Arts & Entertainment

KTLA's Stan Chambers retires

Veteran KTLA Channel 5 reporter Stan Chambers reports live from the scene of a 1951 refinery fire in Los Angeles' Wilmington district.
Veteran KTLA Channel 5 reporter Stan Chambers reports live from the scene of a 1951 refinery fire in Los Angeles' Wilmington district.

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When television news was first getting its footing in Los Angeles, Stan Chambers went to work for Channel 5, KTLA. That was 63 years ago, and today, Stan announced his retirement - on his 87th birthday.

"You don't know what's coming in the next minute," said Chambers. "I think that's the beauty of our business."

"You respond and you get that exhilaration, and you get to the teletype and you make the phone calls and, next thing you know, you have a story."

Chambers reminisced about his first big story, the attempted rescue of Kathy Fiscus, a 3-year-old girl who died after falling into a well in San Marino. "We took the camera crews out to the scene and covered the story, and we were on the air for, I think it was 27 hours."

It was 1949, so few people even had television sets yet. "People would go and visit neighbors to watch this, and then they would be up late at night. It just took the city over."

Chambers talked about television's impact on the city. "It's the first time I realized the tremendous power of television - how people live with it, how people are affected by it. And we all had that terrible moment when we found out that she had died."

Chambers said it was the first of that type of news coverage. "That became a whole genre of television news coverage - taking equipment, even though it was huge and massive, out to the scene."

The change that Chambers noted finding the most striking was coverage from a helicopter. "That's the one that is, just to this day, I'm in awe of what it can show while the event is actually taking place."

While the news has changed over the years, Chambers said that the media does a good job of staying out of the way. "They know how to keep out of the way of those doing the big rescue work. I think there's a good relationship between the police, the fire, the paramedics, and television." Chambers did note, however, that there were exceptions.

Chambers talked about how television used to be much more local, with Los Angeles more isolated from the rest of the country. Before the era of corporate ownership, television stations were often owned by individuals. One of Chambers' bosses was singer/actor Gene Autry, who bought KTLA in 1964.

When asked about his plans for retirement, Chambers said that he wold work on completing his third book. He said that he enjoys looking back on stories that were powerful at the time, and sharing his perspective on those events 20 or 25 years later.