Wednesday, August 11, 2010

End of An Era: KTLA's Stan Chambers to Retire

After 63 years at KTLA -- hold up, lemme repeat that: 63 YEARS AT KTLA! -- living local TV legend Stan Chambers is retiring. (Watch a great recap of Stan's time at KTLA -- including an early variety show he appeared in -- above.)

KTLA will announce the news on Wednesday -- Stan's 87th birthday. Writes KTLA colleague Eric Spillman: "Stan still comes in just about every day, putting together feature stories on topics that interest him... Don't worry, though, Stan promises you'll still see him on the air from time to time."

My colleague Cynthia Littleton has the details over at Variety:

Chambers said that he felt his birthday marked a "good time" to sign off. He's looking forward to having plenty of freedom to travel, play golf and spend time with his large family -- which includes 11 kids and a large brood of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Grandson Jaime Chambers, a KTLA correspondent, is so far the only one to follow him into the media biz.

KTLA is planning a series of sendoffs for Chambers. A billboard across the street from the station today will salute Chambers on the occasion of his retirement. An hourlong special featuring highlights of Chambers' career will air Aug. 23, and a tribute event at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills is in the works.

As Spillman notes, it's extremely doubtful that anyone else in local TV anywhere has had the run that Stan has. Chambers, of course, is remembered for having put live, on-the-spot TV news coverage on the map thanks to his pioneering marathon coverage in 1949, when 3-year-old Kathy Fiscus fell into an abandoned water well in San Marino.

My Variety colleague Jon Weisman talked to Stan and the late Hal Fishman in 2007, on KTLA's 60th anniversary, about their career highlights. Here's what Stan had to say about the Fiscus story:

I was giving a speech down at the Biltmore Hotel, and while we were there we got a call from my mother saying, "They're trying to get ahold of you," and to go out to San Marino. So it was one of those things where luckily I was near a telephone, because of course we didn't have beepers or cell phones or things like that, and also I didn't drive -- I didn't have a car. So, the lady at the luncheon (asked) her husband, who agreed to take me out to San Marino.

There was this huge rescue operation going, with dozens of people, cameras were getting ready to go, and from the time we started until the time we finished, it was 27½ hours (though the rescuers) had been there like a day before. But the key was Klaus Landsberg, who was our station manager. He was a great engineer -- very creative. ... He had success (once before) taking all these big huge cameras and the big trucks and going out there and finding power and getting 'em all working.

But of course, no one had a television set -- there were just a few hundred.

I have a very vivid memory of maybe 2 o'clock in the morning, sitting in one of the trucks out there, just with (the) question: "Who in the world would be watching this?" ...

We thought there was no one listening, but in reality, the whole city was listening. Everybody knew somebody who had a television set. They were over there. They were sleeping on the floor.

More: Cynthia Littleton talks about her own personal memories of meeting Stan as a young, aspiring journo here.

UPDATE: Here's KTLA's tribute ad to Stan, from today's Variety:

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