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So Says

Stan Chambers

January 05, 1986|PATT MORRISON | Patt Morrison is a Times staff writer

At a time when newsroom reporters jump from channel to channel, Stan Chambers remains a fixture at KTLA, where he's worked since 1947. He has nearly four decades of the city's news history in his film cans. Yet, at age 62, he sometimes scrambles for a half-dozen stories before midnight as the station's only nightside man. He has 11 children, three Emmys and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Q: You've lived in the same two-square-mile area all your life and worked at the same station for 38 years. Why? A: I really made up my mind that Los Angeles is the best place to be. I was very fortunate, getting in on the start of television, all the excitement and creativity and newness--I couldn't believe I'd be paid for having so much fun. I was just carried along with the tide of things at KTLA. With 11 children it'd be hard to pack up and go anyway. Q: In 1947, when you started, you'd never even seen a TV show, and KTLA was the first commercial station west of the Mississippi. What was it like? A: That was the exciting part of it. Back then, the executives took off their coats and ties after business hours to push around the cameras. I did a cooking show--I was the taster. We did "Meet Me in Hollywood" at Hollywood and Vine--live interviews with people on the street. On "City at Night" we took our cameras out to industries, newspapers, the harbor and the airports. It really was more experimental--there was no pattern, no plan, nobody knew where we were going. Q: In 1949, the Kathy Fiscus story was 27 1/2 hours of live TV on the effort to rescue a little girl who had fallen into a well--the first big live TV news story here. How did it change your life, personally and professionally? A: Up to that time, TV was pretty much a toy. The attempt to rescue this little girl--as you know it failed--by the whole city kind of transformed TV because viewers for the first time felt this impact of being at a major event as it was happening. Everybody felt a part of the rescue attempt, and it lasted so long that by Sunday afternoon they were so deeply involved, a lot of people said that they were never the same. And TV was certainly never the same.

And a side note. My wife, Beverly, and her sister, Marie, came in while their mother was watching the show, and their mother asked, "Now why can't Bev meet a nice young fellow like that?" Marie said, "Well, I just met him at a wedding a couple months ago, and he was single." The next thing I knew we had a blind date and we were married. Q: You've just finished covering the Rose Parade, which you've broadcast almost every year since it permitted the internal combustion engine. What do you find fresh about it every time? A: It's the same every year, and yet it's kind of a rebirth. It's the perfect New Year's event because you've said goodby to the past and you're saying hello to the future. And there's so much real excitement. I think we're so used to people being cynical and not really having a good time, and for some reason at the parade they do. They enjoy the beautiful flowers, the floats, the clear skies and those clear mountains that are going to invite thousands of Easterners to come out here. Q: You seem comfortable doing what most people would think of as an ordeal. Do you often blow it? A: We all do. My big worry is, how do I get through it? You make the mistake, you just keep going and try not to call attention to it. One of my great mistakes of all time was at the 1960 Democratic convention here. Mrs. (Eleanor) Roosevelt felt that Sen. John Kennedy would have trouble delivering the black vote. She was on a coast-to-coast broadcast from the Biltmore, and I was in the first or second row, and I was going to get my question in first, being the local reporter, so I jumped up to ask her why she didn't think blacks would vote for Kennedy and called, "Mrs. Kennedy!" When the roar died down, she smiled and said, "I've done that several times." Q: What stories have made a difference? A: I think they would be the live news events, because, like the Kathy Fiscus broadcast, they were events that involved all of us personally. When the Baldwin Hills Dam collapsed, people didn't even know we had a dam in the middle of Los Angeles. When the Watts riots broke out, TV became a focal point because we could show what was happening, we could knock down the rumors. The unfortunate assassination of Sen. Robert Kennedy--again, people couldn't believe this had happened here, but the cameras were there and we were all a part of it. Q: What is your relationship to your audience? A: I think I'm in a fortunate position, because by being out in the field every day, I have a good idea who's watching and what they're interested in. With TV you're more of a friend. You're someone they know rather intimately; they're watching late at night when they're comfortable, and they kind of accept you that way.

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