By Nick Diamantides
Stan Chambers’s career as a television news broadcaster began in 1947, when KTLA became the first commercially licensed TV station in the western United States. During his 63-year career, Chambers became one of the most widely known broadcasters in Southern California. He remained with KTLA until he retired last Aug. 11, his 87th birthday.
Last Thursday, approximately 100 people gathered at a special Signal Hill Chamber of Commerce luncheon to pay tribute to Chambers at the community center in Signal Hill Park.
Denise Damrow, Chamber of Commerce vice president, gave a brief biographical sketch of Chambers before introducing him to the audience. She noted that he graduated with a degree in journalism from USC and worked for a short time as a broadcaster on the university’s radio station before being hired by KTLA.
“His 27-and-one-half hour on-scene coverage in April 1949 on the unsuccessful attempt to rescue Kathy Fiscus from an abandoned well in San Marino has been recognized as the first live coverage of a breaking news story,” Damrow said. “It even prompted the sale of hundreds of TV sets in the Los Angeles area.”
Damrow added that Chambers was involved in the first live telecast of an atomic bomb test at the Nevada test site, and he covered many other historic events, including the 1958 Hancock Oil fire in Signal Hill, the 1961 Bel Air fires, the 1963 Baldwin Hills Reservoir dam break, the 1963 kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr., the 1965 Watts riots, the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy, the 1971 Sylmar and 1994 Northridge earthquakes, the Manson Family’s Tate-LaBianca murders, the Hillside Strangler killing spree, and the Rodney King beating and subsequent 1992 LA riots.
Damrow noted that, during his career, Chambers covered more than 20,000 news stories. She added that he has also earned several Emmy and Golden Mike awards, as well as a long list of awards from his peers, various organizations and certificates of recognition from city, county and state agencies.
“Stan has also written a book, KTLA News at Ten: 60 years with Stan Chambers, and is also involved with the Stan Chambers Journalism Awards, an annual essay competition that awards senior high-school students interested in journalism careers with cash awards,” Damrow said.
“It is very emotional to be here today and to look back at some of the things that we lived through,” Chambers told the audience. He explained that some of the events he covered were unbelievable. He said some of the stories were so shocking that he and his colleagues sometimes felt they would not even be able to speak in front of the camera, but somehow they managed to report all the news. “It’s this constant challenge that makes it so appealing,” he noted.
He reminded the audience that the broadcasters and show hosts on KTLA and all the other TV stations became like close members of the American family. “Every night you would turn on that television, and there they were,” he said.
Chambers spoke briefly about the early years at KTLA and how television programming evolved over time, but live coverage of breaking news was always the most grueling task. He noted that during the Hancock Oil Refinery fire, he and other KTLA news staff were on the scene for ten to 12 hours.
After his brief presentation, Chambers invited audience members to ask him questions. Several people asked questions about the programming and some of the technical aspects of broadcasting in the early days of television. One man asked him to respond to the often heard criticism that because TV news concentrates on brief sound bites, it has become very shallow, lacking the depth of information that viewers need in order to understand what is really happening in the world. “That is a very accurate criticism,” Chambers responded. He explained, however, that with cable and satellite programming there is now an almost limitless number of TV channels available to viewers. “If you went on with a news story, where you are just talking about it, you would lose a lot of your viewers. They would just go to another channel,” he said. “So what you do is you present it in the most visual way that you can. Pacing is very vital in keeping a television audience.”
Now married to Gege, Chambers had 11 children with his first wife, Beverly, who passed away several years ago. “Now that I am retired, I look forward to spending more time with my wife and family and playing golf,” Chambers said. He added that he will do occasional special stories for KTLA.
After Chambers concluded his discussion, he received certificates of recognition from the Chamber of Commerce and the offices of several local elected officials. Signal Hill Mayor Ed Wilson presented Chambers with an official City of Signal Hill proclamation honoring him for the important service he provided to Southern California for more than six decades. “I appreciate that you covered the news on a non-bias basis,” Wilson said. “You were not telling people what they needed to think, you were telling them what was happening.”