" show currently boasts. The ABC program initially remained strong when Gibson replaced Hartman in 1987. But by 1995 "GMA" was clearly running out of steam, while a newly rejuvenated "Today" show grabbed the lead. In the brutal manner of the TV biz, ABC management dumped Lunden and Gibson last year and matched weathercaster Spencer Christian, the sole survivor of the old regime, with the decidedly undynamic duo of Lisa McRee and Kevin Newman. "GMA" was soon vying for third place with the chronically last "CBS This Morning." Late last year, McRee and Newman were shown the door as Christian fled to a station in San Francisco. With the arrival of Perkins on March 8, the latest "GMA" team -- or "family," as the network spin doctors insist on intoning -- will finally be in place. "Listen," says ABC News President David Westin, "we are trying to recast GMA' in part along the lines of what once was truly a great show, smart and warm. When it comes to Tony, both of those adjectives apply. He is smart, very good with people, very warm and very comfortable." Westin adds that aside from weathercasting, Perkins also will be "interacting" with regular folks in New York and around the country -- a job description that makes him sound like a road-company Al Roker (but 100 pounds lighter). Westin says Perkins's experience as a comic -- something he did seriously while working for several years as the redoubtable Donnie Simpson's on-air sidekick at WKYS-FM -- was also a factor in ABC's decision last Dec. 31 to offer him the job. "He's very quick on his feet." "GMA" executive producer Shelley Ross, a longtime Los Angeles-based producer for Sawyer before joining the broadcast in January, says she was especially taken with Perkins's resume tape, highlighting the humor of his live remotes around the Washington area. In one clip, Perkins appears to be participating in some weird ritual with members of the Scottish Tourist Board. "Once I saw Tony in a kilt, and I saw those knobby knees, I just knew he had to be ours," Ross says with a laugh. "I've had a couple of conversations with him and he brings warmth, comfort and family feelings -- and that's really what this broadcast is about." Sawyer, for her part, says: "I just met Tony briefly the other day and hear only wonderful things about him." Gibson, on the other hand, knows Perkins from way back. "When I heard Tony was coming up, I thought, this is terrific. He brings a good wit, a good intelligence, and he fits the chemistry here, and people will see that." Sawyer's co-host met Perkins in the early '80s, when Gibson was ABC's chief congressional correspondent and Perkins was a lowly desk assistant at the network's Washington bureau, two years out of college. "Tony was a very bright, very amusing young fellow," Gibson recalls. "He was at the ABC bureau briefly and left, and then I left Washington to go to GMA.' But I began to think we needed a producer and writer who could help us with the beginnings of the half-hours, the pieces of business we needed there. So I called Tony, who had gone to work for Donnie Simpson as an off-air producer, coming up with little pieces of business for him. "And I asked him, Would you be interested?' And he very politely said no. Why not?' And Tony said, Because I want to be on the air, and I have a chance to do that here and I wouldn't in New York.' Well, I couldn't argue with that. I didn't think there was a prayer. But I said, Send me a tape.' So he sent me a tape -- and it was awful. And that was the end of it. And I lost track of him." The Funnyman As it happens, Perkins was steadily honing his skills as a live broadcaster -- introducing Saturday sitcoms on Channel 20 and sharing a mike with Simpson -- while playing comedy clubs up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Throughout his life, he has managed to cloak his fierce ambition in laid-back charm and an ingratiating, infectious laugh. "As my sidekick, Tony was very funny," says Simpson, "and he also allowed me to be funny. Most of the time with comedians, if there are two of them in a room, they're always trying to get off the last line. But Tony always gave me room. I can remember times when Tony would be in the studio crying, he was laughing so hard." The laughs in Perkins's stand-up act -- which he performed for seven years -- were less personal than topical, off the news of the day or the generic inconveniences of daily life. After doing well at an open-mike night at Garvin's, the now-defunct Washington comedy club, and then bombing at his next attempt, and then killing at yet another one, Perkins was hooked. "The first review I ever got was in the Baltimore City Paper, and it called me a black Johnny Carson, which to me was high praise," he says. "There was some black material,' but I really didn't do what a lot of the black comics at the time did -- you know, I got roaches in my apartment' and all that kind of thing. I don't think I particularly revealed a lot of myself in my comedy. When I did stand-up, people couldn't walk away from it going, Oh, we really know him and we know his pain.' " Had he wanted to, though, Perkins could certainly have mined a rich vein of pain. Tony, his parents and his younger brother, Scott -- now an art director at CNN in Atlanta -- moved to Washington from the South Bronx when Tony was 5. His parents divorced when he was 11, and his mother reclaimed her maiden name, Bellamy. She worked as a telephone operator and then as a night clerk with the Postal Service to support her sons. They lived in some rough D.C. neighborhoods, and a trailer park in Alexandria, before finally settling into a town house. At Mount Vernon High, Perkins was a good student, a leader in extracurricular activities (including the video club, the honors society and the student newspaper, of which he was the first black editor in chief) and popular among his classmates. At the time, the school had only a few dozen African American students -- some of whom viewed Perkins with suspicion. "There was a feeling that if you were doing the things I was doing, you were kind of leaving your own community and living in the quote unquote white world,' " Perkins says. "That bothered me quite a bit and was difficult to deal with. There were times when there was an attitude towards me that was not the friendliest. You know, What are you trying to do, act white? Why are you speaking proper?' It was kind of tough." Tony's father, Tommy Perkins, was blessed with a magnetic personality and "did a little bit of everything," the son recalls. "He worked in a shoe store in New York when he and my mom met. He worked in radio when we moved down here, at WOL, and what was WOOK at the time. He worked in the promotions department at WDCA-TV for a while. He promoted concerts and plays. He was pretty well known in the community here, and he had done some work with Dr. King back in the '60s. You name it, he pretty much did it. He was what they now call an entrepreneur, but back then they didn't have a word for it." Growing misty-eyed, Perkins continues: "He was Mr. Charming. People loved him. Children, in particular, seemed to take to him. He passed away in 1992. At the time he was in the early fifties. That was a difficult period. What did he die of? We're kind of getting right to it!" Perkins says with a deep sigh. "Oh boy. He took his own life." He doesn't go into details -- out of a protective feeling, he says, for his dad's three younger daughters by two subsequent marriages. "I don't think anyone ever fully gets over something like that," Perkins says. "It was a pretty shattering experience not just for me but for our whole family. It's difficult to talk about because I don't think there's anything that you can really say that conveys the sadness and the grief and the anger and all the different emotions that you go through. It almost sounds like you're belittling it. "However, one of the things that's been difficult for both my brother and me, and for the family, is that during these last several years there's been a certain degree of success which has been very, very exciting. And I know that my dad would be thrilled with the things that have happened for his children. And I do feel like he's watching over all of us and able to see this." Scattered Precipitation The folks at Channel 5 say they'll miss him -- "Between my sobs, I have to say that I'm very sorry to see him go," says "Fox Morning News" anchor Lark McCarthy -- and the viewers seem to agree. "The day after this new job was announced, I counted 84 voice mail messages," Perkins says. "I was shocked. Some of them were from people who are in the business but many of them were from viewers. I guess because it's morning TV, they really feel like you're a part of their lives. And the comments were extremely nice and there were literally a couple of times where I had to hang up and not listen. . . . It was hard not to get emotional." He smiles. "Just very, very nice." CAPTION: Then: Tony Perkins in the 1977 Mount Vernon High yearbook. Now: "I'm thinking thoughts of Good Morning America.' " ec