KTLA: West Coast Pioneer

Historical Timeline
KTLA: West Coast Pioneer
KTLA and Warner Sunset Studios: History Meets History


On January 22, 1947, commercial television arrived in Los Angeles. There were approximately 350 television sets in all of Los Angeles when Bob Hope signed KTLA on the air with a special program billed as the "Western Premiere of Commercial Television." Originating from a small garage on the Paramount Studios movie lot, it boasted stars such as Cecil B. DeMille, Dorothy Lamour, Jerry Colonna, William Demarest, William Bendix, Dick Lane and Mike Douglas, among others. Hope flubbed the station's call letters, calling it KLA, and helped William Bendix read KTLA's first commercial.

Since that milestone broadcast 55 years ago, the history of KTLA, Channel 5, has become the history of Los Angeles broadcasting. KTLA's pioneering spirit, resulting in a long list of technological firsts, set the pace for the evolution of modern day broadcasting.

KTLA's genesis actually dates back to 1939 when Paramount Pictures started KTLA as experimental station W6XYZ under the guidance of television pioneer Klaus Landsberg. Eight years later, KTLA went on the air as the first commercially-licensed station west of the Mississippi.

The power and impact of this new medium was first realized in February 1947, with the first on-the-spot news coverage of the Pico Boulevard electroplating plant explosion. Yet the most significant telecast during those early years and the one that probably did most to forge KTLA's local identity was the Kathy Fiscus tragedy in 1949. KTLA stayed with the story of a little girl who fell down a well for an unprecedented 27 ? consecutive hours of live coverage. That commitment to reporting remains the cornerstone of what KTLA is all about.

Since 1947, KTLA's achievements in the technological development of broadcasting symbolize its spirit of adventure. KTLA was the first station to broadcast on-the-spot news; the first to telecast the Rose Parade; the first to telecast from a ship at sea; first to televise the explosion of an atomic bomb; and the first local station to cover a major political convention, among others. In October 1998, KTLA was the first local station to broadcast a digital signal by launching KTLA-DT (Channel 31), bringing HDTV to all of Southern California. This was followed by more HDTV firsts for the station in 1999 including the first local coverage of the Rose Parade and first local presentation of a sports event, Los Angeles Dodgers baseball.

KTLA history of firsts is unmatched and its contributions unparalleled. In news, KTLA was the first to:

  • Provide extended live coverage

  • Regularly operate a flying remote unit ? the helicopter

  • Make its exclusive live ground and helicopter coverage of a California earthquake available free to any station

  • Regularly schedule a remote program
  • In technology, KTLA was the first to:

  • Originate color programs

  • Present a man-on-the-street broadcast

  • Provide stereo broadcasting

  • Provide Spanish language simulcasting
  • In awards, KTLA was the first to:

  • Receive a Peabody Award for its local news coverage of the Watts Riots in 1965

  • Receive an Academy Award for its landmark 1979 documentary "Scared Straight." (The only television station ever to win the award.)
  • On the entertainment side, KTLA was where audiences first became acquainted with Lawrence Welk, Spade Cooley, Korla Pandit and Renzo "The Continental" Cesana. It was the first to present "Mike Stokey's Pantomime Quiz," winner of the first Emmy Award, and the first to share Hopalong Cassidy and "Cecil & Beany" with nationwide audiences. KTLA was the place for "Armchair Detective," "Time For Beany," "Frosty Frolics," "Harry Owens and His Royal Hawaiians," "Bandstand Revue," "Ina Ray Hutton," "City At Night" and more.

    In addition to providing the first color telecast, KTLA has been the station-of-record for the last 55 years in Southern California for the Tournament of Roses Parade. KTLA typically pulls ratings 2.5 times greater than all competitors combined. In 2002, KTLA's Rose Parade coverage reached over 2.7 million Los Angeles households.

