MEDIA / KEVIN BRASS : Channel 10 Says Copter Keeps It Above the Fray

Not long ago, the skies above San Diego were filled with hovering helicopters, the above-earth representatives of the local television stations. It was the Eye in the Sky Era, which apparently has gone the way of the Barbara Walters as Serious Journalist Era and the Talking Heads Sitting Around in Cushy Chairs With No Desk Era.

Today, KGTV (Channel 10) is the only station in town with a full-time helicopter, the famous Sky10. But there was a time when almost every television news operation in the country was buying or leasing a helicopter, or at least talking about it.

"It was a hot item in the late '70s, early '80s," KFMB-TV (Channel 8) news director Jim Holtzman said. "Everyone felt it was the next great news-gathering toy."

Channel 8 never joined the fad, but in 1979 Channel 10 sparked Sky Wars by leasing a helicopter just a few days before Channel 39's News Copter 39 was scheduled to arrive. At the time, Channel 39 was owned by Storer Communications, which had purchased several copters for its stations throughout the country. By 1983, though, Channel 39 was phasing out the copter.

"People are finding they can almost get there on the ground just as easily," KNSD-TV (Channel 39) news director Nancy Bauer said.

Currently, both 8 and 39 have money budgeted to rent a helicopter when necessary, say for the occasional big fire or out-of-town news story. Both stations use a helicopter about twice a month. Channel 39 saves money by a form of car-pooling, often renting a helicopter with other local news agencies to travel to a story, such as the explosion in Henderson, Nev., last year.

The folks at Channel 10 love their helicopter. In January, they signed a new three-year lease for Sky10, and they recently built a hangar to keep the helicopter warm at night. The helicopter is usually dramatically featured in advertisements for the station; it has become part of the station's identity.

"It's one of the best-known aircraft in San Diego," Channel 10 news director Paul Sands said. "It's part of the overall image of the station."

Sky10 stays busy. In the early morning, it is airborne for live traffic reports. Throughout the day, it is used to transport reporters, to provide special aerial illustrations of stories, and to serve as a relay to send live signals back to the station without the aid of a satellite.

For this, Channel 10 spends more than $100,000 a year. Such a large expense may seem out of line to some people, considering the constant whine of television news executives that they don't have enough reporters to cover all of the news stories.

"A television station has to decide where it gets the most for its dollars," Sands said.

He views the helicopter as more economical than other television toys--for example, the type of satellite truck recently purchased by Channel 39. When debating whether to sign the new lease, Channel 10 officials felt the helicopter was more cost-effective than a satellite truck, which allows stations to broadcast live from almost anywhere.

"Having the flexibility of that helicopter, it has paid for itself a thousand times over," Sands said.

Isn't it fun to turn on the television set to see Steve Garvey talking birth control with Marty Levin? Channel 39 got full credit for the scoop on the Garvey paternity story. Its interview with Garvey on Wednesday night was beamed all over the country and was cited as the source in the AP wire story the next day. But several people were working on the story. San Diego Union columnist Tom Blair had been vigorously working The Garv Beat for several days, and the San Diego Tribune was on the story with the type of fervor usually reserved for an international crisis. Newsroom personnel at Channel 39 had been tracking down the rumors for weeks, and finally decided to give Garvey a call when word leaked that the Trib was preparing its front-page story. Garvey agreed and specifically asked for Levin to do the interview. . . . From XTRA-FM's Dred Scott: "Well, it looks like Garvey is getting a head start on his career in politics."

Channel 39's "Third Thursday" is starting to find its legs. Even though 90 minutes was far too long, Thursday's show on the San Diego Gas & Electric merger was smooth, confident, interesting and well-paced, lively without crossing into Geraldo-land. All the major players were on hand, except Mayor Maureen O'Connor. "Leadership is action, not position," general manager Neil Derrough said of O'Connor in a post-show editorial. . . .

A spokesman for the San Diego Police Department called Channel 10 to complain about the opening of Tuesday's 5 p.m. newscast. "When all else fails . . . shoot. Two San Diego police officers shot two suspects in separate incidents today," Michael Tuck told viewers at the beginning of the show. "Is it a return to Wild West justice? Or did the suspects cross the line?" The opening was brought to the attention of the Police Department spokesman by a Channel 10 staffer who thought the phraseology was more than a little sensational. "It was an effective tease into a story, but it was probably a little more pejorative than it ought to have been," news director Paul Sands said.

It is more than a little cheesy that KUSI-TV (Channel 51) is running commercials touting itself as the big sports station in town, including Los Angeles Lakers highlights, even though it continues to frustrate Lakers fans by not airing all of the Lakers road games, shown on KHJ-TV (Channel 9) out of Los Angeles. Channel 9 is no longer available on most San Diego area cable systems. Last week, Channel 51 aired the road game against Sacramento but didn't show the game two nights later against division-leading Utah. Instead it screened the epic movie "Iceman."

In a puff piece in the Del Mar Citizen, Channel 8's Stan Miller reveals his secret ambition: He wants to be a politician, maybe even run for San Diego City Council. "I'm happy with what I'm doing now, but politics is my first love," Miller said.

Channel 8 conducted another on-air poll to let viewers vote whether they hated or loved weatherman Larry Mendte. He lost again, this time by 1,377 votes out of a rather amazing total of more than 114,000 votes cast over a 27-hour period. In the first poll, he lost by only 30 votes (out of 17,000), but he considers the second vote a moral victory. "At least I didn't lose to 'I don't care' this time," he said. "I don't care" wasn't included as a choice on the second poll.

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