Stan Chambers on KTLA’s breaking the news story of the Rodney King beating by Los Angeles police officers.
From the Archive of American Television.
We’re sad to hear that KTLA local news correspondent Stan Chambers passed away today at the age of 91. Chambers was part of the local Los Angeles news scene for over 60 years and was instrumental in the national evolution of local television news coverage. He worked at KTLA almost since its inception. He covered the 1949 Kathy Fiscus tragedy, an above ground Nevada A-bomb test (the first time a test had been covered by television cameras), the 1965 Watts Riots, and broke the 1991 Rodney King story in LA.
Below are some excerpts from his 1998 Archive interview:
On his initial duties at KTLA when he was hired in 1947:
I went to work on the stage crew, building sets and bringing props in, dressing sets, sweeping the floors, pushing the cameras, all of those things. During the day I would do the operations detail. I would take what’s gonna happen on the station that night and determine this will be a slide and this will be a film and this will be a film and this will be live, and assign the different studios and do all the things you had to do in preparation. You’d go over to Paramount and get the equipment you needed for the show. Then by late afternoon, if you were lucky, you would be doing some of the things on the air.
On the impact of the 1949 Kathy Fiscus telecast:
The whole city was literally captivated by that very dramatic rescue attempt. All the churches had prayers for Kathy the next day. The whole city was just thoroughly involved. When the word came out that she was dead, it was just like a tremendous personal blow to each and every person. Here was everyone’s little girl, and we just lost her. The city felt that. To this day, I will meet a half a dozen people who say, “I remember the Kathy Fiscus telecast.” It just made that type of an impact on people. The thing is, Bill Welsh and I had no idea that it was making that kind of an impact. We didn’t know. It was the next day when the phones started to ring, and the reaction started coming in that we realized that we had really been through something that we had no idea we were doing. But the interesting thing is that it changed my personal life, as well as my business life. Because after that, I wasn’t just a guy on television. I was a news reporter.
On covering JFK’s assassination:
On breaking the Rodney King story:
George Holliday, who shot the tape, had brought it to the station. He realized that KTLA did a lot of breaking news stories and he felt that we might be interested in what he had. My news director said, “We’d like you to take a look at this and see what we can do tonight for it.” I went into a viewer and I played it back. I was just dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Everybody came over and clustered around me, and they were just as startled as I was. I said, “Well, we have to get the police side of this. We can’t run it without letting them know.” Everybody agreed. We made arrangements for me to take it down and to show them the tape. We showed the tape. And they were surprised. But of course, with those wonderful stoic faces, they don’t show their true emotion. They said they would see what they could do and they appreciated our showing it. I said, “Well, we’re gonna run it on air tonight. Ten o’clock. Just wanted to let you know what was gonna happen.” Just before air time, I got a call from Chief Bob Vernon, who was acting chief at the time. He said he wanted to let us know that, “the detectives are out there in the rain, talking to witnesses, and we’re gonna get to the bottom of this. Let the chips fall where they may.” That was the set up for the story.
On how he’d like to be remembered:
I think someone who cares. Someone who has been a part of what’s happened here in the last half century. An observer. One who’s been in awe of what has happened. One who looks at what is today and you wonder, “How did this ever happen?” for good or for bad. Someone who likes people. I think that’s the most exciting thing, because people make the world interesting and delightful. You get these wonderful encounters. Someone who’s been very lucky. Had a wonderful life with a beautiful family. Seen eleven children grow and be proud for all of them. I think the fact that just this last month my youngest boy just graduated from medical school at USC and he’s an internist. That gives you some feelings that you did something right and that it’s permeated throughout the whole family. So I’d like to be thought of someone who tries and enjoys while he’s doing it. And looks forward for another tomorrow that will be just as bright and happy.