    KTLA has a deserved reputation as a news leader. KTLA was the station that fed the 1952 atomic blast to an entire nation and where Los Angeles audiences watched in dismay while Bel Air burned in 1961. It was first at the scene of the Baldwin Hills Dam break in 1963 and the station audiences watched as riots flared in Watts in 1965. KTLA delivered the sorrowful news to the nation in 1968 that Robert Kennedy had been assassinated. It was the station that a panicked city turned to for information during the 1971 and 1994 earthquakes.

    In 1984, KTLA was the station audiences watched most when a sniper opened fire at a group of schoolchildren in a Los Angeles playground. Two years later, KTLA was at the scene again to witness the drama unfold as a small plane crashed into live tension wires at Ontario Airport. Also in 1986, KTLA was the station contacted by a crazed killer on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills who held hostages at Van Cleef and Arpels Jewelers, and became part of the news story, as well as the provider of live continuous coverage.

    KTLA continued its tradition of comprehensive news coverage into the 1990s. The station broke the monumental Rodney King beating story when amateur photographer George Holiday handed over his tape to trusted KTLA veteran street reporter Stan Chambers in March of 1991. The following year, in reaction to the King verdicts, KTLA remained on the air for hours covering the Reginald Denny beating and the following manic violence and consuming fires that erupted throughout the city.

    On July 8, 1991, KTLA was the first Los Angeles station to offer a local, two-hour morning newscast competing directly against the three network morning news programs. The "KTLA Morning News," which evolved into a lighter, more viewer-friendly format, soon developed a large following of loyal viewers.

    In 1993, KTLA was the only station to provide viewers with gavel-to-gavel coverage of the O. J. Simpson criminal trial.

    KTLA's achievements have not gone unnoticed. The station has captured every major broadcasting award including over 100 Emmys, a Peabody, numerous Golden Mikes, an Academy Award (only one ever given to a television station), the National Education Award, the NATPE National Iris Award and the Scripps-Howard Award for Broadcast Journalism.

    In 1995, KTLA became Los Angeles' home to the new CW Television Network. Initially offering three nights per week of programming, The CW today presents six nights of high profile and highly popular programs. In Los Angeles, KTLA-5, LA's CW, consistently outperforms all network and local programming with "7th Heaven" on Monday nights. And shows such as "Smallville" and "Gilmore Girls" and "Dawson's Creek" continue to attract young viewers, helping KTLA achieve ratings records. KTLA is one of the five top CW affiliates in the country.

    In 1997, KTLA celebrated its 50th anniversary with a two-hour special, "KTLA's 50 Golden Years," which was dedicated to its faithful viewers and featured nostalgic special focuses on the people and events that have been most endearing, heartfelt and memorable to the Los Angeles audience. The yearlong celebration also honored KTLA news reporter Stan Chambers. The Stan Chambers Building at KTLA was dedicated to him for his 50 years of service and commitment to KTLA, the only station he has ever worked for.

    KTLA strives to make a difference in the communities it serves. The station and its staff, including on-air personalities, continue to create and participate in community outreach projects and events. These include the annual KTLA Kids Day L. A. at Exposition Park, and the Stan Chambers Journalism Awards, designed to award high school seniors funds to further education.

    KTLA Charities, a fund of the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation, continues to invest in the community by matching funds raised by community grantees. In 2001, KTLA Charities contributed almost two million dollars to deserving non-profit organizations serving southern California, addressing the needs of the homeless, hungry and children, among others.

    Today, KTLA's programming and news provide Southern Californians with a multitude of services. From the "KTLA Morning News" to "News at Ten"; from Pokemon on Kids CW!, to the gripping outer space saga "Andromeda;" from the sophisticated comedy of "Friends" to the coming-of-age "Dawson's Creek," KTLA truly is Los Angeles' television station.

    The memory of the station's colorful history, tradition and commitment to being Los Angeles' first and best lives on and continues to thrust KTLA into the dynamic future of television and the digital age.

    Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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