KTLA Channel 5 in Los Angeles plans to air a half-hour tribute, “Stan Chambers: L.A. Newsman,” to the pioneering T.V. reporter who died Friday morning at his home in the Holmby Hills section of Los Angeles. After the 9 p.m. broadcast, the tribute will be posted on KTLA.com.
Chambers, 91, helped introduce TV news in Los Angeles and delivered its first “live shot” in the late 1940s, when he covered the dramatic attempt to rescue 3-year-old Kathy Fiscus from an abandoned well in San Marino.
Chambers’ more than six-decade career at KTLA Channel 5 began in the era of black and white reports filmed by cumbersome cameras and ran until the run-and-gun computer age of multiple feeds, often supplied via digital cameras and satellite uplinks.
“Stan Chambers was a newsman in the truest sense. His dedication to producing the best story possible led to innovations that define the newscasts we watch today. Stan was a gentleman, a gifted storyteller, and one of those rare L.A. icons whose impact was felt by generations of Angelenos. He will be truly missed,” said Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti in a statement.
Chambers was known among colleagues for maintaining his joy for reporting up until his retirement on his 87th birthday, on Aug. 11, 2010.
By the end of his career, he was recognized by cops and politicians and anyone many others. “When he would show up at a crime scene, the police would fall all over themselves to show him part of the scene or give in a piece of information that other reporters didn’t have,” said Eric Spillman,a fellow reporter at KTLA. “Politicians were the same way. They all treated him like a king.”
Chambers also took pride in being precise and fair. When an amateur videographer sold Channel 5 tape of Los Angeles police beating motorist Rodney King, Chambers made sure he had a police response before putting the provocative scoop on the air. “I think that is why the police respected him” said Spillman. “They knew that he would give them a fair shot.”
The venerable newsman’s autobiography went to great lengths to name seemingly everyone he had worked with over the years. It might not have made for the most scintillating reading, as Chambers was loathe to take too much credit for himself. But he didn’t have to do much crowing. The audience registered his credibility. He earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the city named a section of Sunset Boulevard after him.
He joined KTLA out of USC in 1947 and in less than two years would report the story that earned him a place in television history. Fiscus, well short of her fourth birthday, had become trapped in the abandoned well and rescuers struggled to free her.
Chambers and a colleague manned a live telecast from the scene for more than 24 hours. Chambers would later recall that the broadcast united the far-flung metropolis — as neighbors visited the few neighbors who then owned TV sets. The girl did not survive.
“Los Angeles was a big city, but on this one weekend, it became a small town,” the newsman said, according to KTLA.
Not long after the Fiscus tragedy, Chambers helped start KTLA’s first daily newscast. He covered many of the major stories over many decades — from the Watts riots of 1965 to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy to the Rodney King beating. He worked so long that one of his many grandsons, Jaime, eventually joined him on the air at KTLA.
Chambers is survived by his wife, Gigi, 11 children and 38 grandchildren.